“Mortal Kombat” and “Demon Slayer” showed that some groups are ready to come back to theaters
It will be at least another month before the box office sees the kind of hopeful numbers that “Mortal Kombat” and “Demon Slayer” provided this past weekend, but getting not one but two films to earn $20 million-plus openings alongside each other is a big step forward in the post-COVID rebuilding process.
“Mortal Kombat” took No. 1 this weekend with a $23.3 million launch from 3,073 screens, well above the low-to-mid teens projections expected for the video game adaptation, as it received mixed reviews from critics and was simultaneously available on HBO Max. “Demon Slayer,” which has become known as one of the biggest pandemic box office success stories with over $450 million grossed worldwide and the title of Japan’s highest grossing film ever, nearly toppled “Kombat” with a $21.1 million opening from just 1,600 screens.
With no more major studio films coming until the release of the “Saw” spinoff “Spiral” on May 14, it’s unlikely that the $56 million overall gross total for the weekend — the highest since the pandemic — will be topped for some time. But there still are some key takeaways that Hollywood can glean from what we’ve seen.
1. Never underestimate the otakus
Anyone who has attended an opening weekend screening of films like “Weathering With You” or “Dragon Ball Super: Broly” knows that anime fans, while small in the U.S. compared to other hardcore fan bases of blockbuster franchises, are more than capable of selling out an auditorium.
“Demon Slayer — The Movie: Mugen Train” proved that by setting a new record for the highest opening weekend ever in the U.S. for a non-English film, topping the $17.4 million earned by Zhang Yimou’s 2004 film “Hero.” It is also the highest opening weekend for U.S. anime distributor Funimation, which was acquired by Sony in 2017.
Anime films based on TV series like “Demon Slayer” are extremely frontloaded, as they involve a knowledge of backstory that shuts out most casual viewers that support films on later weekends. As such, Funimation only serves as a small percentage of Sony’s overall box office.