Christmas is often one of the most popular times of year to gather the family and watch a new movie, and this holiday was no different. The biggest distinction, however, is that the season’s biggest releases — “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Soul” — battled for streaming service subscribers rather than box office dollars.
“Wonder Woman,” the superhero sequel starring Gal Gadot, broke from industry tradition as the first Warner Bros. movie to debut on the company’s streaming service HBO Max — and in select movie theaters — on the same day. The movie was available to subscribers at no extra charge. Pixar’s “Soul,” featuring the vocal talents of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey and Daveed Diggs, debuted exclusively on Disney Plus in the U.S. and other countries where the streaming service is available. In China, where Disney Plus isn’t accessible, “Soul” is playing on the big screen.
Yet despite many opting to watch Gal Gadot’s latest outing as Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, from the comfort of their couches, “Wonder Woman 1984” generated surprisingly robust ticket sales — at least for pandemic times. The film collected $16.7 million from 2,100 North American theaters. It’s a far cry from the debut of 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” which grossed over $100 million in its first weekend of release. But then, the DC heroine wasn’t battling a pandemic that resulted in mass theater closures. Currently, only 34% of U.S. cinemas are open at limited capacity, with those in big cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia closed due to the global health crisis.
Even so, those box office grosses give “Wonder Woman 1984” bragging rights for the biggest opening weekend haul in the coronavirus era. Even more impressive: it outperformed Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic “Tenet,” which debuted to $9.35 million in September when 70% of theaters had reopened.
In pre-pandemic times, it would have been unthinkable to unveil a new blockbuster– especially one with a $200 million production budget — simultaneously in theaters and on a streaming service. But with thousands of U.S. cinemas closed and many people still hesitant to go to the movies, traditional Hollywood studios have been wary of keeping major movies on the big screen without a calculated backup plan. Rich Greenfield, a media analyst with LightShed Partners, called this weekend a “watershed moment for the movie industry.”
It’s unclear how many people watched “Soul” on Disney Plus. But at the international box office, the existential family film generated $7.6 million from 10 countries. The biggest bounty came from China, with $5.5 million in box office receipts.
Other Christmas offerings at the box office include Paul Greengrass’ “News of the World,” a Western starring Tom Hanks, and Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman,” a revenge thriller with Carey Mulligan. Those films, from Universal Pictures and Focus Features, respectively, are screening solely in theaters with plans to land on premium video-on-demand platforms in several weeks.
“News of the World” landed in second place on box office charts. It arrived slightly below expectations, collecting $2.4 million from 1,900 theaters over the weekend. Prior to its release, Universal sold international rights to Netflix. The well-reviewed movie follows Hanks’ character, a Civil War veteran who travels from town to town delivering the top headlines. Along the way, he meets a young girl (portrayed by Helena Zengel) who was captured years ago by the Kiowa people, and ventures across dangerous stretches of land to return her home.
“Promising Young Woman” secured fifth place with $680,000 in its first three days of release. The movie, which played in 1,310 venues, had the strongest ticket sales in Dallas, Houston and Austin, as well as Atlanta, Orlando and Miami.
Lisa Bunnell, the president of distribution at Focus Features, said she’s encouraged by the positive reception from ticket buyers. “Promising Young Woman” earned a “B+” CinemaScore from moviegoers and has a 92% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
“We’re thrilled critics and audiences alike have championed the film, Carey, and Emerald’s genre-defying, ferocious story,” Bunnell said. “We’ve been waiting since its electrifying premiere at Sundance last year for audiences to discover ‘Promising Young Woman’ and we’re excited they’re getting to see it in theaters.”
More to come…
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