'The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard'.

Just over a week ago, F9 revved into cinemas, posting the highest opening weekend since the pandemic began. Many exhibitors were therefore excited about the future promise of school holidays and two other upcoming major releases, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard and In The Heights.

But what a difference a week can make. New outbreaks of the virus are impacting cinemas across the country and disrupting the market.

The situation is rapidly evolving, but cinemas in Greater Sydney, including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour, are now shuttered amid a city-wide lockdown that will last until at least July 9.

That date will already see Sydney cinemas shut during the highly anticipated release of Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow, directed by Aussie Cate Shortland, on July 8.

Elsewhere in NSW, mask-wearing indoors, including cinemas, has been re-introduced, as has the one person per four square metres rule.

In the Northern Territory, Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield are currently in a lockdown for 48 hours. In WA’s Perth and Peel, mask-wearing has been reintroduced indoors, and similarly masks rules will come into effect in many areas of Queensland from tomorrow.

In Victoria, where a recent outbreak has now been contained, exhibitors are still only operating at 75 per cent capacity (or a maximum of 300 people per theatre), and masks must be worn.

All that considered, the numbers from the weekend were still fairly reasonable, with the top 20 titles amassing $9.2 million, down 35 per cent on the previous, according to Numero.

Alex Temesvari, general manager of Sydney’s Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, tells IF the current situation for all NSW exhibitors is extremely frustrating, especially during school holidays.

“It’s doubly frustrating for The Orpheum as we had multiple massive live shows scheduled that have had to be postponed over this next couple of weeks,” he says.

“However, I’m mindful of remembering that our friends in Victoria have done it far tougher than us during the pandemic and at this stage there is no reason for us to expect that the lockdown will last longer than two weeks so it could certainly be a far worse situation.”

Masks, reduced capacity and a lack of tourists from Sydney is having an impact on Majestic Cinemas, which has a number of sites throughout regional NSW including coastal areas such as Port Macquarie, Nambucca Heads and Sawtell.

“But nothing compared to the effects on our Greater Sydney colleagues – at least we can stay open,” CEO Kieren Dell tells IF.

“So all in all, the weekend, which was also sunny weather, was a bit softer than we had hoped but not too bad. Fast 9 continues to power along, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard was solid, but In The Heights was pretty soft at most places. We were hoping some of the kids product like Spirit and Cranston Academy, as well as Buckley’s Chance, would start to pick up from today but the masks and lack of tourists and general wariness of the public means that is unlikely to happen to a great degree.”

F9 remained the “box office hero”, as Wallis Cinemas’ programming manager David Simpson put it. The film continues to sit at no. 1 after amassing another $3.7 million for Universal, to push its cume to $14.8 million. In North America, the film smashed pandemic-era opening records over the weekend, grossing more than $US70 million.

Behind the Vin Diesel film was Roadshow sequel The Hitman’s Wife Bodyguard, starring Salma Hayek, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. The action comedy opened on $1.6 million from 374 screens, and after extensive previews sits on $4.4 million.

Both were standouts for Village Cinemas, though national film programming manager Geoff Chard notes there is still some hesitancy about moviegoing from the general public in Victoria.

“But overall we are very happy with how the audience has rebounded from the most recent lockdown,” he says.

The Conjuring 3, A Quiet Place Part II and Cruella are continuing to perform well in Victoria too, given their delayed start.”

‘In The Heights’.

Warner Bros’ In The Heights ranked third nationally with an opening of $755,744 from 303, though the distributor argues that number was “clearly” affected by the Sydney lockdown.

The Jon M. Chu-directed musical, based on Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway show, has also had extensive previews, grossing $1.7 million so far.

Melbourne’s Cinema Nova was one of the top sites in the country, with CEO Kristian Connelly noting the film is appealing more to upscale audiences than those in commercial multiplexes.

“At this early stage it seems likely that Cinema Nova will leg-out on the picture and become the release’s highest-grossing venue in Australia at the conclusion of the national season,” he says.

Connelly is positive about the market in the southern state, noting exhibitors should have a good school holiday period if the country can keep COVID under control.

“Melbourne just needs to be given the chance to enjoy an extended period of uninterrupted trade so as to build momentum and cash-in on attractive theatrical releases on the horizon.”

Now four weeks in, WB stablemate The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is on $9.2 million after amassing another $690,430.

Both Disney’s Cruella and Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II are entering their fifth week, earning $583,496 and $552,679 respectively. The de Vil origin story, also streaming on Disney+ as a premium title, is on $7.5 million, while the John Krasinski horror sequel sits on $12.6 million.

With school holidays underway, Universal animation Spirit Untamed held relatively well in its third frame, dropping just 22 per cent with $461,130. That result that sees the title advance to $2.8 million. Also in its third, Sony’s Dream Horse moved to $2.1 million after collecting $239,548.

The Australian-set Buckley’s Chance, from Canadian director Tim Brown and starring Bill Nighy, Martin Sacks, Kelton Pell and Victoria Hill, opened $219,342 for Transmission Films from 228 screens.

Rounding out the top 10 was Rialto animation, Cranston Academy: Monster Zone, which bowed on $128,059 from 204 screens.

Of the Australian titles still in in the top 20, Peter Rabbit 2 is on $21.6 million after 14 weeks and documentary My Name is Gulpilil $357,231 after five.

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