With King Kong, a little swagger returns to the box office

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This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows a scene from "Godzilla vs. Kong." (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

NEW YORK – Once again, mayhem and mass destruction is back at the box office. It’s almost like old times.

“Godzilla vs. Kong,” one of the few tentpoles to dare release during COVID times, is poised this weekend to set a new high in ticket sales during the pandemic. It won’t be the kind of blockbuster business such a big-budget release would typically manage, but experts forecast a launch of at least $25 million.

Opening-day ticket sales on Wednesday for “Godzilla vs. Kong” totaled $9.6 million, Warner Bros. said Thursday — a single-day pandemic record and more than most 2020-2021 opening weekend hauls. Last weekend, the monster mash pulled in an impressive $123.1 million internationally. In China, where moviegoing is close to pre-pandemic levels, the movie made about $70 million, double the debut of 2014's “Godzilla."

For the first time in a long time, there’s the faint hint of a hit at the box office.

“It’s a good omen that the tastes of the consumer have not shifted so much that there’s no possibility of restarting the movie business,” says Joshua Grode, chief executive of Legendary Entertainment, which produced “Godzilla vs. Kong." “This tells everybody: the moviegoing business is here, and, yes, it may be different post-pandemic. But there is a viable industry there.”

Huge challenges remain to the revival of moviegoing. With so many cinemas shuttered for nearly an entire year, many moviegoers are out of the habit. Some are unlikely to return to sitting indoors with strangers until they're vaccinated or the pandemic has ebbed. And even those who have been convinced of the safety of moviegoing by theaters’ health protocols, they now have only more in-home options. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is streaming simultaneously on HBO Max in North America.

But few scream big screen as much as King Kong and Godzilla. To help kickstart moviegoing and bring back a little chest-thumping swagger to theaters, the industry is counting on two of the movies’ most iconic, long-running leviathans. Laying another metropolis to waste might help movie theaters build themselves back up.

“The issue is less convincing consumers to go to the movies than it is convincing studios to open their movies,” says Rich Gelfond, IMAX'S chief executive. “There’s been a hesitancy on the part of Hollywood studios to release movies because they haven’t been convinced the demand is there. What I really hope this weekend shows is that there is a lot of demand there and it convinces them to open a lot of movies that have been sitting on the shelf.”