Movie theaters in the United States have been closed since March, but now, for the first time in over five months, we have significant domestic box office numbers to report. The major theater chain in the U.S. AMC, Regal, and Cinemark all opened theaters this past weekend, at least in places where doing so was possible, and with that, the first wide release since March, Russell Crowe's Unhinged was able to bank about $4 million. Although, it's hard to say just how much of an impact the theater openings were.
To be sure, a $4 million opening weekend isn't all that impressive a take, even a small movie, but one getting a wide release would expect to do better than that based on star power alone. But under the circumstances, it's nothing to sneeze at. While the major U.S. theater chains were open in many places, theaters are still in lockdown in major markets like New York and California, and social distancing measures are still in place where theaters are open, so there's a pretty hard cap on what constitutes "success" for the domestic box office right now.
It's not all bad news however, at least from a box office standpoint. According to Deadline, box office numbers actually rose for Unhinged between Friday and Saturday. The opposite happened for the film when it opened in Canada last weekend, which would seem to indicate domestically that people are really looking to return to theaters.
While major chains are open in some markets, it appears that the major population centers still drove the box office as drive-in theaters in larger markets, where traditional theaters are still closed, saw more business than those traditional sit-down theaters. Four of the top five venues for Unhinged were drive-ins in California. The fifth was a Drive-In in Michigan. Only after you leave the top five do you get into "hardtop" theaters.
It's certainly going to be a long time before we get box office results that resemble anything like we're used to see. Even after larger markets open for business social distancing will likely still be a thing for the foreseeable future. Who knows how long it will be before theaters are all open and trying to fill every seat again.
Of course, we may also start to see box office numbers pick up as more in demand films begin to open. This Friday will see the opening of Bill and Ted Face the Music and the following weekend will see Christopher Nolan's repeatedly delayed Tenet finally bow in U.S. theaters. We will likely also see the number of open theaters increase. We're on a path toward things returning to normal, but exactly how fast or slow that road will be we don't know yet. And all this assumes that we don't see theaters leading to virus expansion, which could see them closing down yet again.