EXCLUSIVE: Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld, the world’s second-biggest exhibition circuit and owner of Regal Cinemas, says he’s satisfied with this past weekend’s $80M domestic theatrical box office opening for Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow. But he also tells Deadline he remains “convinced” that with an exclusive theatrical window, “we could have brought in maybe $110M, maybe $120M” in the U.S. The film landed day-and-date on Disney+ Premier Access, at a $30 surcharge for subscribers, and that day-and-date decision has set off another round of debate about release patterns, given that Disney announced it had pulled in $60M from global streaming.
Greidinger believes piracy, perhaps more so than PVOD, had an impact on the origins’ story’s showing at turnstiles both internationally and domestically. In the latter, the well-reviewed picture dropped 41% from Friday to Saturday, an unheard of phenomenon for a Marvel picture, which Greidinger feels was the result of “an explosion of pirated copies.”
In our interview below, Greidinger emphasizes that while it was “interesting” that Disney became the first studio to divulge dollar figures for day-and-date streaming revenue, the number needs to be put in the proper context. The $60M is a global tally, taken from the countries where Disney+ is currently available across North and South America, Europe and Asia. That $60M should be paired with the global theatrical bow of $159M, rather than the $80M domestic debut, Greidinger notes.
The exhibition veteran also weighs in on other topics, including the condition of Cineworld since its theaters reopened after Covid-19 lockdowns, and why he doesn’t think it will take until 2024 for the global box office to bounce back. Below is the full conversation, which has been edited for clarity.
DEADLINE: What is the status of Cineworld’s reopening around the world?
MOOKY GREIDINGER: Today, Cineworld Group is fully open in all of our 10 territories. Because of the size of the estate in the U.S., we staggered the opening of our cinemas from mid-April until mid-May. As of mid-May, we are fully operational in the U.S. We had some territories in Europe that joined a bit later, but now we are 100% open.
DEADLINE: How have you seen audiences come back? Are you near 2019 attendance levels?
GREIDINGER: We need to remember that there are two main factors here that are influencing the return of the public. One is the product; we still do not have the level of quantity that we usually have in May, June and July. The second factor is Covid. When we opened, we were still under many capacity restrictions in many U.S. states and outside of the U.S. Things were moving slowly, but currently, we almost have no restrictions and I would say that as of mid-June, we are almost in full force. We see a great reaction from the public that is coming back and I believe that with another few big movies like A Quiet Place Part II, F9 and Black Widow we will be getting closer and closer to 2019 numbers.
DEADLINE: Speaking of Black Widow, what was your reaction this past weekend when Disney became the first studio to release PVOD figures for a day-and-date picture?
GREIDINGER: First, I would say it was interesting to see the numbers. As you said, Disney was the first to release PVOD results. However, I think that somewhere the general message that was coming from the media missed a few points. First, as Disney clearly stated, the $60M PVOD income came from Disney+ worldwide. Many presented this as if the $60M should be compared to the $80M domestic box office, but in reality, one should look either at $80M domestic box office vs Disney+ income in the U.S., or $160M worldwide box office vs $60M worldwide PVOD.
Second, from the coverage of the news, one can get the impression that the $60M PVOD is an incremental income, but it is not. One cannot estimate the income from PVOD, in this case, if PVOD would have come 30 days or 45 days following the theatrical release. However, even if we believe that it would be only 60% or 70%, it is clear, that only part of the $60M became an incremental income against the box office that was lost in the cinemas.
And last, but for sure not least, is the piracy that has happened overnight worldwide. One of the main issues of PVOD day-and-date releases in my mind is that it creates a first class quality of pirated copies.
I personally do not recall, and I might be wrong, any Marvel movie that dropped in (domestic) cinemas from Friday to Saturday in history. Black Widow dropped in a big way and I think that the main reason for this was really an explosion of pirated copies — all over the world. Piracy has no borders and I think it had a huge effect on the results, bigger even than the PVOD itself. This is again emphasizing the importance of the window. Piracy, as I say, has no borders so it will impact the second weekend (of Black Widow) all over the world and it will impact even territories that have not yet been opened.
DEADLINE: What do you feel the impact was on exhibition this weekend?
GREIDINGER: I think we lost at least something like an additional 30% that we could have sold in the cinemas. The impact was felt in most of the territories and I cannot really predict how much was the result of PVOD sales and how much was the outcome of very strong piracy in high quality.
I think that what we need to remember, and here I will go back to what Bob Chapek said a couple of times, that Disney right now is experimenting various possibilities and various ways for the future and therefore some movies are going day-and-date and some movies will go with the window. We will see the next Disney release, Jungle Cruise, going with a day-and-date release but then there will be two movies, Free Guy and Shang-Chi, that will have a window of 45 days.
I am confident that because of the reasons that I stated here and maybe mainly because of the piracy issue, there will be a window in the future. Is it going to be a shorter window? Yes. Is it going to be no window? I would say no.
