Theaters were truly blessed this weekend, but that blessing was more mixed for Walt Disney Studios.
Enjoying the biggest box office haul since the COVID-19 pandemic began one year ago, movie theaters took in a collective $25 million dollars across North America. That boost came in part with the help of the nation’s biggest market: for the first time since last spring, movie theaters in New York City were allowed to reopen.
Twenty-five million dollars is still paltry by non-pandemic standards, but for an industry in desperate need of good news, this was it. Couple that with vaccinations continuing to increase and overall COVID cases on a steady decline, and you have a heavily-beleaguered theater industry that’s finally starting to feel some wind in its sails.
Disney, however, came out of the weekend a bit more humbled, if technically on top.
Raya and the Last Dragon took the top spot with $8.6 million. It was enough to land in the #1 slot, but it was also nearly half as much as what the Tom and Jerry reboot raked in just one week ago when it opened to over $14 million.
Disney’s Raya was critically-praised and highly anticipated, while Warner Bros.’ live-action/animated hybrid about the old cat-and-mouse rivals was panned and seemed to lack any kind of pop culture traction. Nevertheless, Tom and Jerry enjoyed the second best debut of the pandemic; it was topped only by Wonder Woman 1984, which took in $16.7 million over Christmas weekend.
Plus, even though Tom and Jerry dropped by more than 50% in its second weekend, its $6.6 million take was good enough to land at #2 even while competing against Raya for the same family audience.
As disappointing as those numbers are for Disney, they don’t tell the whole picture. Raya and T&J are also playing simultaneously on their respective streamers (Disney Plus and HBO Max, respectively), but HBO Max is still in far less homes than Disney Plus. Therefore, for more people, the movie theater is the only platform option to see Tom and Jerry.
Plus, T&J is a “free” add-on to the HBO Max library while Raya can only be accessed by Disney Plus subscribers who pay an additional $30 Premier Access fee. Disney has not released those numbers yet but, when added, they could make Raya‘s opening weekend look significantly better.
Putting a further damper on Raya‘s theatrical totals, many theaters opted to not even screen it — including Cinemark, the nation’s 3rd largest multiplex chain. Cinemark (and others) balked at Disney sticking to its traditional high percentage rates from the box office receipts, something that other studios have lowered given the pandemic’s massive hit on attendance and the split-platform release model that has many films launching simultaneously in theaters and at home.
All that to say: even though the box office returns give Warners Bros. something to crow about over animation titan Disney, the Mouse House might still come out on top by the time all platform numbers are totaled (including subscriber increases).
Also of note: the sci-fi thriller Chaos Walking — starring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, and directed by Bourne Identity helmer Doug Liman — limped to a $3.8 million debut as it opened exclusively in theaters.