For all the critical hype (and my hard-earned dollars) AIR received last weekend, the theatrical box office was overwhelmingly titled toward a film not featuring a single three-dimensional human actor, essentially retold a story that began 40 years ago with a 16-bit monkey rolling barrels and seemed to shock the world. As THE WRAP.com’s Jeremy Fuster enthustiascally reported:
Universal/Illumination’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has now earned the largest global animated opening weekend in box office history with a worldwide five-day launch of $377 million, passing the $358 million record set by Disney’s “Frozen II” on Thanksgiving weekend in 2019.
Domestically, “Mario” was projected when it opened in theaters on Wednesday to earn a five-day opening of at least $125 million from 4,343 theaters, and it has shattered that figure with $204.6 million grossed. Both that and its three-day total of $143 million are a studio record for Illumination, with the three-day total being the third highest seen on Easter weekend and second only to the $182 million earned by Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” among all animated films. It is also the new animation record holder for Imax with $21.6 million grossed worldwide.
And of course, the film has blasted past every box office opening record for video game adaptations, nearly doubling the three-day domestic record of $72.1 million set by “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” last year and shattering the $210 million global record set by “Warcraft” in 2016.
“This weekend’s record-breaking debut proves audiences of all ages and demographics will pour into theaters for a hysterically funny and authentic universe expansion of an already iconic franchise,” said Universal’s domestic distribution president Jim Orr. “Nintendo and Illumination’s creative synergy along with Shigeru Miyamoto and Chris Meledandri’s extraordinary leadership created an entertaining juggernaut that will be sure to power up the box office for weeks to come.”
For an industry desperately trying to remain relevant and vibrant, on the edge of beginning perhaps its most crucial and opportunistic summer in four years, the Monday morning quarterbacking that this stellar performance achieved–on EASTER weekend no less, was searching for explanations. To be sure, Mario and Luigi occupy a unique place in the pantheon on pop culture. I’ve seen plenty of them this week. I’ll take this stab:
Much like the Nike company which AIR celebrated, Nintendo has been a brand that has now transcended generations, with its roots in a time when the majortiy of toda’s parents grew up and has successfully expanded their story and product line in the ensuring decades. Whether you go all the way back to Donkey Kong, or to MarioKarts, or more recent iterations, you’re quite likely to at least have some familarity with these Italian plumbers. So in a world where promoting and selling a reason to enter a theatre is so challenged, a franchise like this essentially does the heavy lifting.
But I believe Fuster’s colleague Scott Mendelson offered a far more insightful and detailed explanation earlier this week with his thoughtful piece VIDEO GAMES ARE THE NEW COMIC BOOKS:
Forget Marvel and DC: ”Super Mario Bros.“ is the latest evidence that there are rich, mostly untapped veins of IP just waiting for Hollywood to turn into franchises
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” promises to put Universal on the animation throne long occupied by Disney. It also shows that video games, not comic books, are where Hollywood should be sniffing around for new franchises.
“I think we are going to see a lot more video games being made into movies,” Gerber Kawasaki CEO Ross Gerber told TheWrap. “’Super Mario Bros.’ is huge and kids relate to gaming characters. I expect way more of this.”
There’s only so long that studios can get away with rebooting “Spider-Man” or spinning off of “Star Wars.” Comic books, especially outside of the Marvel and DC universes, haven’t been fruitful, and YA fantasy adaptations seem better suited for streaming shows. The new blockbusters need to come from somewhere, and the vivid worlds and sharply drawn characters of video games are primed to burst onto bigger screens.
Video game-based movies have a distinct advantage over material based on even the most popular comic books: Far more people play video games than read comic books. The video game business is bigger than Hollywood, in fact.
The best-selling comic book of all time, the first issue in Jim Lee and Chris Claremont’s 1990’s “X-Men” relaunch, sold around 8.2 million copies. The best-selling video game, “Minecraft,” has sold 176 million units since 2009. Total revenue spent on video games and video game-related purchases in America grew from $17 billion in 2010 to a high of $51.1 billion in 2021. By contrast, domestic box office last year was just $7.3 billion.
The current gaming crowd is more diverse than the hardcore gamer stereotype of old: 42% of America’s 189 million gamers are girls and women. Many take an active interest in their favorite games and root for the marquee characters that feature in them. Think Solid Snake in the “Metal Gear” series, Lara Croft from the “Tomb Raider” franchise or Nathan Drake from “Uncharted.”
Michael Lee, a vice president at Activision Blizzard who helps steer the company’s gaming community of 400 million players, told TheWrap that video game-based movies are positioned to thrive “not only because it’s IP, but because it comes with hundreds of millions of users that are that are not just nostalgically coming out of the woodwork but actively engaging with these franchises.”
There’s a lot more data and detail to this view that Mendelson postulates, and it’s definitely worth your time to read further and send your plaudits directly to him (there’s a link to the full article below).
But if you think about it, Hollywood’s dependence on IP goes way farther back than comic books. Actual books have inspired Hollywood classics for over a century. The original ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, based on Erich Maria Remarque’s best seller , won the third-ever Oscar for Best Production, and its Netflix-distrubuted British remake was nominated this year. A little novel by Margaret Mitchell titled GONE WITH THE WIND was arguably the most significant movie ever made (at least in Ted Turner’s mind). In all, more than 60 Best Pictures have come from a book or play. Since we are clearly moving into a world far more dominated by something other than actual books, the reality check that the numbers Mendelson cites above should be considered a template. There’s simply too much upside for studios to have not been doing this, especially those like Universal which are less encumbered in the family demo business by the limitations and histories of their own franchises. Disney/Marvel and Warner have their IP and their priorities. Mendelson cites the fact that Universal, Sony and New Line
And let’s not forget ancillary rights. Merch, of course, is a massive revenue source, particularly when it’s sold by the right people in the right way. Music is even another avenue. On the heels of this record-breaking performance came this little nugget from yet another WRAP writer, Sharon Knolle:
The theme song from Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. became the first video game track added to the National Recording Registry on Wednesday.
The U.S. Library of Congress named the perky synth tune to its list of 25 recordings, along with Mariah Carey’s holiday classic, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” Madonna’s hit “Like a Virgin,” and Queen Latifah’s “All Hail the Queen” from 1989.
Nintendo composer Koji Kondo, who also created the Legend of Zelda theme, created the Super Mario Bros. tune in 1985.
Yeah. you know it. If I don’t miss my guess, the mere mention of it will have it lodged in your brain as an earworm for hours.
And as Mendelson concluded, it’s not just Super Mario that’s been doing well. UNCHARTED was a smash for Sony. SONIC THE HEDGEHOG performed admirably for Paramount. New Line got great mileage out of RAMPAGE. Lionsgate and yes, Warner Brothers also have big swings in this space ahead in the coming months.
And if my roommate and his teenage son are any indication, the fact that they now spend far more time playing video games together than watching theatrical movies or streaming TV is to me a constant reminder of how spot on Mendelson is, and, indeed, that degree of engagement is a 360 degree cycle to reassure and reinforce anyone seeking to reinvigorate actual movies that there is more than enough reason to be bullish. And certainly, progress need not be cannibalistic. No media business has completely disappeared when something that was supposed to replace it came about. TV’s still around, even if the definition and location of a screen has evolved. Theatres aren’t completely disappearing; yes, they’re truncating, and someone has to do SOMETHING about the quality and cost of popcorn.
And, sorry, video has NOT killed the radio star. Nor did the video of that song, the first-ever played by MTV 42 summers ago, kill audio.
It’s clear that there’s reason to remain optimistic that movie theatres will rock on as well.
Until next time…