I’ve got to wonder how Christopher Nolan feels about all of this.
Might Godzilla vs. Kong have picked up a bigger U.S. box office for its opening weekend had Warner Bros. not set it for a simultaneous release on HBO Max as part of an inventive plan for its 2021 release slate? Sure. But that decision didn’t stop the studio’s latest blockbuster from marching to a pandemic-best performance in terms of ticket sales.
Godzilla vs. Kong set a number of COVID-era records with its U.S. release in theaters on March 31. It opened on more movie screens (3,064) than any other release since March 2020. It had the biggest opening day ($9.6 million) and the biggest day in general ($12.5 million, on Saturday) compared to all other movies in that time. And it recorded the biggest three-day ($32.2 million) and five-day weekends ($48.5 million) compared to the rest.
(For anyone who’s new to this, or who just doesn’t remember because it’s been so dang long: Final weekend box office totals aren’t calculated until Monday, but Sunday estimates typically fall close enough to make them worth talking about.)
The big U.S. opening builds on an already impressive performance abroad. It hit theaters in 28 countries one week before the U.S., and nabbed a massive $122 million in its first weekend with more than $70 million of that coming from the major market of China. Now in its second weekend, and the first in the U.S., Godzilla vs. Kong will expand its global total to more than $285 million.
That’s more than just an “impressive for the pandemic” performance; it’s simply impressive. Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017) both pulled in more than $500 million globally before they left theaters. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, released in 2019, fell a bit short of that but still made an impressive $387 million.
Based on the performance so far, and the fact that each week means more fully vaccinated people and, with them, a greater openness to visiting theaters again, it’s reasonable to expect Godzilla vs. Kong to end its theatrical run somewhere in the same general range. It’s easily on a pace right now to top King of the Monsters over the next month, and there’s a plausible scenario where it even beats the other two in the end.
The discussion of Godzilla vs. Kong‘s success here isn’t meant to be read as an indication that it’s entirely, 100 percent safe to head back to theaters right away. The pandemic is very much still a worry, and even with vaccination numbers rising there are still concerns about COVID variants and irresponsible behavior by anti-vaxxers.
The real takeaway is that Hollywood, and the theatrical exhibition industry, appears to be healing. The people themselves are what drives ticket sales, and clearly there’s a growing level of comfort with the idea of sitting in a room surrounded by strangers for two-ish hours.
Personally, I’ve been loud and borderline a pain in the ass when it comes to yelling about the dangers of going to the movies during a pandemic. But that decision — which we all need to make for ourselves — was always just a risk calculation. Is the thrill of seeing a movie on a giant screen in a darkened room filled with strangers worth the risk of contracting a still-new and potentially fatal illness?
For the longest time, the popular answer to that question has been “no.” But as more theaters are opening back up, many with thoughtful, evidence-supported protections in place, the needle is swinging back toward “yes.” That’s a good thing. There’s a whole lot of jobs tied up in the Hollywood pipeline, from pre-production to post-release, and the sooner help arrives for the struggling businesses that support the whole system the quicker another major U.S. industry will bounce back from the pandemic’s economic disaster scenario.
There’s another takeaway, though. Warner took the risky move of bringing movies meant for theatrical releases to HBO Max, in light of extenuating circumstances created by the pandemic. Godzilla vs. Kong‘s success isn’t necessarily a reflection that the strategy is a total winner — timing has a lot to do with this box office, too, given the growing rate of vaccine distribution and GvK being the biggest blockbuster on the calendar — but it’s something to keep an eye on all the same.
Was the Warner move really so risky? Hindsight may show otherwise in the end. And yeah, it might make Christopher Nolan even grumpier than he already is. But for those of us who won’t or can’t head to the movies, for whatever reason, having more options to catch the latest flick everyone’s talking about is a definitive win.
All box office data was provided by Comscore and Box Office Mojo.