When the COVID-19 shutdown happened in March, Universal was one of the first major studios to make headlines for a shift in the release plan for a major movie. They, along with DreamWorks Animation, decided to put “Trolls World Tour” on Video on Demand in April instead of waiting until most movie theaters *might* be back open. The result: nearly $100 million in VOD sales within its first few weeks.
Over the next two months, “TWT” also opened-up in Drive-Ins around the country, kicking off the unconventional seasons of many locations, including those where I live in Upstate NY.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when UNI and DWA announced that they would still be releasing their next sequel, “The Croods: A New Age”, in theaters over Thanksgiving weekend as the pandemic surges on.
You’d think that, even with all the measures put into place, families might be concerned about going to indoor movie theaters. That’s why WB sent “SCOOB!” to VOD and Disney is unveiling Pixar’s “Soul” on VOD on Christmas Day (among other titles).
But the numbers speak for themselves. “The Croods 2” opened to $1.8 million on Wednesday the 27th and actually increased its box office on Thanksgiving Day (rare for animated films) to $2.7 million. It went up again for the Black Friday gross, adding $3.9 million. The opening weekend five-day estimate looks like it will be around $14 million, higher than all projections. And if the Fri-Sun total turns out to be more than $9.4 million, “Croods” will beat “TENET” to have the biggest wide release opening weekend in North America since the shutdown began.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the figures, and I think Universal and DreamWorks are as well. When I asked director Joel Crawford a few weeks ago about the film’s release strategy, here’s what he said:
“2020, it’s a hard year to plan. The studio’s been awesome. Everybody here is really excited about ‘Croods’ and really excited to share it with the world and figuring out the best way to do that. Half of this movie was completed at home. What it comes down to: I’m excited for people to see this movie any way they can. Except for pirated. Maybe not pirated.”
“The War with Grandpa”, another major new family release over the past few months, is up to $17 million. And “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run”, which was released exclusively in Canada in August, earned a solid $5 million. So maybe we shouldn’t be too shocked by how “Croods” is doing.
However, it was a slightly challenging movie to market besides the obvious reasons. It had nothing to do with star-power (Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds). But it’s been more than seven and a half years since the first “Croods” was released (compared to just three and a half from “Trolls” to “Trolls World Tour”). NBC re-airing the original “Croods” last Saturday night might’ve helped remind families that a second installment is right around the corner.
You have to wonder how many of the families who are buying tickets this weekend know that “A New Age” will be available on VOD by Christmas – because of Universal’s new shortened window deal with movie theater chains. And even if they do know this, does it matter? These families clearly still want to take-in the theatrical experience… get the kids out of the house and (as long as they keep their masks on) par-take in something that’s relatively safe.
Who knows how many movie theaters will still be open a month from now, when temperatures in much of the country will plunge as cases continue to rise. So there could be some families who think, “We better go now!” It’s similar to the older moviegoers who came out in droves for Weekend No. 1 of Kevin Costner & Diane Lane’s “Let Him Go”, a film whose box office has significantly dropped since. (And now it’s already available on VOD.)
During a time when most studios have given up on the theatrical experience, Universal is keeping the lights on for some theaters by opening “Croods”, “Let Him Go”, “Come Play” and “Freaky”. Coming in December (as of now): “All My Life”, “Promising Young Woman” and “News of the World” starring Tom Hanks.
Does the success of “Croods” mean more family films will shift to a theatrical start? Maybe… but I don’t think right away. Certainly don’t expect Disney to change their minds about “Soul”. They don’t want any negative attention right now. We’ll have to see how the holiday season goes, but I could see family fare being some of the first big releases when Spring 2021 rolls around – if enough cinemas are (back) open by then.
This is a case of the right movie at what turned out to be the right time. Just a few months ago, Universal and DreamWorks moved “The Croods: A New Age” UP from a Christmas start to Thanksgiving, and it ended-up being one of the smartest decisions of the year. Get as much money as you can… while you can.