Box Office: ‘Super Mario Bros. Movie’ Barrels to Record $204 Million Debut, ‘Air’ Scores $20 Million

Wahoo! “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” racked up a blockbuster $146 million in its opening weekend and powered to $204.6 million in its first five days of release, squashing expectations and steamrolling the competition at the domestic box office.

The animated movie, a collaboration between Illumination, Nintendo and Universal, has landed a number of records, thanks to positive word-of-mouth, nostalgia for the popular video game series and a huge turnout from family audiences. It currently stands as the biggest opening weekend of the year, (overtaking the $106 million debut of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”). It’s also the second-biggest debut ever for an animated title (surpassing the $135.1 million opening of 2016’s “Finding Dory”), as well as the highest-grossing debut ever for Illumination (beating the $115.7 million earned by 2015’s “Minions”).

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“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” scored another $173 million at the international box office, pushing its global tally to a mighty $377 million. It carries a $100 million production budget.

“Cinemas around the world were filled with kids and families drawn by the communal fun that the film promised and delivered in this perfectly executed video game adaptation,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior Comscore analyst. “This is great news for theaters.”

Cinemas, which have been especially starved for family films, were certainly game to celebrate the big turnout, with chains like Cinemark issuing rare statements on the performance of an individual film.

“’The Super Mario Bros. Movie’s’ strong performance with the family audience this weekend is just another example of the consistent consumer enthusiasm for seeing great films on the big screen,” said Wanda Gierhart Fearing, Cinemark’s chief marketing and content officer. “Moviegoers have demonstrated time and time again that they crave the immersive, cinematic experience only theaters can provide.”

“Mario” enjoyed a particularly strong turnout in Imax, bringing in $16.6 million domestically and $21.6 million globally. Those ticket sales rank as the highest animated debut ever for the company.

“llumination and Universal did an excellent job launching this new franchise, building on the great momentum we’re seeing at the global box office as a very promising summer blockbuster season approaches,” says Imax CEO Rich Gelfond.

Heading into the weekend, “Mario” was expected to collect $86 million over the weekend and $125 million in its first five days of release, but projections were revised up — and revised up again — as the weekend progressed.

“The box office just kept growing and growing,” says Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. “This result speaks to the extraordinary love for these Nintendo characters and the storytelling from Illumination.”

Just because “Mario” is adapted from one of the most popular video games doesn’t mean the film was preordained for blockbuster status. In fact, 1993’s disastrous live-action “Super Mario Bros,” starring Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi, has become a legendary example of Hollywood’s failure to properly translate video game stories from consoles to cinemas. But the genre has experienced a revival as of late with “Sonic the Hedgehog,” Tom Holland’s “Uncharted” and “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” on the big screen, as well as “The Last of Us” on the small screen.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” features the voices of Chris Pratt as Mario, Charlie Day as Luigi, Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach and Jack Black as Bowser. Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, the story follows the mustachioed plumber and friends as they prepare to stop the all-powerful Koopa King from world domination. Critics have been mixed on the film, but audiences sentiments were enthusiastic. It earned an “A” CinemaScore.

David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, attributes the success to the film’s “broad demographic appeal.” He says, “This is a five-quadrant audience: families, plus younger and older males and females. It’s a marketer’s dream.”

The week’s other major new release, “Air,” a sports drama directed by Ben Affleck about Nike’s historic deal to court Michael Jordan, benefitted as counter-programming against “Mario.” The film landed in the top five (though its final placement is too close to call until Monday) with a better-than-expected $14.46 million over the traditional weekend and $20.2 million in its first five days of release. It’s a solid result for an R-rated drama aimed at adult audiences. Moreover, it’s the first release from Amazon in quite some time to get an exclusive wide release in multiplexes rather than going straight-to-streaming.

“Amazon is taking a swing,” admits Kevin Wilson, MGM and Amazon Studios theatrical distribution executive. “But I don’t think you can replace what ‘Air’ has gotten this weekend in terms of publicity, word-of-mouth and marketing from going to theaters.”

Amazon recently announced a commitment to putting 12 to 15 new movies in theaters annually, which marks a big shift in strategy. It’s also a boon for theaters, who have been struggling to bring in audiences in between major tentpoles.

“Not every film needs to be theatrical, but some belong in theaters,” Wilson adds. “The industry needs more product to continue to be healthy. Amazon can be part of that. This is a really positive thing for Amazon and the industry.”

“Air,” which is being released by Warner Bros. at the international box office, picked up $10.2 million from 59 overseas markets. Globally, the film has collected $30.4 million.

It’s not clear what kind of ticket sales it’ll need for Amazon to count the experiment as a win. “Air” cost $90 million to make and $40 million to market, so it’ll need to keep playing in theaters to justify its budget. Even if it struggles to turn a profit in theaters, Gross believes the film’s release strategy is “going to generate superior value at every stage.”

“‘Air’ is an example of theatrical distribution’s unique strength, and not just at the box office,” he says. “This movie is going to have greater impact and sell more subscriptions when it arrives on streaming than it would have done playing exclusively on its own streaming platform.”

In addition to directing, Affleck stars in “Air” with Matt Damon, Chris Tucker and Viola Davis. Opening weekend crowds were also high on “Air,” awarding it an “A” CinemaScore. Males accounted for 55% of ticket buyers and 37% were between the ages of 18-34.

Elsewhere, holdover titles rounded out box office charts. It’ll be a tight race for second, third and fourth place as Sunday’s estimates have “Air,” “John Wick: Chapter 4” and “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” all within a few thousands of dollars of each other.

“John Wick 4″ added $14.6 million from 3,607 venues over the weekend. After three weeks on the big screen, the action sequel has generated $147 million in North America and $306 million globally. It will soon overtake the $328 million global tally of 2019’s “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” to become the highest earner of the franchise.

Meanwhile, “Dungeons and Dragons” collected $14.5 million from 3,856 theaters in its sophomore outing, a 61% decline from its opening weekend. So far, the fantasy adaptation has grossed $62 million at the domestic box office and another $62 million internationally, so it’ll need to keep rolling the dice to earn back its hefty $150 million price tag.

In fifth place, “Scream VI” added $3.3 million from 2,286 locations, bringing its domestic total to $103.8 million. It’s already improved upon its predecessor, 2022’s “Scream,” which ended its North American box office run with $81 million, and recently became the first installment in the long-running slasher series to hit the coveted $100 million mark in 26 years, since 1997’s “Scream 2” ended its theatrical run with $101 million.

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