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The Bigger the Monster, the Harder the Fall at the Box Office

‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ not only sold fewer than half as many tickets as its 2014 precursor, but it also had a worse opening than the 1998 ‘Godzilla.’
Godzilla King Of The Monsters
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on June 3rd, 2019

Five years ago, the people complained there wasn’t enough Godzilla in the Godzilla remake. So, they put more of Godzilla and many other major monsters in the sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but the people just didn’t care anymore. That’s what it looks like now that King of the Monsters is proving to be anything but the king of movie franchises here in America, debuting not only far below its 2014 precursor but also significantly lower than the 1998 Godzilla, which was considered to be a box office disappointment. As always with properties like this, though, at least there are the international grosses.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters did open in first place on the domestic chart, which looks positive. However, the Warner Bros. MonsterVerse sequel only sold 5.3 million tickets in North America. That’s fewer than half of the amount of the previous Godzilla, which drew 11.2 million in its first weekend. It’s also a significantly smaller debut audience than fellow MonsterVerse franchise release Kong: Skull Island, which opened with 6.9 million tickets sold in 2017. As for that 1998 flop, the Roland Emmerich-helmed Hollywood attempt drew 9.4 million people in North America for its domestic box office kickoff, also reigning in first place.

The lower turnout for King of the Monsters wasn’t much of a surprise. Reviews turned out to be mostly negative, its Rotten Tomatoes score of 39% being the lowest for the brand since the 1998 version’s 16% and the third worst overall. The other two MonsterVerse titles were Certified Fresh, both with the same score of 75%. But King of the Monsters also wasn’t tracking very well. Back in early April, Box Office Pro’s long-range forecast put its domestic opening gross in the range of $46-60 million with $46 million being its more precise prediction. Last week, the site raised its expectations, however, to a guess of $56 million. The actual domestic gross through this Sunday is estimated to be $47.8 million.

Overseas, King of the Monsters isn’t faring much better, despite the optics of its additional $130 million grossed outside North America. Consider the amounts pulled this week compared to the 2014 grosses in the UK ($4.4 million vs. $10.4 million), Russia ($2.5 million vs. $9.1 million), Mexico ($4.6 million vs. $8.9 million), France ($2.6 million vs. $6.5 million), and Korea ($2.2 million vs. $4.5 million). Fortunately, the Godzilla sequel about doubled the 2014 take in China, debuting with $70 million vs. the previous movie’s then-record-breaking $36 million. In the franchise’s original homeland of Japan, King of the Monsters also slightly improved over Godzilla, grossing $8.4 million vs. $7 million.

We can expect a huge drop next weekend, too, as word of mouth won’t help bring a lot of extra moviegoers in North America, at least. King of the Monsters received a ‘B+’ grade via CinemaScore polling, which is level with Godzilla‘s grade five years ago, as well as that of Kong: Skull Island. At least the fans like these movies consistently and better than the 1998 movie, which earned a ‘B-‘ grade. The audience score from verified ticket buyers on Rotten Tomatoes does look more promising, however, at 87%. Those are surely the fans who felt they got what they wanted with the monster battles and don’t care about its screenplay and human character problems.

The question now is whether this disappointingly dwindling audience will be even fewer when the next MonsterVerse installment, already in production, arrives in theaters next March. In that sequel, Godzilla vs. Kong, the King of the Monsters wrestles with the great ape King Kong. That might be enough of a mashup matchup to woo additional crowds who didn’t care about Godzilla vs. Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. Probably not enough to make this a franchise that keeps on going given its scale and cost and the limitations of where the MonsterVerse can venture creatively. No, we probably won’t get more Ghidorah or Mecha King Ghidorah or Destroyah.

In other box office news, the Elton John biopic Rocketman arrived with a much smaller fanbase than its cousin, the Queen movie Bohemian Rhapsody, did last fall. Compared to that Oscar-winning blockbuster biopic’s initial draw of 5.7 million people, Rocketman sold just 2.9 million tickets. That’s fewer than Walk the Line, Ray, and even All Eyez on Me, all of which opened on only a fraction of the screens the new movie did. Of course, it’s gotten better reviews, especially compared to All Eyez on Me, yet its CinemaScore grade is below the Queen, Johnny Cash, and Ray Charles films and on par with the Tupac. It also landed about $10 million below expectations. And new release Ma fell short, too.

Meanwhile, the music documentary Echo in the Canyon, which stars Jakob Dylan interviewing legends of the 1960s California sound, had the best per-screen average for a limited release, and in its second weekend at that. Brightburn had less success in its second weekend, dropping a whopping 68.7% from its opening. Booksmart didn’t fare well either for a comedy that fans and critics have hoped would gather some steam from word of mouth. The movie with the best leap forward despite little change in screen count — and I can’t find a reason for this — is the Disneynature documentary Penguins, which had a 106.6% increase over its prior week attendance.

Coming up next weekend: Dark Phoenix (which should overthrow King of the Monsters just as X-Men: Days of Future Past did with Godzilla in 2014) and The Secret Life of Pets 2 (which can’t possibly top the first movie’s record-breaking box office from 2016), and we’ll likely be seeing Avengers: Endgame take the all-time worldwide spot away from Avatar — maybe even with domestic gross inflation taken into consideration.

Here are the holiday weekend’s estimated top 12 domestic release titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Godzilla: King of the Monsters – 5.3 million (5.3 million)
2. Aladdin – 4.8 million (20.6 million)
3. Rocketman – 2.9 million (2.9 million)

4. Ma – 2 million (2 million)
5. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – 1.2 million (14 million)
6. Avengers: Endgame — 0.9 million (90.5 million)
7. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu – 0.8 million (14.5 million)
8. Booksmart — 0.4 million (1.6 million)
9. Brightburn — 0.3 million (1.6 million)
10. The Hustle — 0.15 million (3.7 million)
11. A Dog’s Journey – 0.12 million (2.1 million)
12. The Intruder – 0.09 million (3.8 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.