Moviegoers sent a message to Hollywood over the weekend: We’re ready to return to theaters — and will buy tickets even if the same film is instantly available in our living rooms — but we want to leave our grim world for a silly fantasy one.
“Godzilla vs. Kong,” a throwback monster movie in which a lizard with atomic breath battles a computer-generated ape on top of an aircraft carrier (before everyone decamps to the hollow center of the Earth), took in an estimated $48.5 million at 3,064 North American cinemas between Wednesday and Sunday. It was the largest turnout (by far) for a movie since the pandemic began.
The PG-13 movie was not even an exclusive offering to theaters. “Godzilla vs. Kong,” produced by Legendary Entertainment, was also available on HBO Max, a streaming service that sells monthly subscriptions for $15, less than the cost of one adult ticket at cinemas in major cities.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” in 2019 or “Kong: Skull Island” in 2017.
As Hollywood adapts to the streaming age by making new movies more promptly available for home viewing — to the consternation of theater owners — quality matters more than ever, along with size and scope: What is worth a trip to theaters (with face coverings for the foreseeable future) and what is not?
Non-franchise films without spectacular visual effects may have a hard time, box office analysts say, pointing to the disappointing arrival of “Raya and the Last Dragon” last month. Godzilla and King Kong, on the other hand, are cinematic comfort food: time-tested, larger-than-life nonsensical fun. A large percentage of weekend ticket sales for “Godzilla vs. Kong” came from large-format theaters that charge a premium for tickets. Imax, for instance, said that about 1,000 of its screenings in North America were sellouts.
“Audiences are demonstrating that pent-up demand to experience blockbuster moviemaking on the grandest scale,” David King, an Imax distribution executive, said in an email.
That was certainly true of Iveth Vacao, who brought her 8-year-old son, Jayden, to an Imax matinee of “Godzilla vs. Kong” at the TCL Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.