By Rebecca Rubin
LOS ANGELES – Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the most popular times to go to the movies. Crowd pleasers like “Frozen,” “Coco” and “Knives Out” have propelled attendance and generated many, many millions in ticket sales over the holiday weekend in years past, cementing various box office records to boot.
This year, studios and movie theater owners are settling for scraps.
Only one new movie, Universal and DreamWorks’ “The Croods: A New Age,” was released in theaters. The animated sequel to 2013’s unexpected hit “The Croods” surpassed expectations, generating $9.71 million over the weekend and $14.22 million since opening on Wednesday. That’s considered a success in the age of coronavirus, but it’s hardly what Universal was expecting when the studio initially greenlit the follow-up.
“This level of business is a far cry from typical Thanksgiving weekend releases, but success and failure in the middle of a pandemic should be viewed in relative terms,” says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro.
To Robbins’ point, past holiday hits were able to play in more than 4,000 theaters nationwide. With the majority of multiplexes closed, including those in major markets like New York and Los Angeles, “The Croods 2” could only screen in 2,211 venues.
Even with those limitations, “The Croods 2” is eyeing a pandemic-era record. Final tallies are usually reported on Monday. If estimates hold, “The Croods: A New Age” would eclipse “Tenet” for the biggest opening weekend since movie theaters reopened. Christopher Nolan’s latest grossed $9.35 million in its first three days of release.
“For this film to outperform expectations in a less-than-half operational market indicates that moviegoers, especially families, miss the big screen experience and are seeking it out where safe and possible to do so,” Robbins says. “The industry still has a challenging road ahead through winter. But Croods’ debut is a preliminary sign of the resilience cinemas can show in the long run.”
Overseas, “The Croods 2” amassed $20.8 million from seven international markets for a global tally of $35 million. China alone accounted for $19.2 million of weekend earnings.
Universal, compared to rivals, has been active in releasing movies during the pandemic. That’s because the studio forged unprecedented deals with AMC Theatres and Cinemark, two of the country’s biggest movie theater chains. Typically, movies play exclusively in theaters for 75 to 90 days before they move to online rental services. But under Universal and AMC’s new agreement, the studio can put new films on premium video-on-demand within weeks of their theatrical debuts. In return, the cinema circuits are expected to get a cut of the digital profits. “The Croods: A New Age” is scheduled to land on home entertainment in time for Christmas.
“The Croods: A New Age” was the only movie to surpass $1 million in ticket sales over the weekend. Body-swap horror movie “Freaky,” also from Universal, landed in second place with $770,000 over the weekend. In total, the R-rated thriller has made $7 million in three weeks.
Robert De Niro’s “The War With Grandpa” continues to show rare staying power two months after it debuted. The family comedy secured the No. 3 spot with $643,936, which boosts its total to a surprisingly strong $17.2 million.
“Let Him Go” and “Come Play,” both from Focus Features, rounded out the top five. “Let Him Go,” a suspense drama starring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, brought in $453,000 over the weekend. After four weeks in theaters, the movie has made $8.7 million. Falling not far behind, the thriller “Come Play” scraped together $387,000 between Friday and Sunday for a domestic tally of $8.7 million.