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Box Office Sluggish for Raya and the Last Dragon

In yet another sign of the challenges ahead for cinema in 2021, the Disney blockbuster release Raya and the Last Dragon showed sluggish box office results in its first weekend in theaters.

The film, produced by the same Walt Disney Animation team that put out Moana, would normally have been expected to be a tentpole event for the company, but Raya opened over the weekend with a box office take of $8.6 million from 2,045 screens, according to Variety. By contrast, despite coming out on a Wednesday, Moana earned $15.5 million on its opening day. The take for Raya was also less than the debut of Tom & Jerry the previous weekend, which earned $14.1 million, despite the fact that New York City movie theaters opened to customers last weekend for the first time in close to a year.

Part of the reason may be due to the decision to make Raya available to Disney+ subscribers for $30, a tactic the company also followed with the recent release of the live action version of Mulan.

While Raya earned much less than would be expected in the pre-pandemic era, the film did earn top spot on the domestic box office charts, and did well internationally as well, earning $26 million.

Also according to Variety, part of the reason for the relatively low earnings may be due to a dispute between Disney and theatre chains over the exhibitor’s cut of the box office revenues, which caused Cinemark and some other smaller chains to refuse screening of the film.

From a licensing point of view, the concern will be whether lower box office figures will translate into relatively poor sales of licensed merchandise. This year in particular will be a Real World lab experiment of sorts, in which licensees will learn whether airing films on streaming platforms has the same impact as a major release in theaters. That situation could ease by summer, however. The US government is ahead of its projections for vaccinations, and several major markets like New York and Chicago have begun reopening movies theaters over the past few weeks, although most are still operating at reduced capacity.

The bigger question is how eager audiences will be to return to crowded movie theaters before full vaccination of the US population takes place.

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