‘Super Mario Bros. Movie’ roars back at the family box office

Theaters struggled to recover from the pandemic as once-reliable family audiences drifted away. Last year, family-oriented movies — mostly animated — represented 17 percent of global ticket sales, half of what it was in 2019.

Still, over the weekend, Universal Pictures’ “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” wowed families, pulling in $146.4 million in ticket sales at theaters in the U.S. and Canada for a total of $204.6 million. Since arriving on Wednesday. The PG-rated film cost around $100 million to produce by Illumination Entertainment and Nintendo.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” about Brooklyn plumbers who become entangled in a magical and treacherous realm known as the Mushroom Kingdom, grossed an additional $173 million overseas — resulting in a Hollywood trade news site “Plumb is crazyIt paralleled the results of Universal mega-franchises like “Fast and Furious” and “Jurassic World.”

Are family movies back—to the point where Hollywood once again believes in them as relatively sure things?

Studio executives and theater owners spent the weekend saying “Yes!” They were shouting and doing cartwheels.

“It’s very unusual,” Jim Orr, Universal’s head of domestic theatrical distribution, said Sunday. “The numbers continue to grow as the weekend goes on.”

Box office analysts were more cautious. As the dominant provider of family entertainment, Walt Disney Studios must deliver a theatrical animated hit before a true recovery can be announced, David A. Gross, a film consultant and Box office power. The last five animated movies Disney has released in theaters have been disappointing ticket sales. (They include”A strange world” and “Lightyear” last year, and “Encanto,” “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Rance Gone Wrong” in 2021, a pandemic year.)

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“There are still some question marks hanging over family movies,” said Mr. Gross said in an email. Disney has two upcoming animated movies:BasicIn a world made of fire, water, earth and air, comes June; and “like,” a musical about a young woman and a falling star, is set to hit screens in November.

Taking kids to the movies can be expensive — $110 for a family of four in New York City, and that’s without popcorn ($9.29 for a small one) or a soda ($7). While Disney has pushed Pixar movies like “Luca,” “Turning Red” and “Soul” out of theaters entirely on its streaming service, families have gotten used to watching new animated movies at home during the pandemic. The streaming-service movies are “free” or available to anyone already subscribed to Disney+ ($8 per month for the basic version).

Over the weekend in North America, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” was easily the no. 1 became. “John Wick: Chapter 4” (Lionsgate), “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among, photo finishing second. Thieves” (Paramount) and “Air” (Amazon) are estimated to have grossed around $14 million each.

“Air,” directed by Ben Affleck, has grossed about $20 million since hitting 3,500 domestic movie screens on Wednesday, a total Mr. Cross called “excellent.” Sports dramas — “Air” is about Nike’s efforts to lure a young Michael Jordan to its struggling basketball brand in the 1980s — have brought in about $5.4 million in ticket sales.

The vote for “Air” cemented Amazon’s decision to release the well-reviewed film in theaters, where it will run exclusively for at least a month before becoming available on the company’s Prime Video streaming service. For Amazon, theatrical release is a loss leader — Prime Video is a way to compete for top talent who want to see their films on big screens. Analysts estimate that Amazon paid $130 million for the rights to “Air” and spent an additional $50 million on marketing.

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Mr. “Air” is the first film from Artists Equity, created by Affleck, Matt Damon and Redbird Capital.

But the weekend belongs to “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” Among certain demographics, the film felt like a cultural phenomenon, or Mr. Gross called it “an urgent need to film in action”. That’s no accident: At Universal carpet-bombed televised sporting events (March Madness, NFL championship games, the NBA All-Star Game, the Super Bowl), marketers staged a stunt on “The Tonight Show” with commercials. The film’s voice actors (Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Keegan-Michael Key) sang the Mario theme song.

Universal’s theme parks around the world helped put out the fire. Universal Studios Hollywood recently opened Super Nintendo World, a lavishly themed expansion featuring Mario Bros. The attraction was a A runaway victoryEarly entry tickets have sold out every day since opening on February 17.

Paul Tergarabedian, senior ComScore analyst, noted that “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” delivered the biggest opening on record for an animated film, behind “The Secret Life of Pets” (2016) and the second biggest. Recording for an animated film. “Incredibles 2” (Disney-Pixar) remains No. 1 with $183 million in the first three days of 2018.

Universal has transformed itself into an animation powerhouse under its president, Donna Langley. He oversees two cartoon factories: Illumination, founded by Chris Meledandri (“Despicable Me,” “Ice Age”). DreamWorks Animation, which spawned the Oscar-nominated sequel “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” which opened to $12.4 million in ticket sales in December and ultimately grossed $480 million worldwide. Universal’s upcoming animated films include “Strays,” an R-rated canine comedy slated to hit theaters in June. The studio is also working on a reboot of the “Shrek” franchise.

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Received “The Super Mario Bros. Movie”. Mixed with negative reviews. But its immediate success among ticket buyers — CinemaScore gave the film an A grade in exit polls — adds to a recent trend in Hollywood: studios have finally cracked the code for adapting video games for established, universally appealing intellectual properties. For the big screen.

The film industry’s troubled history began 30 years ago, when the first video game-based movie, “Super Mario Bros.,” became a Hall-of-Fame misfire. In recent years, studios have taken a renewed interest in game adaptations, leading to hits like “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount) and “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” (Warner Bros.). On television, “The Last of Us” (HBO) and “The Witcher” (Netflix) are game-based hits.

Head of Universal Distribution Mr. Orr noted that “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which ran in 3,343 theaters in the United States and Canada, benefited from nostalgia. Nintendo introduced its Mario Bros. games in the 1980s. 26 percent of weekend visitors are over 35 years old.

“Illumination and Nintendo teamed up to create a movie that fans will love,” said Mr. Orr said. “People wanted to come out and be completely entertained by these characters they’ve known for decades.”

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