After months-long cinema closures, the US box office has opened to the most significant degree since pre-pandemic times.
Movie theatres in Florida, Texas, Georgia and other parts of the country that were able to safely reopen welcomed the first major theatrical premiere since March: Solstice Studios’ ‘Unhinged,’ a thriller starring Russell Crowe. The film played in 1,823 venues in North America, marking the widest release yet since the pandemic hit.
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‘Unhinged’ pocketed more than $4 million (Dh14.6 million) over the weekend, a promising result given the challenging environment. In normal times, that figure wouldn’t be much to crow about. However, only a fraction of the nation’s 6,000 movie theatres are currently in business — and major markets like New York, California and New Jersey are still closed without a set date to reopen. The biggest ticket sales for ‘Unhinged’ came from drive-ins in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento, as well as multi-screen theatres in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando.
Solstice plans to expand the film to more than 2,300 cinemas in North America by next weekend.
“All things considered, this is a subdued opening,” said David A Gross, who runs movie consultancy FranchiseRe. He gives Solstice credit for taking a bold move in being the first new movie to open. On one hand, it doesn’t have much competition among ticket buyers. But on the other, studios and exhibitors have yet to determine how eager audiences will be to return to the movies.
For their part, movie theatres have taken rigorous and expensive steps to ensure customers feel safe. They are keeping space between seats, limiting the number of tickets sold per movie and encouraging people to buy tickets online to reduce contact. They’ve also made hand sanitiser more readily available and ensured theatres will be cleaned more regularly. And patrons will be required to wear masks.
Solstice’s head of distribution Shari Hardison says the company’s goal is to hit $30 million at the box office by the end of its theatrical run in North America. After its performance this weekend, that is a benchmark she feels will be easily attainable. ‘Unhinged’ cost $33 million to produce, not including marketing or distribution fees.
“We have a lot of stairs to climb, but the first steps are encouraging,” she said.