North American box office sees mild bounce after theaters reopen in Canada amid COVID-19 pandemic

'The SpongeBob Movie' and 'Unhinged' showed impressive numbers given the circumstances

The North American box office got off to a slow but steady start as theaters in Canada reopened after an unprecedented five-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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New films “Unhinged” and “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” topped the box office over the weekend with numbers that are somewhat impressive given the circumstances but still miles away from where the industry was in the pre-coronavirus shutdown days when U.S. theaters were open.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Spongebob” opened to an estimated $900,000 across roughly 300 theaters in Canada, where theaters are operating at about 50% capacity due to restrictions still posed by COVID-19. Meanwhile, theaters in the U.S. remain mostly closed down.

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Under the same circumstances, “Unhinged,” starring Russell Crowe as an over-the-top stalker triggered by a road rage incident, grossed an estimated $582,000. The movie is expected to hit the limited U.S. theater market, mostly dominated by drive-ins, next week while “Spongebob” opts for a straight-to-video-on-demand release on CBS All Access, according to Variety.

The North American box office bounce back a bit following the coronavirus pandemic. (Getty Images)

Mark Gill, the president and CEO of Solstice Studios, which is behind “Unhinged,” told the outlet that the release in Canada was a “good start” and he expects the movie to do well in the U.S. noting that “82% of Americans have experienced road rage – the highest number in the world.”

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The fact that people are willing to go to the theater amid the ongoing pandemic is a good sign. However, it’s possible that the effects of the shutdown will be felt for years to come as the entertainment industry learns to value new metrics.

“For now, most of the traditionally acknowledged metrics of a movie’s performance – opening weekend gross, year-to-date numbers and year-over-year comparisons – have to take a back seat,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, told Variety. “We need to interpret the reported data through the lens of this unusual and, indeed, unprecedented marketplace.”

Movie-goers wearing masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus are spaced apart as they watch a movie in a newly reopened cinema in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province on Monday, July 20, 2020. China is going back to the movies. Follo (Chinatopix via AP)

As studios weigh the pros and cons of skipping the typical theatrical release in favor of potentially lucrative video-on-demand rollouts, as Universal did with “Trolls World Tour” or what Disney will do with “Mulan,” the coronavirus’ rapid spread throughout the United States continues to force theaters in top money-driver cities like New York and Los Angeles to remain closed.

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As of Friday morning, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 20,939,967 people across 188 countries and territories, resulting in at least 759,844 deaths. In the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia have reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, tallying more than 5,254,171 illnesses and at least 167,242 deaths.