Christmas is often one of the most popular times of year to gather the family and watch a new movie, and this holiday was no different. The biggest distinction, however, is that the season’s biggest releases — “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Soul” — battled for streaming service subscribers rather than box office dollars.
“Wonder Woman 1984,” the superhero sequel starring Gal Gadot, broke from industry tradition as the first Warner Bros. movie to debut on the company’s streaming service HBO Max — and in select movie theaters — on the same day. The movie was available to subscribers at no extra charge.
Yet despite many opting to watch Gal Gadot’s latest outing as Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, from the comfort of their couches, “Wonder Woman 1984” generated surprisingly robust ticket sales — at least for pandemic times. The film collected $16.7 million from 2,100 North American theaters, half of the domestic footprint that would normally greet a blockbuster of its size. It’s a steep fall from the debut of 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” which grossed more than $100 million from 4,100 screens in its first weekend of release. But then, the DC heroine wasn’t battling a world-altering pandemic that resulted in mass theater closures. Currently, only 35% of U.S. cinemas are open at limited capacity, with those in big cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia closed due to the global health crisis.
Traditionally, an opening weekend tally just shy of $17 million would be catastrophic, if not downright embarrassing, for a film of “Wonder Woman 1984’s” size. Today, those box office grosses give “Wonder Woman 1984” bragging rights for the biggest opening weekend haul in the coronavirus era. Even more impressive: it outperformed Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic “Tenet,” which debuted to $9.35 million in September when 70% of theaters had reopened. “Wonder Woman 1984’s” Christmas showing gave Warner Bros. the confidence to fast-track a third entry, which is newly in the works with Gadot and director Patty Jenkins.
Overseas, “Wonder Woman 1984” made another $19.4 million from 42 countries. The movie, which touched down at the international box office last weekend, has grossed $85 million worldwide to date. The follow-up will earn far less than the original “Wonder Woman,” which ended its theatrical run with a mighty $822 million worldwide. David A. Gross, who runs movie consultancy FranchiseRe, predicts that “Wonder Woman 1984” earnings may tap out 78% below that of the first film if the sequel continues on its current trajectory. That would see box office revenues lose steam at around $180 million globally. Before “Wonder Woman 1984” was delayed numerous times because of the pandemic, it was widely expected to reach the billion-dollar mark.
“The majority of moviegoers and fans have little choice but to watch the film on television,” notes Gross, who referred to “Wonder Woman” as a “potential theatrical crown jewel” but called the sequel’s international interest “weak.”
“Wonder Woman 1984” will be available on HBO Max for one month. After 31 days, the superhero tentpole will be pulled from the streaming service and will only be accessible to see in theaters until it reaches the traditional home entertainment frame.
In pre-pandemic times, it would have been unthinkable to unveil a new blockbuster — especially one with a $200 million production budget — simultaneously in theaters and on a streaming service. But with thousands of U.S. cinemas closed and many people still hesitant to go to the movies, traditional Hollywood studios have been wary of keeping major movies on the big screen without a calculated backup plan.