Box Office: ‘Raya’ Nabs Soft $2.5M Friday As ‘Chaos Walking’ Stumbles

As an evil force threatens the kingdom of Kumandra, it is up to warrior Raya to leave her Heart Lands home and track down the legendary last dragon to help stop the villainous Druun. © 2020 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s acclaimed Raya and the Last Dragon will open with $7 million to $9 million in both North America and China.

The reason last weekend’s opening weekend for Tom & Jerry felt like a game-changer/relief isn’t that its actual Fri-Sun gross was terribly remarkable. It’s that a $14.1 million Fri-Sun gross is arguably what we might have expected from a poorly-reviewed live-action/animated adaptation of the popular cat-and-mouse toons even under conventional, pre-Covid circumstances. Despite 50% of the nation’s theaters being closed and the film being available on HBO Max, the opening weekend for the Tim Story-directed comedy felt aggressively “normal.”

Hollywood seemed to agree, to a point. Partially thanks to theaters in NYC opening yesterday, last weekend’s “conventionally mediocre” Tom & Jerry debut was followed by two high-profile flicks (Peter Rabbit 2 and A Quiet Place 2) moving *up* to May of this year, with F9 moving back just a month to what feels like a “We mean it this time!” June 25, 2021 release date. However, even with a likely cumulative box office up 14% over last weekend, that doesn’t mean the industry is out of the woods.

This weekend’s debut for Raya and the Last Dragon is an understandable splash of cold water straight to the eyeballs. The Walt Disney Animation period piece adventure fantasy, starring Kelly Marie-Tran and Awkwafina, topped the domestic box office yesterday with $2.5 million in 2,045 theaters. The well-reviewed film (95% fresh and 7.7/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) received an “A” from CinemaScore. Thus we can presume a 3.4x weekend multiplier and an $8.5 million opening weekend.

Chris Pratt and Tom Holland in ‘Onward’

The difference is that even a disappointing Walt Disney/Pixar opener would have nabbed around $40 million (like The Good Dinosaur, Chicken Little or Onward), so we’re at least 80% away from “business as usual.” For the record, had Raya opened last Thanksgiving in normal circumstances, it likely would have earned much more than $40 million over its Wed-Sun debut. Of course, in normal times, Cinemark wouldn’t be blacklisting the picture due to it being available in theaters and on Disney+.

Yes, there are a bazillion different variables to be considered. Cinemark isn’t playing the film; half of the nation’s theaters are still closed for business (Onward opened in 4,310 theaters a year ago) and Raya and the Last Dragon is indeed available on Disney+ in participating territories for a $30 one-time-lease. Moreover, to the extent that Tom & Jerry brought out family audiences that hadn’t been to the movies in months, well, Raya may have suffered by being second.

This may have been, again analyzing all of this on a “Covid curve,” a case of the familiar beating out the new/original. Tom & Jerry is a known entity, one that has been relatively popular for decades and has never had a big-scale movie before. It’s mostly live-action, starring recognizable folks like Chloe Moretz and Michael Pena, with a certain “you know what you’re getting” sensibility for families who just wanted a day out at the movies.

The Princess and the Frog

We should remember that The Princess and the Frog got hammered in December of 2009 by Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel despite obvious… uh, quality differentials. Again, there were contextual issues there as well. Disney platformed the 2-D animated fable on Thanksgiving weekend and didn’t go wide until December 12, by which time everyone had moved on and was talking about Avatar. In the end, Alvin 2 earned $443.1 million worldwide while Princess and the Frog earned $267 million.

Raya and the Last Dragon is strictly theatrical in China, where it earned $1.4 million on Friday and $3.9 million on Saturday (+178%) for a $5.3 million two-day total and likely over/under $8 million debut and a final cume of around $24 million. It’s possible that the film could act like Pixar’s Soul, which opened with $5 million and then legged out with a $13.8 million second-weekend gross and a $57.7 million cume (behind only Incredibles 2 and Coco among Pixar flicks in China).

Word-of-mouth is merely “good” among Chinese moviegoers as opposed to Soul’s superlative buzz. As I have noted many times over the last year, a subpar performance in China is only a big deal for Disney because the domestic theatrical market is so compromised. That Raya may not crack $25 million in China would be less of an issue if it were banking on pulling Moana-level business elsewhere. Speaking of which, Moana is currently trending ahead of Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+.

Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland in ‘Chaos Walking’

In other new release news, Lionsgate finally unleashed the much-delayed (and heavily reshot) Chaos Walking into 1,980 theaters. The Daisy Ridley/Tom Holland YA fantasy adventure, yet another “one and done” franchise starter that wasn’t, earned mostly negative reviews and grossed around $1.32 million on Friday. That means a likely $3.57 million opening weekend. That’s no surprise, as the $100 million-budgeted Doug Liman-directed actioner likely would have been lucky to clear $10 million even in ideal circumstances.

Focus Features released Boogie into 1,252 theaters this weekend. The film is written and directed by Eddie Huang, whose life story inspired Fresh Off the Boat, which means the attorney-turned-chef-turned-author can now add filmmaker to his resume. The film, a coming-of-age drama about a young Chinese-American basketball player caught between his parents’ ambitions and his NBA dreams, earned $430,000 yesterday for a likely $1.26 million opening weekend.

Speaking of Tom & Jerry, the Warner Bros. release earned around $1.6 million (-60%) on its second Friday, paving the way for a $6.53 million (-54%) second weekend and $23 million ten-day cume. As we saw with Wonder Woman 1984 and The Little Things, it would appear (not surprisingly) that the folks who want to see the latest WB biggie in theaters are doing so on opening weekend with the rest either passing or checking it out on HBO Max.

I’ve studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all