Hollywood has stopped running from the pandemic: For the first time since March 2020, movie theaters had a wide array of new films for exclusive screening over the holiday weekend. And studios did not hedge their bets by offering simultaneous streaming options. To see the gloriously reviewed â€œEncanto,â€ the campy crime drama â€œHouse of Gucciâ€ or the latest installment in the â€œResident Evilâ€ science-fiction action franchise, you had to leave the sofa, just like in the old days.
But some moviegoers are proving very difficult to lure back.
â€œEncanto,â€ an original Disney animated musical about a gifted family in Colombia, took in $40.3 million at 3,980 theaters in North America between Wednesday and Sunday. That total, which was enough for No. 1, equated to about 3.7 million patrons, or about 35 percent of the available seats, according to Steve Buck, the chief strategy officer for EntTelligence, a research firm. Ticket buyers gave the film an A grade in CinemaScore exit polls.
In wide release outside the United States, with the notable exceptions of China and Australia, â€œEncantoâ€ collected an additional $29.3 million. â€œIt may take some time for people to discover â€˜Encantoâ€™ through word of mouth and reviews,â€ Disney said in a results email on Sunday, referring to audiences overseas, where the weekend was not a holiday. News of the Omicron variant may have dented European turnout, box office analysts said.
Disney, which spent roughly $175 million to make â€œEncanto,â€ not including tens of millions in marketing costs, had hoped that the family audience was finally ready to return to theaters on a vast scale. Children as young as five became eligible for coronavirus vaccinations in the United States on Nov. 2. For the first time this year, Disney did not send reporters a prerelease advisory about poor market conditions.
â€œThis is a fair opening by pandemic standards, and a weak opening by Disney historical standards,â€ David A. Gross, who runs the film consultancy Franchise Entertainment Research, said in an email on Sunday.
â€œEncantoâ€ features songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose music helped Disneyâ€™s animated â€œMoanaâ€ sell $82.1 million in tickets during the five-day Thanksgiving period in 2016. In part because studios have routed animated films away from theaters and toward streaming services â€” Pixarâ€™s â€œLucaâ€ played exclusively on Disney+ in the United States over the summer â€” the genre accounts for one of the bigger pieces of the box office that has been lost during the pandemic. In 2019, animated wide releases collected $4.6 billion worldwide. Mr. Gross estimated that animation will finish this year with about $1.65 billion in ticket sales, a decline of about 64 percent.
Domestic ticket sales for â€œEncantoâ€ nonetheless set a pandemic-era record for an animated film. That glory is somewhat hollow, given that every other major animated film since March 2020 has been released simultaneously in theaters and on streaming services. (They have included â€œThe Boss Baby: Family Businessâ€ from Universal and â€œPaw Patrol: The Movieâ€ from Paramount.) â€œEncantoâ€ is scheduled to arrive on Disney+ on Dec. 24.
The ultimate performance of â€œEncanto,â€ both in theaters and on Disney+, is likely to inform Disneyâ€™s release plans for animated films well into the coming year. â€œMost of the franchises that weâ€™ve had at the Walt Disney Company have been built through the theatrical exhibition channel of distribution,â€ Bob Chapek, Disneyâ€™s chief executive, told analysts on an earnings-related conference call on Nov. 10. â€œAt the same time, weâ€™re watching very, very carefully different types of movies to see how the different components of the demographics of that market come back.â€
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â€œWeâ€™re still unsure in terms of how the marketplace is going to react when family films come back with a theatrical-first window,â€ he added.
For the holiday weekend in North America, â€œGhostbusters: Afterlife,â€ from Sony, was a strong second, collecting $35.3 million between Wednesday and Sunday, for a two-week domestic total of $87.8 million, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. â€œGhostbusters: Afterlife,â€ released Nov. 19, siphoned some family business away from â€œEncanto,â€ box office analysts said.
â€œHouse of Gucci,â€ with Lady Gaga leading an ensemble cast, was a healthy third. It sold about $21.8 million in tickets over the five-day period. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which spent roughly $70 million to make the R-rated crime drama, not including robust marketing expenses, noted on Sunday that only 34 percent of ticket buyers were 45 or older.
â€œAs with families, older moviegoers have been reluctant to return to the movies, watching more entertainment at home,â€ Mr. Gross said. â€œThe film would be opening 50 percent higher under normal circumstances, but this is very good.â€
In a positive sign for prestige films â€” December is peak season, with Oscar hopefuls rolling out every weekend â€” Paul Thomas Andersonâ€™s â€œLicorice Pizza,â€ released by United Artists sizzled in limited release. The R-rated period film, a blend of comedy, drama and romance, took in $335,000 at four theaters â€” two in New York and two in Los Angeles â€” for a per-theater average of $83,852. It was the best specialty-film debut in nearly two years.