BO Report: ‘Black Widow’ blitzes competition but Sydney exhibitors miss out

'Black Widow' (Photo: Jay Maidment. © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.)

The theatrical debut of Disney’s Black Widow smashed pandemic-era records in the US, but in Australia, where Sydney remains in lockdown, the film couldn’t surpass the opening weekends of recent titles F9 or Godzilla vs. Kong.

However, the Cate Shortland-directed film still captured a staggering 60 per cent national market share, with receipts of $6.1 million from 590 screens; a screen average of $10,500. With collections from previews, it sits on $7 million.

Like Cruella and Raya and the Last Dragon before it, Black Widow is simultaneously available on Disney Premier Access for $34.99, though it is hard to know how much that ate into the theatrical figure. Certainly for MCU fans in Sydney, streaming was the only option.

Worldwide, Disney reports earnings of $US60 million from Disney Premier Access, as well as $80 million in North America and $78 million internationally. In the US/Canada the opening was the largest since Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker in December 2019.

Overall, the top 20 titles mustered $10 million, up 47 per cent on the previous weekend, according to Numero.

Looking ahead to this weekend, exhibitors are excited about the prospects of Space Jam: A New Legacy, which is playing well in advance screenings – for some even better than Black Widow.

“We had a brilliant weekend of trading, with obviously Black Widow as well as the advance screenings of Space Jam: A New Legacy,” Village Cinemas national programming manager Geoff Chard tells IF.

“We had our two highest grossing days since the COVID closures in March 2020 on Friday and Saturday, with Thursday only just behind the opening Saturday of Peter Rabbit 2 and Godzilla vs. Kong in March. Our Gold Class trade increased dramatically, not only thanks to Black Widow but also the change to our capacity restrictions to 1 person per 2 sqm or 75% of fixed capacity, whichever is higher.”

The school holidays have also proved lucrative for operators like IMAX Melbourne, which is experiencing its best such period in a decade.

 “The school holidays have been hugely successful for IMAX with our new documentary, Dinosaurs of Antarctica 3D breaking the top 15 of the box office report over the last two weeks, which for a single screen theatre is a great achievement,” IMAX general manager Richard Morrison tells IF.

“We’re very also pleased to see the return of The MCU with Black Widow 3D, which performed really well at IMAX theatres internationally ($12M) and also at IMAX Melbourne due to its unique IMAX presentation and expanded aspect ratio.”

However, such positive sentiment is not shared by all cinema operators throughout the country, with the lockdown in Greater Sydney, which also takes in the Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Shellharbour and Wollongong, poised to continue for some time. While technically supposed to end this Friday, the state recorded 112 cases of community transmission yesterday – the highest number since April last year.

Alex Temesvari, general manager of Cremorne’s Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, tells IF the current situation is a “crushing blow to the industry and the people of NSW”.

“We were just about to end the financial year on a high, celebrating the fact that we managed to keep The Orpheum profitable through the pandemic, mainly due to the extremely hard work and outside of the box thinking of my team but instead find ourselves in a lockdown that will easily last all of July. That’s certainly a bitter pill to swallow and highlights the fact that you can’t outsmart a pandemic,” he says.

“Having said that, I’m confident we’ll bounce back much quicker this time around as we’ve already done all the hard work in rebuilding consumer confidence so that won’t be a factor this time. Plus there issues lot more mainstream content on offer in the coming weeks and months than there was last July after our initial lockdown.”

The lockdown is also impacting regional NSW, where cinemas are restricted to trading at 50 per cent capacity and masks compulsory.

Majestic Cinemas has sites in regional NSW, the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, with CEO Kieren Dell telling IF trading is down about 50 per cent down from where it was expected to be in school holidays with the movies on offer. He puts this down to no tourists out of Sydney, a fearful public, capacity restrictions, masks and Queensland’s snap lockdown.

“We are hoping for more government support to help us regain momentum, in the form of grants, subsidies and vouchers. This is particularly disappointing as in the June period we managed to trade at about 70-75 per cent of a normal June (the first time at this level outside of the Christmas and Easter Holiday weeks) and could feel the momentum building to a great July before the bubble was burst.”

NSW exhibitors have sympathy from their colleagues south of the border who spent much of last year closed, with Kristian Connelly, CEO of Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, telling IF: “I know I speak for those in Melbourne when I say that I wouldn’t wish that stress and frustration on anyone, so to know what Sydney is likely heading into is not only disappointing for NSW exhibitors but also our national distribution partners.

“I wish everyone all the very best and desperately hope that the state government can successfully quash the outbreak, other state premiers can hold infections at the border, and the federal government is able to promptly address their vaccine failures. We need the whole country to be functioning for the industry to get back on it’s feet and we know that audiences are very keen to return to the movies.”

For those who could make it to the cinema, the no 2. proved to be Universal’s F9, which dipped 46 per cent in its fourth frame to earn $1 million, advancing to $19.8 million.

School holiday audiences are finding their way to stablemate Spirit Untamed, which dropped just 10 per cent in its fifth with $602,339, moving to $5.2 million.

In fourth spot was Roadshow’s The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, which faced a significant drop of 56 per cent with earnings $428,784. The Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek and Samuel L. Jackson comedy-actioner is now on $6.7 million overall.

Warner Bros.’ In The Heights has a cume of $3.4 million after taking $340,030 in its third, while Disney’s Cruella, now seven weeks in, is on $9.2 million after a further $335,476.

Escape Room: The Tournament of Champions gathered $315,293 in its second frame for Sony, moving to $838,825, and WB’s The Conjuring 3 $153,230 in its sixth, growing to $10.2 million.

Now seven weeks in, A Quiet Place Part II is now on $13.5 million after gathering another $141,800.

Rounding out the top 10 was Rialto’s Cranston Academy: Monster Zone now on $838,825 after three weekends, with the most recent orbit gathering $97,380.