‘Empire Strikes Back’ Leads At The Weekend Box Office Again, 23 Years After Sequel’s Special Edition

Black Panther, Breaking News, Disney, drive-ins, Film News, Inside Out, Star Wars Empire Strikes Back

EXCLUSIVE: For the first time since the February 1997 reissue, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is leading at the box office this weekend after clocking an estimated $175K at 483 locations. Empire should end the weekend with a 3-day take in between the high $400K and low $500K.

Some of these recent classic reissues such as Ghostbusters last weekend, and Jurassic Park and Jaws over the June 19-21 weekend have been collecting around a half million dollars lately in a given weekend on less than 500 sites.

Last night’s gross for Empire Strikes Back brings the 1980 George Lucas executive produced and story by, and Irvin Kershner-directed movie’s lifetime gross to $290.4M stateside. The pic’s five-day gross stands at $210K.

Empire Strikes Back according to Box Office Mojo held the No. 1 spot at the domestic box office for eight weeks following its May 21, 1980 release. There was a 1982 re-release, and then the Lucas tweaked revived 1997 edition which had a two weekend run at No. 1 grossing $21.97M on its first weekend of Feb. 21-23, and then $13.1M in its second weekend. The 1997 edition of Empire contributed another $67.6M overall to Episode V‘s running domestic box office. All of the Star Wars movies, including Rogue One, Solo: A Star Wars Story, the animated Clone Wars through 12 titles have racked up over $10.3 billion at the global box office.

In fact, Disney can boast the top three spots at the box office this weekend, with 20th Century Studios’ Empire at No. 1, Marvel’s Black Panther at No. 2 with an estimated $110K at 336 sites yesterday, and Pixar’s 2015 Oscar winner Inside Out with $106K at 316. We’ll update you on their 3-day industry figures on Monday.

Drive-ins, despite repping a third of the over 1K supply of theaters open, continues to rake in the most business with a majority of the top grossing 135 locations in the U.S. being drive-ins. Yesterday, the top 5 were Cine-Drive in Saint Eustache, Quebec; the Sacramento 6 in CA, the Capitol 6 in San Jose, CA; the Transit Drive-in in Lockport, NY and the Vali-Hi in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. There’s a lot of financial upside for exhibition on catalog titles, and I understand that typically the studios charge movie theaters a flat fee of just $250 a title.

Last weekend, after California Governor Gavin Newsom’s order to close beaches, dine-in restaurants, bars and wine tasting rooms in 19 counties, that order took its toll on ten hard-top theaters that were open, sources tell us. One of theaters that was scheduled to reopen, the Studio Movie Grill in Simi Valley, CA, would have repped the closest cinema to LA (40 miles north) to reopen. The cinema is located in Ventura County. The cinema to stay afloat is providing take-out food service for customers. It will reopen closer toward the end of July.

Meanwhile, Newsom’s co-owned wine tasting room, Plumpjack in Oakville, CA remained open. Plumpjack resides in Napa County which wasn’t on the Newsom’s list of county closures according to Fox 26 News out of Fresno, CA. It’s double standards such as these which drive movie theaters and small business owners mad as they try to stay alive financially, and are making great strides to provide clean and safe environments during the COVID-19 pandemic (AMC will have electro-static sprayers cleaning their seats — that’s intense). Opening up and shutting down is a recipe for financial disaster for these poor businesses. And as far as movie theaters go, cinema owners pride themselves on being able to stagger the audiences coming in and out of their buildings, and not have them on top of each other, which can occur in a waiting area at a restaurant.

Says independent movie theatre owner Rick Roman who has cinemas in Kentucky and Delaware, “Theatres are one of the safest things to do now for getting out of the house.  A moviegoer typically spends about 5 to 7 minutes getting their tickets and concessions then go to their socially distanced seat to watch a two hour movie. There is no talking, no servers and bus boys walking around you.  The people in the country have this itch to get out of the house.  The states should be encouraging the theatres to get open because we are the safest thing out there to scratch the itch.  Maybe if the itch got scratched there be less people going out breaking the social distance rules.”

Last night I attended a pop-up drive-in theater sponsored by Tailgate Fest at Castaic Lake, a public park 42 miles north of Los Angeles. It was the first time I had been at a drive-in since 1980 when I was a kid, at the Northfield Drive-in in Northfield, MA; and the first time I had been to the movies since February when I watched Universal/Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man. The double feature last night was Warner Bros.’ 1988 movie Beetlejuice followed by 1987’s The Lost Boys. Since mid June, Tailgate with Chevrolet has been sponsoring these pop-up drive ins at public parks, and from what I understand they do not book directly through the studio, but through a non-theatrical catalog service know as Swank (I hear movie titles go for a similar flat fee as what the studio would charge a full-fledged drive-in: $250).

How was the experience?

Tailgate Drive-In

On a 100-degree day that turned into a 76-degree night, it was a diversion and beautiful to watch a movie in the rolling country hills, especially at a time when we’re not allowed to go to the pool. I hear the drive-ins such as the Mission Tikki in Montclair, CA have silver screens and state of the art sound. The set-up at Lake Castaic is temporary through early August with a blow-up screen (way smaller than the Northfield Drive-In’s actual hard screen), a couple of big speakers, a DVD player, the pic’s sound transmitted over the radio, with no concessions stand (because it’s a public park; bring your own popcorn). All COVID-19 safety protocols were in effect, and not cumbersome, i.e. wearing of masks outside your vehicle and cars six-feet-apart. What would have made the experience more grand is the product, and it would have been awesome, of course, if the movie was something like Tenet. 

Business was very good, with most of the lot’s 200 spaces filled. But what got me thinking throughout the whole experience last night, especially with Amazon and Tribeca doing their own drive-ins, is the need for more drive-ins. It’d be really cool if this Castaic Lake location was an actual drive-in, and it could feasibly bank on a weekend audience. While we hope that this pandemic is temporary, we don’t know how much longer the pause on reopening hard-top cinemas is going to last. True, drive-ins are regional venues, and mother nature is their greatest foe when it comes to business. In the northern part of the country, drive-ins can only operate during the mild weather months; that is unless large warehouses are built to shelter during the off-season.

But still, a massive build-up of drive-ins in an adequate money-generating belt of the country — could it save the industry?

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