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SYFY WIRE Box Office

Godzilla vs. Kong takes the COVID box office crown with monstrous $48.5 million debut in North America

By Josh Weiss
Godzilla vs Kong

There's a new king of the   ̶m̶o̶n̶s̶t̶e̶r̶s̶ box office. Warner Bros.'Godzilla vs. Kong has officially set the latest pandemic-era record with a colossal domestic opening of $48.5 million during its first five days of release, Variety confirmed Sunday. The kaiju smackdown brought in $32 million across the traditional three-day weekend frame, unseating Wonder Woman 1984, which previously set the North American record with $16.7 million last Christmas.

Diana Prince's second solo outing now sits in second place, causing Tom and Jerry ($14 million) to slink down to third. Nevertheless, all three heavyweight champions are Warner releases, a sign of vindication for the studio, which faced intense Hollywood backlash over its decision to adopt a theatrical/streaming rollout strategy for all of 2021. While these major films are free to stream on HBO Max the same day they hit theaters (a sharp contrast to Disney's "Premier Access" model), it's clear that audience members are still committed to the theater-going experience. Reviews for Godzilla vs. Kong may have helped as well, with critics recommending that viewers check out the latest MonsterVerse outing on a big screen, so long as it was safe and responsible to do so.

IMAX screenings brought in $4.5 million from 284 screens — the company's largest domestic showing in more than a year.

Godzilla vs. Kong has emerged as a symbol of the enduring strength of the theatrical experience for blockbuster filmmaking, delivering great box office even with many theatres still closed and significant capacity restrictions,” IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond said in a statement. “Make no mistake — this film has become a global event because it received a global theatrical release, and the phenomenal pipeline of tentpole films ahead have the chance to capitalize on the same opportunity."

Godzilla vs Kong

Even so, domestic sites are still recovering after a year of little to no business. Despite the fact that key markets (mainly New York and California) have been allowed to reopen, they're only allowed to operate with reduced attendance in order to comply with state-mandated health safety measures. “While it’s half of what it would be under normal circumstances, the weekend is a clear and positive indication that moviegoing has inherent strengths that aren’t going away,” Franchise Entertainment Research boss David A. Gross told Variety.

“This is a great sign that the release calendar will stabilize and audiences everywhere will have a bonafide summer of blockbusters,” added Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock. “With vaccinations being dished out at a record pace and social distancing protocols still in place, we should see a nice ramp up into summer cinema."

Godzilla vs. Kong was already off to a good start last weekend when it opened internationally to a whopping over $120 million, the biggest COVID bow overseas since Christopher Nolan's Tenet (yet another WB project) arrived on screens abroad last summer with $53 million in its time-inverting pocket. After an additional $71 million from overseas showings this weekend, the international tally now exceeds $236 million for an impressive global cume of about $285 million.

“Timing is everything, and Godzilla vs. Kong arrived at the perfect intersection of a time of growing consumer confidence and pent-up desire to go to the movies, meeting head on with a movie that literally screams ‘event film,’ Comscore's Paul Dergarabedian also told Variety.

This could prompt Warner Bros. and Legendary to expand the MonsterVerse beyond the boundary of four installments. 

"It certainly feels to me like this is the end of a chapter," screenwriter Max Borenstein admitted to SYFY WIRE. "Hopefully, if it's successful, and people dig it, then these things tend to have a continuity that people want to continue. It might be, not a restart, but like another chapter. But I don't know."

The Easter holiday weekend also saw the release of Sony's The Unholy, a religious horror film starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead) as a disgraced journalist attempting to restore his career with a hot story about a supposed miracle healer. Per Variety, the flick opened in second place to a $3.2 million from 1,850 domestic sites. It's a fairly decent-sized opening for a movie that couldn't have come close to Godzilla vs. Kong's estimated budget of $160 million. Check out the trailer above.

Disney's Raya and the Last Dragon (currently streaming on Disney+ for an added fee of $29.99) came in fourth with an extra $2 million in North America, boosting its domestic haul to $32 million. Inspired by the rich cultures and mythologies of Southeast Asia, the animated adventure has made over $50 million internationally and if all goes well, the family-friendly adventure can hit $100 million in the next week or two.

Lastly, Tom & Jerry placed fifth with $1.5 million, bringing its North American sales to $39.5 million. The film's international number sits close to $50 million, which, when paired with the domestic figure, also carries the tantalizing promise of a $100 million milestone. At this time, both Raya and Tom & Jerry's global caches hover around $85 million.