Business as usual at N American box office amid virus

Lindsey Bahr

LOS ANGELES (AP) — North American audiences are not staying away from theatres amid virus concerns, according to the weekend’s box office numbers. Disney and Pixar’s Onward topped the charts as expected and the Ben Affleck basketball drama The Way Back also opened normally.

Onward earned USD40 million from 4,310 North American locations, according to studio estimates last Sunday. It’s on the lower end of openings for the studio, more in line with The Good Dinosaur’s launch in 2015. Onward is an original story about two teenage elf brothers voiced by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland who get a chance to spend one last day with their late father.

“I think it’s a solid start for an original animated film,” said Disney’s President of Distribution Cathleen Taff.

“We’re especially excited about the fact that we’ve seen such good word of mouth.”

The studio expects it to continue performing well with spring breaks starting for many students and families next week.

FROM LEFT: Ian, voiced by Tom Holland, and Barley, voiced by Chris Pratt, appear in a scene from ‘Onward’. PHOTO: AP

Internationally, Onward picked up USD28 million. Disney noted that outside of Asia-Pacific regions, coronavirus concerns have not made a material impact on earnings. The weekend overall is down some 50 per cent from the same weekend last year, but that’s only because that’s when Captain Marvel opened to over USD153 million, and not any indication of the market taking a hit, said Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

The rest of the charts also looked normal, even with recent virus-related shake-ups in the entertainment industry, including the cancellation of the South by Southwest festival and the decision to push back the release of the new James Bond film No Time to Die from April to November.

Universal and Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man dropped to second place in week two with USD15.2 million, bringing its domestic total to USD52.7 million.

Worldwide, it’s just shy of USD100 million.

In third place, Warner Bros’ The Way Back opened in line with projections with an estimated USD8.5 million. The R-rated drama cost around USD21 million to produce.

Affleck’s performance was well-received by critics, and the star has been unusually candid about his own real-life struggles in the press in the weeks leading up to release.

“It’s a very specific drama,” said Warner Bros’ President of Domestic Distribution Jeff Goldstein. “Ben Affleck did a great job and the reviews back that up.”

Audiences, who skewed older (64 per cent were over the age of 35), gave the film a B+ CinemaScore. Goldstein noted that the audience age broadened over the weekend. He also hasn’t seen any significant impact of the virus on the North American box office yet. “When you look at the box office this weekend with Onward and The Way Back, these are solid numbers when we’re all concerned ‘Will people hole up inside?’” Goldstein said. We’re not seeing evidence of that, but anything can happen.”

Industry analysts are keeping an eye on the numbers as the news continues to develop around the outbreak. “Thus far, I’m not seeing any impact,” Dergarabedian said. “This weekend played out exactly as expected. You have families and children going to theatres to the tune of USD40 million. People remain in the habit of going to the movies.” In limited release, A24 debuted Kelly Reichardt’s acclaimed First Cow in four locations in New York and Los Angeles. It earned USD96,059 and will be rolling out nationwide throughout the spring.