After months of families waiting for new content, and decades of anticipation for Nintendo fans, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is finally arriving for what’s shaping up to be among the best-ever Easter and April box office debuts.
While Universal is entering Mario‘s long five-day weekend with the expectation of a haul around $100 million to $110 million, pre-release trends have been signaling a higher ceiling for potential in recent weeks.
First, the intangibles: This is the first major studio animated release since December’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. To its credit, that film has been riding the wave of strong word of mouth ever since, but the theatrical market for family-focused movies has otherwise been very quiet for an entire quarter.
That’s leading to pent-up demand, and the beginning of a more normal release pattern for such titles throughout the rest of the year.
In addition, Universal and Illumination have a strong reputation of creating crowd-pleasing animated tentpoles for moviegoers of all ages. See last summer’s blockbuster breakout of Minions: The Rise of Gru, the highest grossing animated release of the post-pandemic era thus far, and their pre-COVID stretch of films in the Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets, Sing franchises, and others.
Furthermore, despite some initial online criticisms of Mario’s voice, the strong ensemble voice cast led by Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen, and others provides an easy selling point for parents. Ditto for the film’s promise of comedy and colorful adventure packaged in a brisk 92-minute runtime that’s easy for busy families to plan for.
Perhaps most importantly, though: Nintendo and the Mario IP are quintessentially generational brands. Spanning numerous video games and a vast universe of merchandise over nearly forty years, the property and its wide array of popular characters and worlds are perhaps the closest analog to Star Wars in the video game realm.
Consumers of all ages and breakdowns have at least heard of Mario at some point in the last four decades, and a great number have certainly played or literally grown up on the iconic series. This is the kind of film primed to soar not just in major markets, but in middle America as well.
Those factors have borne out in the data.
Since its first trailer launch, The Super Mario Bros. Movie has consistently generated healthy social media impact which has grown substantially as the studio’s promotion ramped up in recent weeks — dating back to “Mario Day” on March 10, when tickets for the film also went on sale.
The video game streaming community on platforms like Twitch has served as an additional source of viral marketing for teens and adults as buzz for the release has crescendoed, not to mention traditional advertising avalanches geared toward younger viewers.
Pre-sales for the film began with a bang nearly four weeks ago, and they haven’t let up. Closing out the pre-release window, Mario‘s first day of release (Wednesday) was pacing just 19 percent behind Avatar: The Way of Water‘s preview launch day, and 30 percent behind Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania‘s (both on Thursdays), according to independent sampling.
While deficit comparisons might initially not seem impressive, those are important way markers because Mario is opening mid-week when some schools are still in session. It’s also likely to be far more walk-up friendly than the likes of a front-loaded Marvel film.
The other side to that equation: Spring Break is in effect for many (though not all) schools in certain parts of the country right now. Mario‘s third day of play will be the start to Easter weekend when schools are out of session on Good Friday. Pre-sales for that day were trending 29 percent ahead of Wednesday’s first day take and 14 percent ahead of Quantumania‘s “true Friday” business (sans Thursday previews).
In other words, Mario is already indicating that it won’t be a massively front-loaded film in the first day of release. Granted, it’s not unexpected for a holiday Friday to be generating stronger sales than Wednesday when the primary audience is families with kids — however, to be achieving these numbers in the volume that they are competing with fan-driven live-action sequels is very notable.
All-time, the best-ever Wednesday gross for an animated film belongs to Illumination’s own Despicable Me 2 ($35 million). That came on the day before Independence Day when summer break was peaking, but it was also ten years ago. Ticket prices have increased roughly 30 percent in the decade since, which gives Mario a fireball’s chance to get close to — if not outright reset — that record.
If the film can climb that high, Friday then becomes worth watching for history-making as well. Currently, the biggest non-opening day gross by an animated film on a Friday belongs to Frozen II ($34.1 million). The next closest is Despicable Me 2 ($30.5 million).
