Anime isn’t known for having huge box office success in America, and when there are hits they tend to be Studio Ghibli fare, Pokemon movies, and other family-friendly features. More mature anime tends to get limited releases and therefore not much chance for blockbuster success. However, thanks to specialty event-style distribution, Japanese animated films for teens and grown-ups are on the rise at the box office.
The latest release from FUNimation Entertainment, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, debuted domestically last Wednesday and actually topped the box office in first place, grossing $2.5 million on its opening day. Through Sunday, the manga adaptation had reached a domestic total of $8.5 million, including the official opening-weekend amount of $5.1 million, placing fourth. Showing at only 1,260 locations, the movie had the second-best per-screen average of all wide releases in theaters.
Heroes Rising is the second My Hero Academia feature. FUNimation released My Hero Academia: Two Heroes domestically in the fall of 2018, and that installment held the anime box office record for films rated PG-13 and R until now. Two Heroes grossed $1.4 million on its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada. Having debuted on the Tuesday prior, its total through its opening weekend was about $4 million. Released on fewer than half as many screens, though, its theater average was higher.
Because other major anime features of the past have received limited theatrical releases, the average attendance per screen for those non-kid-friendly films has been greater, too. The new My Hero Academia feature only saw about 300 tickets sold per location, while one of Ghibli’s rare PG-13 efforts, Princess Mononoke, sold around 3,500 per screen back in 1999. Other significant per-screen successes include Akira back in 1988, Perfect Blue in 1999, and Metropolis and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie in 2001.
For a comparison of anime box office for titles not appropriate for children, here’s a ranking by estimated opening-weekend attendance/ticket sales:
1. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising (2020): 0.55 million
2. Weathering with You (2020): 0.52 million
3. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004): 0.51 million
4. My Hero Academia: Two Heroes (2018): 0.2 million
5. Night is Short, Walk on Girl (2017): 0.039 million
6. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001): 0.039 million
7. The Wind Rises (2014): 0.038 million
8. The Boy and the Beast (2016): 0.032 million
9. Princess Mononoke (1999): 0.028 million
10. Steamboy (2005): 0.021 million
I kept the amounts by millions of tickets because that’s what I always do, plus it makes the above titles stand out more distinctly lower when compared to the following ranking of the top 10 anime releases in general, no matter the MPAA rating, by opening-weekend attendance:
1. Pokemon: The First Movie (1999): 6.1 million
2. Pokemon: The Movie 2000 (2000): 3.6 million
3. Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie (2004): 1.53 million
4. Pokemon 3: The Movie (2001): 1.46 million
5. Dragon Ball Super: Broly (2019): 1.1 million
6. The Secret World of Arrietty (2012): 0.81 million
7. Digimon: The Movie (2000): 0.79 million
8. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising (2020): 0.55 million
9. Weathering with You (2020): 0.52 million
10. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004): 0.51 million
As far as worldwide box office grosses are concerned, though, three PG-13 releases rank in the top 10, which can’t be broken down by ticket sales: Weathering with You ($193 million), and Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke ($161 million) and The Wind Rises ($136 million). And of the rest of the above, only Pokemon: The First Movie ($173 million) and The Secret World of Arrietty ($146 million) rank among the top. Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai films have always just done much better outside the US.
But interestingly enough, the My Hero Academia films aren’t that huge in Japan (though they’re still considered hits there even if not among the top 50 best-selling anime releases), so their popularity in America is notable. Weathering with You was a comparable hit in both territories, but of the other titles on the mature anime domestic ranking, the two Miyazaki films and The Boy and the Beast did much better overseas than what has been popular here. I admit I’m not aware of why the American fanbase for My Hero Academia is analogously greater than back home.
Meanwhile, new Pokemon animated features are now just skipping theatrical release. While Kunihiko Yuyama’s 2017 feature Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You! and Tetsuo Yajima’s 2018 feature Pokemon the Movie: The Power of Us both hit theaters very briefly courtesy of Fathom Events, the new computer-animated feature Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, helmed by Yuyama, Yajima, and Motonori Sakakibara, made its debut last week straight to Netflix. And there, it’s reportedly (by Netflix) one of the top 10 most popular titles available.