Jungle Cruise (Courtesy of Walt Disney Co.)
The Disney film, starring Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson, debuted slightly ahead of expectations despite concerns the Delta variant would keep family crowds at home. At the international box office, “Jungle Cruise” brought in a lackluster $27.6 million from 47 overseas territories, buoying its worldwide box office haul to $61.8 million.
For a movie that cost $200 million to produce, as “Jungle Cruise” did, its box office opening weekend would traditionally be a major disappointment. But the pandemic has upended the movie theater business, scrambling the rubric for success as the industry mounts a recovery. Today, that haul seems almost respectable, though it doesn’t mean “Jungle Cruise” will be profitable, at least not in its theatrical iteration. A film with that price tag would typically have to generate at least $500 million globally to break even.
However, Disney is hedging its bets and opening the film simultaneously on Disney Plus, the studio’s subscription streaming service, where it will be made available to subscribers for $30. The studio deployed the same strategy for COVID-19 era releases like “Cruella” and “Black Widow.” Disney reported on Sunday that “Jungle Cruise” earned $30 million globally on Disney Plus Premier Access, which is half of what “Black Widow” initially made in surcharge revenue. With any movie being offered at home on the same day as its theatrical release, it’s impossible to tell if the hybrid launch cannibalized ticket sales or enticed audiences who wouldn’t have gone to see it in theaters regardless.
Scarlett Johansson, the star of Disney’s “Black Widow,” argues its the former. The actor made headlines this week for suing Disney, alleging the studio’s decision to premiere her Marvel film on Disney Plus on the same day as its theatrical debut was a breach of contract and cost her tens of millions in backend deals. Disney fired back, claiming Johansson benefitted from its hybrid release on Disney Plus and saying her lawsuit showed “callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Since rival studios have similarly put movies online sooner than usual to boost streaming service subscribers, the outcome of Johansson’s public legal dispute could mark a watershed moment for the way actors are compensated for their work. Johnson and Blunt appear to be on board with their film’s hybrid release, and, for now, “Jungle Cruise” is expected to be the last of Disney’s current slate to debut concurrently on Disney Plus.
Jaume Collet-Serra directed the family-friendly “Jungle Cruise,” which is based on the Disney theme park ride and co-stars Jesse Plemons, Édgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall and Paul Giamatti. Set in the early 20th century around the first world war, “Jungle Cruise” follows a morally dubious riverboat captain (Johnson) who takes an intrepid British scientist (Blunt) and her brother (Whitehall) on a mission to find the Tree of Life, which is believed to possess healing powers. Though “Jungle Cruise” won’t make as much money as it might have prior to the pandemic, Disney still hopes it can launch a new franchise, à la the theme park ride-inspired “Pirates of the Caribbean” series.
Box office analysts say audiences have been more skittish about going to the movies because of the resurgence of COVID cases across the country. However, some experts suggest the worsening public health situation isn’t the sole reason that “Jungle Cruise” didn’t dazzle in its debut in theaters and at home. It’s a genre that, outside of exceptions like “Jurassic World” and “Jumanji” sequels, has mostly fallen out of favor with cinemagoers. “Jungle Cruise” received mixed reviews from critics and secured an “A-” CinemaScore.
“The primary reason for the lukewarm launch is not COVID or the option to stream the movie; the weakness is the film itself,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “‘Jungle Cruise’ is a classic Hollywood action adventure, and today, that genre has lost its edge.”
Many ticket buyers who journeyed out to see “Jungle Cruise” in theaters opted to view the film in the best possible quality. Imax theaters accounted for $2.17 million of domestic ticket sales for “Jungle Cruise,” as well as $1.33 million of international revenues. Sources suggest that higher ticket prices for premium large formats, such as Imax and Dolby, are contributing to larger-than-expected drops between a movie’s first and second weekend in theaters. There aren’t as many luxury screens in the country, which means big films are quickly swapped out for newer titles.
Elsewhere on box office charts, Universal’s “Old” and A24’s “The Green Knight” are locked in a close battle for second place. It’s too narrow to call, though industry insiders believe “Old” will pull ahead once final numbers are tallied on Monday.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the mind-bending thriller about a beach that makes you old fell 60% from its initial weekend of release, pulling in $6.76 million from 3,379 venues. “Old” debuted last weekend to a leading $16.5 million, pushing domestic ticket sales to $30 million. Internationally, the film added $7.5 million from 44 markets, bringing its global tally to $48 million.
The medieval fantasy adventure “The Green Knight,” starring Dev Patel, arrived above expectations with $6.78 million from 2,790 North American theaters. From the studio behind “Zola,” “Lady Bird” and “Moonlight” and other beloved indies, “The Green Knight” tells the story of King Arthur’s headstrong nephew, who embarks on a quest to confront a gigantic tree-like creature known as the Knight.
Also new to theaters this weekend, Focus Features’ well-reviewed drama “Stillwater,” took the No. 5 spot with $5.12 million from 2,531 locations. Directed by “Spotlight” filmmaker Tom McCarthy, “Stillwater” stars Matt Damon as a father who travels to France to aid his daughter (Abigail Breslin) after she was imprisoned for allegedly murdering her girlfriend while studying abroad. It’s inspired by the story of Amanda Knox, an American exchange student who spent four years in an Italian prison before being exonerated. Knox has criticized the movie, claiming the filmmakers and stars of “Stillwater” are profiting off her name and glamorizing the struggle of her wrongful murder conviction. Knox had no involvement in the film, which was co-produced by Participant Media and DreamWorks.
“By fictionalizing away my innocence, my total lack of involvement, by erasing the role of the authorities in my wrongful conviction, McCarthy reinforces an image of me as a guilty and untrustworthy person,” Knox wrote on Twitter. “And with Matt Damon’s star power, both are sure to profit handsomely off of this fictionalization of ‘the Amanda Knox saga.'”
“Stillwater” ranked below “Black Widow,” which is currently in its fourth weekend in theaters. The Marvel superhero adventure, headlined by Johansson’s avenging Natasha Romanoff, brought in $6.1 million. After about one month on the big screen, “Black Widow” has generated $166 million in the U.S. and Canada and $343.6 million globally. That’s not bad for COVID times, but it’s by far the worst result for recent installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Variety's Rebecca Rubin contributed to this post.