Ever since the start of the pandemic, studios releasing movies on the big screen has been a gamble. Sure, there are certain safety nets in place, such as in-house streaming services and reduced home video windows, but there is also a bet being made that putting a film out now is a better business decision than putting it on a shelf and waiting for theaters to fully reopen. For the features that do come out there are obviously altered expectations – but it is worth recognizing that there have been some success stories. The latest example is director Tim Story's Tom and Jerry, which just managed to have the second best opening weekend of any title put out since last summer.
The live action/animation hybrid film couldn't quite make as much as Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman 1984 did back in December (also released by Warner Bros.), but according to Variety Tom and Jerry did pull off the shocking feat of earning $13.7 million in ticket sales in its first three days of release. That's $3 million short of what the DC Extended Universe blockbuster made back in December, but it is breathing rarefied air with an eight figure release. With the exception of the Wonder Woman sequel, no other movie released theatrically during the pandemic – including Christopher Nolan's Tenet – has managed to make north of $10 million in its first three days .
As for exactly why Tom And Jerry was able to hit so well, there is no big, specific answer, but there are some tiny ones that help explain it. For starters, thanks to the vaccine rollout things are starting to improve in regards to the pandemic, and it's possible that the good news (including theater reopenings in New York City next month) is giving people more confidence to see a film at their local cinema. One also can't ignore the constant and powerful draw that every family movie has on the big screen (The Croods: A New Age is another title that had one of the best mid-pandemic openings, pulling in $9.7 million in November 2020).
The biggest contributor to the surprise factor in this box office success, however, is the fact that Tom and Jerry was simultaneously released this weekend on HBO Max. Panic spread around the film industry like wildfire back in December when Warner Bros. announced that their entire 2021 slate would debut day-and-date on the big screen and on their streaming service. Doomsayers were quick to announce that the move would be the nail in the coffin for the theatrical experience. The way things are going suggest that to not really be the case.
While many HBO Max users likely streamed Tom and Jerry this weekend, there was still a considerable portion of the movie-going audience that didn't want to watch the film at home/subscribe to the service, and instead opted to buy tickets at their local theater instead. This very much flies in the face of the suggestion that people will universally opt for the more convenient option – and it's even more significant that it's an all-ages release. A one month subscription to HBO Max costs $14.99, and that's definitely cheaper than the expense of a whole family making a trip to the cinema. It's a great sign for the industry as we slowly get closer to things getting back to a semblance of normalcy.
Looking ahead on the theatrical release calendar, a number of big movies have cleared out of the spring in favor of late summer or fall dates, but there are some notable titles still coming, including Godzilla vs. Kong on March 31 and Mortal Kombat on April 16 (both from Warner Bros.), and the Bob Odenkirk-led action feature Nobody, which will be out on March 26. We're definitely keeping our fingers crossed that movies making more than $10 million in their opening weekends will start becoming a regular thing again, and that before long we'll be able to be back in crowded theaters watching all of the most exciting new releases.