‘Tom and Jerry’
We’ve been here before over the last year. When Chris Nolan’s Tenet opened with a surprisingly robust $53 million in its overseas launch, I thought the whole “save cinemas” thing might actually work. When Wonder Woman 1984 opened in North America with a surprisingly robust $16.4 million despite co-existing on HBO Max, I thought better times were ahead. I don’t want to get too optimistic about Tom & Jerry over-performing this weekend with a $13.7 million domestic debut for a $38.8 million global cume. That’s a terrific 3.425x domestic weekend multiplier and around double what most of us were expecting.
That debut comes despite the Tim Story-directed film being available on HBO Max and half the North American theaters currently closed. Does that mean that the Chloe Grace Moretz-starring comedy would have notched a $26 million debut in conventional circumstances? Maybe/maybe not, but in the current normal a $13.7 million-grossing debut for a comparatively unassuming flick is cause for a hat tip.
Yes, Tom & Jerry of all things nabbed the second-biggest Fri-Sun debut for any movie in North America since the $38 million launch of Pixar’s Onward just under a year ago. That was followed by the $5-$10 million debuts of The Hunt, Bloodshot and I Still Believe, which was the last pre-Covid weekend in North American theaters before the world turned upside down.
Tom & Jerry was ironically the sort of movie that, prior to the HBO Max/theaters combo announcement, I had expected to join Scoob and The Witches as an HBO Max release in North America. Family films have struggled in recent years thanks to the deluge of VOD/streaming options combined with comparatively high costs for a trip to the multiplex. Sure, proverbial “event movies” like Frozen II and How to Train Your Dragon 3 still pack them in, but “just a kids flick” is a harder sell.
Come what may, Tom & Jerry opened above the $9.4 Fri-Sun American launch of Tenet (over a $20.2 million week-long North American roll-out) and above the $9.7 million Fri-Sun debut of Universal’s The Croods: A New Age (over a $14 million Thanksgiving weekend launch). Now Wonder Woman 1984 flamed out with $43.6 million domestic (a miserable-for-December 2.62x multiplier) and $161 million worldwide. That was due to mixed word-of-mouth and the mere idea that those who wanted to see it in theaters (and could do so) showed up on opening weekend.
DreamWorks’ The Croods: A New Age is a genuine hit, having earned $52.4 million domestic and $156.11 million worldwide on a $65 million budget while remaining at or near the top of the various VOD charts since December. I’m hoping Tom & Jerry will have legs closer to The Croods 2. Despite lousy reviews (23% and 4.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes), the film earned an A- from CinemaScore, making it another example of a Tim Story film (Fantastic Four, Think Like A Man, Ride Along, etc.) being a hit despite poor reviews.
Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in ‘Wonder Woman 1984’
Of course, it’s not like Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, Yogi Bear, Marmaduke or Beverly Hills Chihuahua were critical darlings. If Tom & Jerry spawns a sequel, Story will be the first director to spawn five theatrical franchises. He now sits with Robert Rodriguez and Wes Craven with four “spawned at least one theatrical sequel” franchises.
As for “why,” credit audiences wanting to get out of the house and having something multi-quadrant and kid-friendly to see in theaters right as more theaters are opening again. As is often the case, most of the early-year flicks (The Little Things, The Marksman, Judas and the Black Messiah) have been “for adults,” so families that might have seen The Croods 2 or Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters over Christmas and January instead sampled them at home.
The Tom and Jerry brand is well-known enough and this was the first big Tom & Jerry movie. Throw in a cute trailer and recognizable human co-stars (Chloe Moretz, Michael Pena, etc.) and there you have it. $13.7 million isn’t a barn-burner, but it’s on par with Yogi Bear ($16 million), Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore ($12.3 million) and Marmaduke ($11.6 million) 11 years ago and even Stuart Little ($15 million) in 1999.
This isn’t 2010, back when streaming was in its infancy, smart phones and social media hadn’t reshaped the entertainment world and consumers still went to the movies just to go to the movies. Save for the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, the whole “animated IP existing in a live-action world” sub-genre wasn’t known for boffo debuts. Tom & Jerry opened with double the $6.8 million Fri-Sun launch of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle in the summer of 2000. Okay, so Garfield nabbed $21 million in 2004, but Garfield didn’t open in the middle of a pandemic.
Warner Bros. has four of the five biggest Covid-era debuts (along with The Little Things with $4.8 million) while three of those films were on HBO Max. Tenet still outperformed anything else from Hollywood last year ($363 million worldwide) save for the pre-pandemic Bad Boys for Life ($430 million). Yes, they are leaving theatrical money on the table with their 2021 slate. Yes, Wonder Woman 1984 would have earned 5x what it did theatrically had they waited. But they deserve some credit for helping theaters keep the lights on in early 2021 (just as Universal offered a plethora of theatrical movies in late 2020).
Does this mean that the likes of Lionsgate’s Chaos Walking and Walt Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon are going to pull in healthier, relatively speaking, openings as theaters in NYC reopen next weekend? Does this mean that, as theaters in New York and California open over the next month, we’ll start to see something approximating conventional theatrical business for commercially viable releases like Mortal Kombat and Godzilla Vs. Kong? I can only hope, and if so then Tom & Jerry will live on in movie trivia immortality as the release that marked the breaking of the damn.
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