In terms of Easter weekend, several scenarios could play out. Good Friday will be inflated, which should translate to softer-than-typical Saturday holds. Easter Sunday will see some films drop more sharply than others, but it can also benefit a short, family-friendly movie like Mario.
The three-day weekend will be slightly deflated by the long-lead opening, but the industry may still be talking about a $100 million-plus three-day frame for Mario, which would be a first in the animation medium for Easter.
The holiday’s current top three openers are Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ($166 million), Furious 7 ($147.2 million), and The Fate of the Furious ($98.8 million) — all representing Friday-through-Sunday periods.
Widening the spectrum to all of April, only four films have ever achieved $100 million or more in the Friday-through-Sunday period: Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, Furious 7, and The Jungle Book ($103.3 million), the most realistic target of the quartet).
For the five-day (Wednesday through Sunday), a haul north of $150 million appears very achievable at this stage.
Of course, do reviews and word of mouth matter for Mario?
The film has divided critics with its 54 percent Rotten Tomatoes score (108 reviews) as of Wednesday morning, but this is the kind of film that’s probably critic-proof for opening week and weekend. Illumination films in general have often created a gap between critics and moviegoers, with the likes of the first Minions (55 percent) and Despicable Me 3 (59 percent) also not winning over the best review scores but still doing very well among the paying public.
As such, Mario remains poised to deliver not just a historic Easter weekend debut, but potentially the biggest animated performance of the post-pandemic era so far, and one of the biggest box office runs of 2023.
Not to be forgotten is this weekend’s debut of Air under the Amazon Studios banner. Its own pre-release tracking has incrementally improved thanks to advance screenings helping generate positive word of mouth, now backed up by a strong 97 percent Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score.
Air is hoping to counter-program among men over 25 with its strong ensemble cast led by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (also directing), plus a marketing campaign that smartly capitalized on the March Madness NCAA tournament in recent weeks. Pre-sales have benefited as a result, and the studio expects a five-day opening over $16 million.
Also debuting in limited release this weekend is IFC Films’ Paint, planned to open at approximately 800 locations.
On the holdover front, look for several films to be hit hard by the Mario juggernaut.
Most notably will be Paramount’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves as it loses the breadth of premium screens to the Italian plumber. Still, coming off a healthy $37.2 million debut with very strong word of mouth in tow, Dungeons could rebound as quickly as it will take that initial hit over the next few days.
Weekend Ranges (Updated Wednesday Morning)
The Super Mario Bros. Movie
3-Day Opening Weekend Range: $95 – 127 million
5-Day Opening Weekend Range: $140 – 185 million
3-Day Opening Weekend Range: $10 – 14 million
5-Day Opening Weekend Range: $15 – 20 million
Weekend Forecast & Location Count Projections
Current projection ranges call for a 69 to 96 percent increase from last weekend’s $91.7 million top ten aggregate.
|Film||Studio||3-Day Weekend Forecast||Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, April 2||Fri Location Count Projection (as of Wed)||3-Day % Change from Last Wknd|
|The Super Mario Bros. Movie||Universal Pictures||$112,000,000||$164,000,000||4,025 (Wed) / 4,343 (Fri)||NEW|
|Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves||Paramount Pictures||$13,600,000||$61,700,000||~3,855||-63%|
|John Wick: Chapter 4||Lionsgate||$13,400,000||$145,600,000||~3,600||-53%|
|His Only Son||Angel Studios||$3,800,000||$11,800,000||~1,920||-31%|
|Scream VI||Paramount Pictures||$3,500,000||$104,100,000||~2,500||-34%|
|Shazam! Fury of the Gods||Warner Bros. Pictures||$2,100,000||$57,400,000||~2,400||-54%|
|65||Sony Pictures / Columbia||$900,000||$32,200,000||~1,000||-43%|
All forecasts are subject to revision/finalization before the first confirmation of opening previews or Friday estimates from studios or official sources.
Theater counts are either studio estimates OR unofficial projections if preceded by “~”.
The above table does not necessarily represent the top ten as some studios do not finalize weekend location counts and/or an intent to report box office returns prior to publishing.