Exhibition will slowly come back to life this Friday at the box office after largely being shutdown for 21 weeks due to the pandemic. However, the first notable ticket sales will be coming out of the Great White North.
Paramount is giving a big screen release to The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run in Canada at 301 theaters. The animated movie from Tim Hill was originally intended to be released theatrically in the U.S., that is until ViacomCBS opted for a PVOD release early next year leading up to a rebranding of its CBS All Access streaming service. Also opening Friday is Solstice Studios’ Russell Crowe road rage movie Unhinged via its Canadian distributor VVS at 299 locations. Warner Bros. is also opening the tenth anniversary print of Christopher Nolan’s Inception as well. Remember, the studio and the director’s Tenet is going a week before the U.S. in Canada on Aug. 27 (the same date as the domestic release of 20th Century Studios/Disney’s The New Mutants).
Given how the Canadian box office is included with the U.S. take to equal domestic results, it’s expected that the country’s results alone will put SpongeBob and Unhinged in the top two spots at the weekend box office. Paramount and Solstice aren’t providing any projections: any amount of money to get exhibitors back on their feet is welcome.
Given the influx of new titles to the marquee, a majority of Canada’s cinemas are reopening, including big chains Cineplex Entertainment and Landmark. Typically in conjunction with a big U.S. tentpole release, Canada can rep 8%-10% of a film’s weekend box office. To give you an idea of how wide SpongeBob is going, his footprint is akin to what Disney’s The Lion King was last July at its start, booked at 329 theaters. Should SpongeBob see a low seven figure take, that’s fantastic. If Unhinged does mid-to-high six figures, that’s very respectable.
Will any good news coming out of the Canadian box office encourage New York to open their hard-top theaters? I’m told from exhibition insiders that New York is looking at New York, and nothing else.
The auditorium capacity during the pandemic at Canadian cinemas varies by province, so they’re currently capped between 20%-40%. The U.S.’s neighbor to the north has done a fantastic job at flattening the curve with there only being 124 news coronavirus cases in Ontario and Quebec according to recent data released by provincial health agencies.
Cineplex began slowly reopening on June 26 in six Alberta locations followed by Ontario two weeks ago. By this Friday, 137 of Cineplex’s 164 theaters will reopen across Canada, with their entire circuit from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Victoria, British Columbia, operating by Aug. 21.
The chain’s safety protocols are on par with those of AMC, Regal, and Cinemark with the staff wearing masks, limited concessions in the beginning (popcorn, nachos, soda and hot dogs) before expanding in the weeks to come to more upscale items like hamburgers, poutine and pizza. In-seat dining and the luxury menu will start on Aug. 21. There will be checkerboard reserved seating to ensure social distancing with employees spray-cleaning seats in between showtimes. Cash payments for tickets will not be accepted, rather credit and debit card payments.
As far as masks go for Cineplex guests, they are by recommendation in those provinces not mandating them and enforced elsewhere. For example, in Toronto, the capital city of Ontario, anyone in a public indoors must wear a mask. Cineplex will provide mask those who forget or require them.
Unhinged doesn’t open in the U.S. until Aug. 21 in what will be a 2,000 total theater count (including Canada). The reason why the movie is opening in Canada first is so that the pic has a clear two week runway before Tenet arrives. Solstice is looking at a U.S./Canada theater count of 2,300 to 2,500 in weekend 2, starting on Aug. 28. All studios are looking at the long game, not the short. In such territories like Australia, Unhinged didn’t drop greater 40%-to-50% in weekend 2, rather 12%. In certain offshore markets, Sundays are sometimes bigger than Fridays as word of mouth builds. That’s the stateside hope with Unhinged. Even though Unhinged is 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, who knows in the wake of the pandemic if RT scores matter anymore, and impact a pic’s box office results. EDO studies have shown that people will return to the movies with the proper safety protocols in place, and there’s an argument to be made that they’re eager to get out of the house after being in quarantine for the last 21 weeks. The Derrick Borte-directed pic is tracking to those over 25, but also equally to men and women, the latter demo relating to the female protagonist who is victimized by road rage. Solstice is running spots during MLB and NBA games with a mix of cable and digital ads. Unhinged has grossed under $6M to date from 22 countries, notching a No. 1 opening in 13 territories including Australia, UK, Germany, Russia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Ukraine, West Indies, Lithuania and Latvia.
Here in the states, big chains AMC, Regal and Marcus aren’t opening this weekend. Marcus is still TBD and AMC and Regal are looking at respectively Aug. 20 and Aug. 21. Cinemark is reopening 43 locations this weekend with operations in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin with the national balance on Aug. 21. Studio Movie Grill will have its doors open again this Friday at Arlington Lincoln Square and Plano in Texas, Duluth in Georgia and Wheaton in Illinois.
As the box office wakes up, Comscore announced today that they’ll begin reporting weekend figures from those studios sharing their tickets sales.