After several weeks of encouraging premieres, Hollywood’s return to the box office has struggled with middling performances topping the charts.
The latest example:
Walt Disney Co.
’s “Jungle Cruise,” starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, which premiered to $34.2 million in the U.S. and Canada.
While it is a top performer in the pandemic era, the opening continues an uncomfortable reality for Hollywood as it struggles to emerge from Covid-19: Box-office performances that are good in a pandemic year are still going to have a tough path to profitability. For a movie like “Jungle Cruise,” which cost more than $200 million to make, that is certainly the case.
Releases that welcomed audiences back to auditoriums—“A Quiet Place Part II,” “F9: The Fast Saga” and “Black Widow”—opened with grosses that trended upward, with “Black Widow” hitting $80 million in its opening weekend in early July. But several of those hits sputtered in subsequent weeks, and that upward trend is nowhere to be found with newer big-budget movies such as “Snake Eyes.” The timing doesn’t bode well, since the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 could send the industry into another tailspin of uncertainty and force studios to shuffle release dates once again.
The weekend’s other new releases carried a much smaller budget than “Jungle Cruise” but still failed to break out in a major way.
“The Green Knight,” starring Dev Patel in an update to the Arthurian legend, was released by A24 and made $6.8 million. The Matt Damon drama “Stillwater,” about a father who travels to Europe after his daughter is jailed, opened with $5 million. It was released by
“Jungle Cruise” premiered simultaneously in theaters and on Disney’s flagship streaming service, Disney+ for a $30 fee, where the company said it made an additional $30 million. The company had the same release plan for “Black Widow,” which it said collected $60 million from the at-home purchases.
Disney’s simultaneous release plans put the company in hot water last week, when “Black Widow” star Scarlett Johansson sued the company for breach of contract, saying the arrangement deprived her of tens of millions of dollars. Disney fired back, saying the suit had no merit and that it showed a “callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.” That response has since been attacked by Ms. Johansson’s agent and a trio of women’s rights groups in Hollywood as gendered and unfair.
Disney on Sunday defended the release strategy for “Jungle Cruise,” saying, “We remain focused on offering consumer choice during these unprecedented times.”
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“Jungle Cruise” is the latest example from Disney’s playbook of exploiting its best-known properties across multiple divisions. The original Jungle Cruise ride opened at Disneyland in 1955 as a homage to adventure films that the company made at the time. The ride has since opened at three other Disney theme parks and is known for wisecracking skippers and adventures on the water. By making the ride into a movie, Disney was hoping to draw in fans as it had with “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
The movie’s release was delayed by Covid-19 for more than a year. A late July release was believed to be relatively safe, but the movie saw some attendance affected by newer lockdowns, particularly overseas, where it made $27.6 million. In recent days, France has begun mandating vaccination passports to attend movies, parts of Australia have re-entered lockdown and Japan has declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and other prefectures.
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