Universal Pictures (Again) Leads Pandemic Weekend Box Office

Universal Pictures continues to drive the domestic weekend box office with a larger slate of new releases than any other studio — including seven of the top eight revenue-generating titles from Dec. 4 to 6.

That’s more than a little ironic, considering that Universal was the first studio to significantly cut the theatrical window on new movie releases in exchange for expedited premium VOD access into consumer homes.

The move, followed by threats of a boycott and then a landmark revenue-sharing deal with theater chains, was the pandemic-related entertainment story of 2020 until Warner Bros. decided to shelve the theatrical window altogether, beginning with Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas Day and continuing throughout 2021

The DreamWorks Animation sequel The Croods: A New Age, distributed by Universal, again led ticket sales the first weekend of the month, generating an estimated $4.4 million across more than 2,000 screens, according to industry data. The title has generated $20.4 million in revenue domestically ($41 million worldwide) since debuting Nov. 25.

Other titles, included Focus Features’ Half Brothers with $670,000 across 1,369 screens; and Vince Vaughn-starrer Freaky with $450,000 across 1,502 screens, bringing the film to $7.7 million in tickets sold in the U.S., and $12.6 million globally.

Additional Universal/Focus titles included All My Life ($350,000); Come Play ($231,000), the latter generating $11 million globally since launching Oct. 30; Let Him Go ($210,000; $9.6 million worldwide since Nov. 6 debut); and 2018 re-release The Grinch ($59,000; $512 million globally since original debut), starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, rounded out Universal’s top performers.

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101 Studios’ The War With Grandpa was No. 5 with $335,000 in revenue from 1,285 screens. The Robert De Niro comedy has sold $26.1 million in tickets globally since debuting Oct. 9.

The weekend box office totaled $7.2 million, down about 45% from $13.2 million during the previous-week period, Nov. 27-29.

Warner Again Pushes Back ‘Tenet’ Theatrical Release

The theatrical business return to normal took another hit when Warner Bros. late June 25 announced it would again delay the release of Christopher Nolan’s international espionage thriller, Tenet, to Aug. 12 from July 31. The movie starring Robert Pattinson and John David Washington, among others, was originally slated to bow on July 17.

The move suggests Disney could follow delaying the July 24 release of live-action Mulan, which was originally scheduled to release on March 27. The studio has made no announcement.

Major exhibitors such as AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark have embraced Mulan and Tenet as new studio releases targeting moviegoers with the message that cineplexes offer more than recycled movie classics and home entertainment titles.

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But with COVID-19 generating the highest one-day total (more than 37,000) of new infections in the United States since the pandemic began — predominantly in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida — studios and media companies have hit the hold button.

Disney just a day ago said it was delaying reopening Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, Calif., due to issues regarding meeting the state’s guidelines toward reopening the economy.

Disney Considering Another ‘Mulan’ Theatrical Release Delay

With spikes in coronavirus infections springing up around the country, the July 24 debut of Walt Disney Studios’ live-action Mulan reportedly could be pushed back again. Disney has not made any official announcement.

With Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and South Carolina setting daily COVID-19 infection records, more than 36,000 new cases were reported June 24 nationwide.

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“The exhibition business will not be at full strength for many months,” David Gross with Franchise Entertainment Research told The Wall Street Journal, which cited studio sources about a possible new Mulan release date.

The release of Mulan has been considered a bellwether among exhibitors regarding moviegoer interest returning to theaters.

The movie, originally slated for March 9 release, had been rescheduled for July 24 — a week after the proposed July 17 launch of Warner Bros.’ international espionage thriller Tenet from director Christopher Nolan. Tenet has now been pushed back to July 31, making Mulan a standalone litmus test regarding a return to the box office normalcy.

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An unenviable position for any major studio tentpole release, especially when the entire domestic exhibition business — led by AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark — has circled the movie for its grand re-opening.

The 1998 animated Mulan generated more than $300 million at the global box office.

Indeed, Disney has pushed back many of its major theatrical releases to next year and beyond, with some smaller titles going direct to SVOD platform Disney+.

Eternals is now set for Feb. 12, 2021; Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is set for May 7, 2021; Thor: Love and Thunder will arrive on Feb. 18, 2022; Black Panther 2 will be released on May 6, 2022, and Captain Marvel 2 follows thereafter on July 8, 2022.