'Godzilla vs. Kong' stomps to pandemic-best $48.5M opening

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

NEW YORK – With the help of a few old friends, the box office rekindled some of its old might over the weekend. “Godzilla vs. Kong” scored easily the best opening of the pandemic with an estimated $48.5 million since opening Wednesday, even as it was simultaneously streaming at home.

The monster mash, from Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment, was the widest domestic release in the past year, playing in more than 3,000 theaters. Many theaters have been reopening over the past few weeks; about 60% of theaters were open this weekend, according to data firm Comscore. Most are operating at 50% capacity or less.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” stomped to $32.2 million from Friday to Sunday, according to studio estimates Sunday. The five-day total far exceeded expectations, and even outpaced the three-day debut ($47.8 million) of the franchise's last entry, 2019's “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Globally, “Godzilla vs. Kong” grossed $120.1 million over the weekend, bringing its two-week worldwide total to $285.4 million.

Made for approximately $160 million, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is one of a small handful of big-budget movies to open in theaters. WarnerMedia, which owns Warner Bros. and HBO Max, hedged its bet, though, by streaming the film to subscribers in North America at the same time — a strategy it's pursuing for all 2021 releases.

The studio didn't offer viewing data Sunday but said “Godzilla vs. Kong” had a larger audience on HBO Max than any film or TV show since the service's launch in 2020.

But clearly the clash of two of the movies' most iconic big guys was enough to drive more people — whether they have HBO Max accounts or not — to the big screen more than anything else over the past the year. After a punishing year for theaters, it's one of the most promising signs in ages that moviegoing can be revived after a punishing pandemic year.

David A. Gross, who runs the movie consultancy FranchiseRe, estimated that “Godzilla vs. Kong” would have debuted with a $50 million three-day weekend and $500 million worldwide if not for the pandemic.

“While it’s half of what it would be under normal circumstances, the weekend is a clear and positive indication that moviegoing has inherent strengths that aren’t going away, including going out for the group experience; the big screen quality; and the value for cost,” Gross said.