North American theaters are headed for their second straight weekend of falling ticket sales, with only a modest turnout for a new installment of the G.I. Joe franchise, called Snake Eyes, and Old, an M. Night Shyamalan horror film.
The two movies generated about $30 million combined, according to estimates from researcher Comscore Inc., in line with the industry estimate. That total is slightly less than what Space Jam: A New Legacy made in its debut last weekend and half what Walt Disney’s Black Widow took in two weeks prior.
The performance shows the industry is struggling to maintain momentum and recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier in July, it appeared that a slate of potential blockbusters might spark a triumphant return. But the recovery has slowed, with many moviegoers taking advantage of online viewing opportunities for new features and watching at home in large numbers.
“Studios are still testing the waters with smaller releases, shorter windows and hybrid strategies,” Geetha Ranganathan, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, said in a note.
Both Old and Snake Eyes are premiering exclusively in theaters. That’s unusual for the pandemic era: Studios have chosen to release many of their 2021 films online and in theaters at the same time—to help their new streaming services and reach consumers who may still be wary of public gatherings.
That’s been a source of tension between studios and theater owners. The National Association of Theatre Owners excoriated Disney in recent days for releasing the big Marvel picture Black Widow online, saying it’s hurt revenue for the entire industry.
It’s easy to see why theaters are complaining. Domestic box-office sales for the summer—always the busy season for moviegoing—were down 77% from 2019 levels to around $978 million, according to Box Office Mojo, an industry tracker.
Both of this weekend’s new releases were delayed by the closing of cinemas during the spread of Covid-19. Old, about a beach where people age extremely quickly, was initially scheduled to come out in February 2021. The film, by Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures division, led the box office this weekend with $16.5 million sales in North America.
Snake Eyes, which stars Henry Golding and tells an origin story tied to the Hasbro Inc. toy line G.I. Joe, was initially scheduled to premiere on 27 March, 2020, a few days after all of Hollywood closed. With poor reviews from critics and about 15% of U.S. theaters still closed, it ranked No.2 this weekend, with $13.4 million opening sales.
That’s far less than the other movies in the franchise. Two previous G.I. Joe movies collected more than $40 million over their opening weekends, in 2009 and 2013. The film is from ViacomCBS Inc.’s Paramount Pictures division.
Warner Bros.’ new Space Jam installment featuring LeBron James, inspired by the 1996 film starring Michael Jordan, fell to No. 4, with $9.56 million sales in its second weekend. Black Widow took the third spot.
Theaters are on a long journey to recovery from the last 18 months. Part of that time they were closed entirely, and all new releases were delayed. They’ve slowly reopened, but with difficulties. Fears about the virus and mask mandates, as well as regularly changing rules, have made it tough to fill auditoriums. Cinemas are also highly dependent on new releases.
Overall, domestic box-office receipts for the top 10 pictures this weekend declined about 27%, to $66 million from almost $90 million last weekend.