Warner Bros has scored the biggest US box office hit of the pandemic with Godzilla vs Kong, which sold $48.5m in tickets in its debut over the Easter holiday — an encouraging sign for Hollywood as it looks to jump-start business after a year in the doldrums.
Hollywood executives had hoped the franchise film, in which the oversized sea monster battles with the giant ape, could make between $20m and $30m. Godzilla vs Kong brought in $32m over the weekend and $48.5m during the extended five-day Easter holiday period.
The better results suggest there is pent up demand for the big-budget action flicks that movie studios have largely held back from releasing during the pandemic.
More than 90 per cent of US cinemas have reopened, according to Warner Bros, although they are operating at reduced capacity to meet social-distancing guidelines.
Godzilla has easily beaten other pandemic-era films, such as Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which scored $20m in its debut weekend in September, when New York and Los Angeles cinemas remained closed and with little Covid-19 vaccine hope in sight.
But the film’s returns remain a far cry from the money brought in before the coronavirus halted moviegoing. Disney’s Pixar film Onward made $90m at the domestic box office during the March 6-8 weekend in 2020, just before the virus took hold of the US. Over the February 14 President’s Day weekend last year, Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog earned $164m.
Legendary Entertainment is distributing Godzilla vs Kong in China, where it debuted with a $70m take-up last weekend. While cinemas in the US and Europe have remained largely empty until now, China’s box office has recovered sharply as movie attendance has returned to nearly normal levels.
The success of Godzilla vs Kong is a victory for the cinema chains and Hollywood studios, which have lost billions of dollars in the past year, leading to bankruptcy for the Alamo Drafthouse theatre operator.
It also brings confidence that crowds will still go to cinemas to watch films even if they are available online, as more Hollywood conglomerates use movies to attract subscribers to their streaming services. Godzilla vs Kong was available to watch on Warner’s HBO Max streaming service from Wednesday.
In a move that infuriated some filmmakers last year, Warner Bros decided to release all of its 2021 movies on HBO Max on the same day they debut in cinemas.
Nolan lashed out at the decision, telling the Hollywood Reporter: “Our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.”