DEADLINE: You have been a staunch supporter of maintaining a window and Cineworld and Disney reached an agreement for the U.S. and the UK in May, with Black Widow and Jungle Cruise already set to go day-and-date. Although you just said you feel you lost some money this weekend, how do you feel about the overall performance?
GREIDINGER: It may surprise you, but I will tell you that I am satisfied with the results. Black Widow opened to the biggest weekend opening since the pandemic and we cannot ignore it. We always like to sell more tickets, but I would say that the result was good. I am convinced that if we had a window, we could have brought in maybe $110M, maybe $120M (U.S. only) this weekend.
Look, people will do the calculations, people will analyze it, people will see the damage of piracy, but in general, we did our best weekend since we reopened and we remain optimistic moving forward. We chose to participate in this experiment of the day-and-date — nobody forced us. I think $80M is a great result, but on the other hand, I believe that we could have done more.
I think one thing that no one can argue is that Black Widow is a great movie. The movie is full of humor, full of action and it’s a very good Marvel release. But, there was not really any reason for the movie to drop from Friday to Saturday and Saturday to Sunday. I hope that in the future it will be proven that the way to generate maximum income of a movie is with a window.
DEADLINE: Would you like the studios to report these PVOD numbers going forward?
GREIDINGER: I think we are in the era of transparency. I’m a great believer in transparency and I understand that there are different issues that are pushing some of the studios to release the results or not release the results. Thank God I’m not running a studio, I’m only running a cinema circuit. I don’t really care as long as things are presented in a way that at the end of the day, the presentation is really clear. I don’t like the fact that the number that was released was worldwide. Transparency is the best thing to have in my opinion, but I don’t really care if they continue or not.
DEADLINE: So next up is Jungle Cruise, which is also going day-and-date. What are your expectations there?
GREIDINGER: I hear it is a great cinema adventure and I hope it will do well, but it still will go unfortunately with the day-and-date so we will face some obstacles as we faced with Black Widow.
We all need to remember that the movie supply worldwide generated in cinemas in 2019 something like $20B of rentals, not box office, it was $43B box office. We are a very strong industry and I believe that the theatrical business has to remain the locomotive of the industry, which is leading income from not only the ancillary markets but also merchandising, sequels, park adventures, etc.
DEADLINE: There was a PricewaterhouseCoopers report released recently that projected global box office wouldn’t return to 2019 levels until 2024. Is that what you see?
GREIDINGER: Totally not. I think that in the fourth quarter, if we look at the lineup of the movies — subject to the Covid situation staying where it is and not deteriorating, I think that the fourth quarter of 2021 will already not be far from 2019 numbers, and as of 2022, we have a good chance to reach 2019 numbers. This is my estimate, as I feel that the direction today of the government is to live with Covid and not to run away from it into lockdowns that we have experienced in the last year. Vaccinations have created a dramatic change and I guess they will allow us to stay with the open economy.
DEADLINE: What do you think about the theory that families with young kids who aren’t vaccinated are reticent to return to the cinemas? Are you seeing that in your audience demographic?
GREIDINGER: In most of the territories, the strongest performers are the kids movies. I think families want to go with the kids and we see it now especially as we are entering into the summer holidays, there are school vacations all over the world, so we see more and more kids.
Many countries are already offering vaccinations from the age of 12 and up, which supports the range of age that are coming to the cinemas. It is crucial to point out that we have not seen anywhere, any cases where anyone has caught Covid in the cinemas. We need to remember that the basic experience in the cinema is that you sit in your seat for two hours and everyone looks in the same direction, and the distances between them are relatively significant, so together with the other precautions that we are taking, there is a very small risk in the cinema.
We also need to remember that many families will not be traveling for vacations this summer and a great opportunity for the free time of the kids is to go to the movies, which is still the most affordable entertainment.
DEADLINE: How are things at Cineworld in the UK?
GREIDINGER: We are going to go to 100% capacity on the 19th of July and we are happy with it. The UK is doing well — we are climbing slowly. People need to get back into the habit and get back their confidence. We had the Euro tournament which affected England especially because of the success of the English team. However, all together, I think the cinemas are back to a good rebound.
DEADLINE: In the U.S., are you looking at buying other cinemas?
GREIDINGER: We are analyzing the market in different locations, but currently we have no news that we can release.
I would say that we have successfully opened Regal Sherman Oaks. I would really compliment our great team in real estate and in operations, which did the whole thing in record time. People really were so happy to get their local cinema back.
Since Covid, we have opened five new cinemas in the U.S. in different locations and these are with a new level of finishings and a new level of equipment and new attractions like 4DX and ScreenX and of course IMAX. They are growing from one week to another. People are really excited and we get great reactions from our customers. It takes a cinema something like six-to-eight months to mature but we are very satisfied with the results and we believe that again this proves our strategy that the one big way to compete with all that is happening around us is to produce the right experience for our customers.