Testing new release strategy, 'The Croods' opens to $14.2M

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NEW YORK — Testing a novel release strategy, Universal Pictures' animated sequel “The Croods: A New Age” had one of the best opening weekends of the pandemic, grossing $14.2 million over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Whereas new releases have traditionally lasted around 90 days in theatres , Universal has mapped out a shorted theatrical window in deals with major chains AMC and Cinemark that gives the studio the option to move new releases to premium video-on-demand after just 17 days. “The Croods: A New Age” is expected to shift to the home before Christmas for a $20 rental. For an industry reeling from the pandemic, it's part of wider changes seeping through the industry.

“The Croods: A New Age” grossed $9.7 million Friday-Sunday, which rivals even the weekend start for “Tenet” in October. Warner Bros. didn't break down the three-day weekend figures for “Tenet,” which began preview screenings in the U.S. on a Monday, but said it grossed $20.2 million in its first week in U.S. theatres plus its first two weeks in Canadian theatres .

While the opening for “The Croods: A New Age” was something Hollywood hadn’t seen in months — a movie that outperformed expectations — it was still only a sliver of what the industry usually sees in the typically busy holiday movie season. Last year, “Frozen II” led all films over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend with $123.7 million, while “Knives Out” scored $41.7 million

Since “Tenet” opened, most larger releases have been postponed or detoured to digital, sometimes while still playing in theatres overseas. The Walt Disney Co. steered “Mulan” to a premium purchase on Disney+, but opened in China and elsewhere. Next month, Warner Bros. will release “Wonder Woman 1984” simultaneously on HBO Max and in theatres . Disney has uprooted the Pixar animation “Soul” to its streaming platform.

That's left smaller films to lead what's left of the box office — about 40% of the normal number of theatres . Most have tapped out around $4 million on opening weekend. The Kevin Costner and Diane Lane film “Let Him Go” debuted with $4.1 million in ticket sales from 2,454 locations earlier this month. The body-swap horror movie “Freaky,” with Vince Vaughn, has been No. 1 the last two weekends after debuting with $3.7 million.

One of the biggest differences is that Universal spent more heavily to market the $65 million “Croods” sequel from DreamWorks Animation. It played in 2,211 locations, or about half the usual amount for such a release.

Overseas, the film grossed $20.8 with almost all of that — $19.2 million — coming from China.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press