‘Mortal Kombat’ Gives Warner Bros. Another Box-Office Win

“Mortal Kombat,” the Warner Bros. action film based on the 1992 video game, topped the domestic box office this weekend, extending the reign of the AT&T Inc. unit.

The film, starring Chinese-British actor Lewis Tan and Australian actress Jessica McNamee, debuted in 3,073 North American theaters and took in $22.5 million in sales, according to researcher Comscore Inc., exceeding the $19 million estimate from Boxoffice Pro.

That marked one of the biggest pandemic-era opening weekends, helping to further invigorate a box office that had languished for months amid few new marquee releases and mostly closed theaters.

“Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train,” an animated film from Japan that saw a record-setting opening in its home country in October, took the No. 2 spot, with $19.5 million sales in 1,600 theaters.

Studios and industry executives are gaining confidence after a year of turmoil, as bigger-budget action films draw in crowds even as most younger adults in the U.S. and people abroad in general remain unvaccinated against Covid-19.

About a month ago, Warner’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” surprised analysts with $32 million in ticket sales during the first weekend after its release.

‘New Era’

“The worst is over,” Mooky Greidinger, chief executive officer of No. 2 global theater chain Cineworld Group Plc, said in an interview. “The question that we have now is how everything will fall into place and be adjusted for the new era following Covid.”

The box office still isn’t what it used to be. Overall receipts are down about 80% so far in 2021 compared with the same period in 2020, during most of which theaters were still open and new movies were being released.

Greidinger doesn’t expect theater revenue to return to pre-Covid levels until later in 2021 or 2022, but he said strong interest in the few new movies that have come out suggests there could be a boom in movie-going as the worst of the pandemic passes.

Studios may get another boost in the coming weeks after the Academy Awards, which air on Sunday on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, but it’s likely to be limited. Most of the films up for the top awards are relatively small and unfamiliar, including Disney’s “Nomadland,” and others are available only on streaming services, such as Netflix Inc.’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Last year’s best-picture winner, the South Korean film “Parasite,” saw its box-office receipts rise 80% after it was nominated, according to data from Comscore.

Oscars’ ‘Validation’

“Audiences are still drawn by the prestige and the creative validation provided by the halo effect that the Oscar so uniquely provides,” said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for Comscore. But “the so-called Oscar bounce at the theatrical box-office is a virtual nonstarter this year.”

What remains unclear as the box office recovers is how Covid-related movie decisions, like premiering some big films on streaming services, will affect ticket sales in the long run. “Mortal Kombat” and the now-three-week-old “Godzilla vs. Kong,” were made available at no extra cost for subscribers of HBO Max the same day of their theatrical release. Greidinger said he believes that siphoned off some cinema customers, but it’s hard to determine how many.

“Demon Slayer” won’t be available to online audiences, which, paired with word of mouth about its historic box-office take of about $350 million in Japan, may boost its popularity in the U.S., according to an analysis from Boxoffice Pro.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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