Box Office: Cinemas Have Good News in April, Minus Dirty Minor

Best of all: Signs of life for original and risky films at the box office.

With “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Disney) kicking off its first legitimate summer film season in three years Thursday, most industry watchers are poised to move on from a muted April overall.

Not so fast, though. Yes, gross revenue remains warm, and comparisons with the good stuff last May (of 2019) keep the concerns lingering. But this is counterintuitive thinking.

While gross revenue showed no improvement, mixed financial results for the month actually revealed more positive news than any month since theaters reopened. And ironically, the positives can be seen from even some of this month’s biggest disappointments.

Here’s the thing, get rid of the bad news first:

Gross and comparative performance shows no improvement

Our forecast for this month is for an increase of between $600-650 million, up slightly from March. Oops — the actual take was around $570 million.

Also projected is the chance (if far from certain) that the three films might open to over $50 million, the first post-COVID, and unusual for April. What seems certain is that all three will eventually earn more than $100 million domestically.

“Sonic the Hedgehog 2”

It turns out that only “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (Paramount) achieves both values. Both “Morbius” (Sony) and “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” failed, at least domestically.

Using 2019 again as a barometer of normality, last month made only 55 percent gross as much as April 2019. And this year (one-third to) it’s the same, $1.9 billion compared to $3.435 billion three years ago.

But… the calendar can change a lot of things

Different years can have different factors. The big thing in this comparison is that “Avengers: Endgame,” with its biggest opening on record, made $427 million on five days of April in 2019. That year, the Marvel title that kicked off the summer opened early.

Take that out, and compare April 1-25 for the two, this year it worked out 76 percent of 2019. That’s a more accurate reflection of the current situation.

April shows signs of life for original and risky film

None made the top three for this month, but three non-franchise films or sequels that opened in April have already hit the $20 million mark — “The Bad Guys” (Universal), “The Northman,” (Focus), and “Ambulance. ” (Universal) — with “Father Stu” (Sony) likely to join them. And the March originals “The Lost City” (Paramount) and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24) grossed the most so far for the month of April.

It may not look like much. But the first three months saw only the four original releases do that much.

It’s a small step, but April would be much worse off without some fresh produce, some of which might not be expected to run as well as they have.

Disappointment has a silver lining

“Morbius” and “Dumbledore” are both likely to end up in the red for their studios (though the overseas return of “Fantastic Beasts” has softened the blow for Warner Bros.). Even so, their weak performance could actually be a positive thing.

“Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secret”

Warner Bros.

Combined with the signs of interest in the original title, the lack of default success for final series entries could see the studio back away a bit from their default preference for assembly line recurring titles that feel like a low-risk endeavor. In general, these titles cost more than the original (“Dumbledore” reportedly hit $200 million pre-market).

Like the signs of life for the original film, the impact may not be noticeable for a year or more with the time lag between the film being green lighted and its appearance on screen.

“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is great news ahead of summer

Regardless of future changes, the key to this summer is that a predominantly franchise/sequel series is what we have — and it needs to evolve. This is one of those films, with optimal dates, but Paramount’s second animated hybrid/live-action “Sonic” has grossed more than the first series entry. At $162 million and a likely $190-200 million domestic total, it appears to surpass its predecessor by $40 million or more. Here’s a surprise — that gross exceeds the US/Canada “No Time to Die” gross.

It was a true “return movie” story. It was helped by Pixar’s “Turning Red” (Disney) skipping the cinema. The financial strategy behind this isn’t easy to pinpoint, with the studio clearly wanting to prioritize its streamers at a time when there’s more competition.

But Disney and others had to recognize that “Turning” could be a powerful theater performer. And then, as other films have shown (led by “Sing 2″/Universal, which has grossed $163 million plus four months of massive VOD), hitting theaters first raises revenue later on.

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