NEW YORK -- Pandemic moviegoing is finally starting to look like pre-pandemic moviegoing. Sony Pictures' Marvel sequel "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" blew away expectations to debut with $90.1 million in ticket sales, making it easily the best opening of the pandemic, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"Venom: Let There Be Carnage" had been forecast to open with closer to half that total. But the film, which is playing exclusively in theaters, exceeded even the debut of the 2018 original. "Venom," the "Spider-Man" offshoot that introduced Tom Hardy's parasitic alien symbiote, launched with $80.3 million. Only 2019's "Joker" ($96.2 million) has ever opened bigger in October.
The result -- along with robust international sales for the James Bond film "No Time to Die" -- constituted the best news for movie theaters in more than 18 months.
"With apologies to Mr. Twain: The death of movies has been greatly exaggerated," Tom Rothman, chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures' Motion Picture Group, said in a statement.
Both "Let There Be Carnage" and MGM's "No Time to Die" had originally been set to open last year. Believing the best box-office return would happen with an exclusive release in theaters, both studios (neither of which has a major streaming platform) held out for better moviegoing conditions. And last weekend, their wait was rewarded.
"Films can only become cultural when people see them together on the biggest, best screens and have that experience as a group," said Josh Greenstein, president of Sony Motion Pictures Group. "You can't replicate that by yourself at home."
After numerous delays, Sony in the end actually moved up the release of the "Venom" sequel, directed by Andy Serkis and co-starring Woody Harrelson as the Venom foe Carnage, by two weeks. Overseas, it also added $13.8 million in Russia.
"We saw the health of 'Shang-Chi' and it gave us confidence that when the product is there, the box office will return," said Adrian Smith, Sony's distribution chief. "It's very validating to see the demand for theatricality."
Not everything is bouncing back in theaters and as quickly as Marvel movies and the biggest brand names. Family moviegoing is still sluggish, as are ticket sales at art house theaters. Older audiences and families with unvaccinated children have been more cautious.
"The Addams Family 2," an animated sequel from MGM and United Artists Releasing, opened with $18 million despite terrible reviews (27% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) from critics. The film, a sequel to the 2019 cartoon reboot, debuted simultaneously on video-on-demand.
Occupying the third slot is "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," ending a whopping four-week streak at No. 1 after the Marvel and Disney tentpole smashed the Labor Day weekend record at the domestic box office last month. "Shang-Chi" raked in $6 million this weekend for a North American cumulative total of $206.1 million.
"The Many Saints of Newark," the long-in-coming prequel to "The Sopranos," flopped. The film, co-written by "Sopranos" creator David Chase and set decades before the seminal HBO series, opened with $5 million. The film, like all Warner Bros. releases in 2021, was also streaming on HBO Max for subscribers -- a practice some filmmakers, including Chase, have decried. The studio has pledged to return to exclusive theatrical windows in 2022.
Rounding out the top five is "Dear Evan Hansen," which dipped by 67% in its second weekend. Universal's take on the Ben Platt-starring Broadway musical of the same name generated $2.4 million for a cumulative $11.8 million and is expected to come out soon on VOD.
Julia Ducournau's "Titane," the Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival this summer, also struggled to make a dent in theaters. The film, a wild odyssey about a serial-killing woman with a unique bond to automobiles, grossed about $516,000 in 562 theaters for Neon.
"No Time to Die," which opens in North America today, premiered with $119.1 million in 54 overseas markets. The pace, according to MGM and Universal Pictures (which has many international rights), was roughly in line with the opening for "Skyfall." Following its London premiere last week, "No Time to Die" -- the 25th Bond film and Daniel Craig's last outing as the super spy -- grossed $25.6 million in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Up next is the latest installment in the ever-popular "Halloween" saga (Oct. 15) and Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve's star-studded remake of "Dune" (Oct. 22).