New ‘Saw’ Film Tops Box Office But With Underwhelming Sales

A new film in the “Saw” horror franchise topped the weekend box office, although its underwhelming sales show that moviegoing hasn’t picked up significantly during the U.S. reopening.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw,” a film from Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Twisted Pictures, generated $8.7 million in North American ticket sales this weekend, lower than the industry forecast of $14.8 million. The film failed to lift the overall box office and lagged behind recent opening performance of “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Tom & Jerry.”

Movie studios have seen progress as slow but encouraging, and are again scheduling premieres for their biggest films. On Thursday, Walt Disney Co.’s chief executive officer said the company will debut two films solely in cinemas later this year, after premiering practically all of its new movies simultaneously on streaming services since 2020. That may revive movie sales in theaters, which on a year-to-date basis are still about 70% below where they were before the pandemic.

“The current theatrical marketplace is serving as the opening act for the main attraction that will hit theaters over Memorial weekend,” said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for researcher Comscore Inc. The two potential blockbuster openings that weekend, “A Quiet Place Part II” and Disney’s “Cruella,” should benefit from “more open theaters, greater seat capacity and an easing of mask requirements by the CDC,” he added.

“Spiral,” starring Chris Rock, is the ninth film in the “Saw” franchise and tells the story of a criminal mastermind seeking justice in sadistic ways. Typically, horror films have smaller budgets, meaning it could be a highly profitable picture for the studio. “Wrath of Man,” a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film starring Jason Statham, took the No. 2 spot in its second week, drawing in $3.7 million, according to data from Comscore.

“I think we still have to expect some audiences to return at varying paces, but the uptick in box-office returns even for relatively niche films has been encouraging,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro. “The industry is on the cusp of a crucial turning point in the transition back to moviegoing normalcy.”

Higher Spending

Overall, moviegoers spent nearly $24 million to see the top 10 films at the domestic box office this weekend -- below the $57 million generated in 2021’s best weekend, in late April, but slightly better than the average of about $20 million since the pandemic started, according to data from Comscore. Further, about 64% of North American theaters are now open, the most since March 2020, Comscore said.

Theater owners may see another boost in the coming weeks, after the CDC relaxed mask-wearing rules for those fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Most major chains require masks inside their theaters and limit ticket sales to allow customers to social distance. While no big chain has declared it will lift its requirements yet, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Thursday he believed easing the rules would lead to greater demand for another of the company’s in-person businesses: theme parks.

“Today’s guidance that we got from the CDC in terms of those that were vaccinated do not necessarily need to wear masks anymore, both outdoors and indoors, is very big news for us,” Chapek said on an earnings call.

Cinemas abroad are also reopening, as the number of new cases in some countries declines. The U.K., one the largest moviegoing markets in Europe, will allow theaters to restart on May 17 after some venues were closed for about a year. That may further inspire confidence in studios, which rely on foreign audiences to boost box-office sales for potential blockbusters.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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