Latest ‘Demon Slayer’ Takes Weekend Honors – Variety

Ticket price hikes and a switch to premium screens are masking the ongoing weakness of Korea’s viewership recovery.

The weekend’s South Korean box office honors went to the Japanese animated film Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To The Swordsmith Village, the latest installment in the Demon Slayer film and TV franchise.

According to data from Kobis, the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) tracking service, it earned $2.31 million between Friday and Sunday, accounting for nearly a quarter of the entire weekend cinema business.

Local charts show another new release, Korean-produced crime drama The Devil’s Deal topping the field. That’s because it sold more tickets at 257,000 than the 235,000 for the Japanese title, and the Korean charts favor retail sales over gross receipts. With a lower price per ticket, The Devil’s Door had a weekend gross profit that was a notch down at $2.00 million.

The analysis was further polluted as the two films were released on different dates. “The Devil’s Deal” was released on Wednesday and grossed $3.81 million in five days. Demon Slayer opened Thursday and earned $2.94 million over four days.

Ticket prices have become a significant factor, not only in determining position on the weekend charts, but also in shaping the financial health of the exhibitions industry.

Another new release “I’m Hero the Final” has also crept into the top 3. A concert film starring singer Lim Young-woong that grossed $1.24 million with 66,000 ticket sales. Grossed $2.51 million from 135,000 tickets over the opening five days.

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The three new openers knocked “The First Slam Dunk,” another Japanese animation that had been playing since January, from second to fourth place. And they ousted previous chart-topping Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania from first to sixth place. “Slam Dunk” grossed $943,000 over the weekend for a total of $30.5 million since January 4th. “Ant-Man” earned $513,000 after three weekends for a total of $12.3 million.

In fifth place, less than $100 ahead of Ant-Man, was the US film Missing. After two weekends of release, it has a total value of $2.68 million.

Korean drama film My Heart Puppy, about two men trying to revive the dog they lost, started with $439,000 over the weekend and $791,000 in the first five days.
Korean sports drama ‘Count’ grossed $323,000 over the weekend, bringing the 12-day total to $2.61 million.

Another local title, “Marui Video,” earned $142,000 in tenth place over the weekend for a 12-day cume of $1.21 million.

Ninth place went to “Suzume,” the hit Japanese animated film that aired previews and officially opened in Korean theaters on Wednesday. It earned $312,000 between Friday and Sunday and has already deposited $576,000.

The crop of new theatrical releases boosted total earnings over the weekend by 29% over the previous session. But the Friday-Sunday total of $9.39 million is still a far cry from your average pre-COVID weekend.

In response to the weak level of business, Korea’s cinema operators have made three price hikes in the COVID era. According to KOFIC, the average ticket price reached KRW 10,285 (US$7.92) in 2022, up 6.5% from 2021’s KRW 9,656 (US$7.44).

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The average ticket price masks a growing disparity between titles and the increasing importance of premium screens (and their premium pricing). Tickets for “The Devil’s Deal,” for example, averaged $7.78 last weekend, while those for Lim’s concert film were $18.75 a piece.

A recent KOFIC report shows that premium screens (Imax and Dolby, as well as local brands 4DX and ScreenX) saw a 170% jump in sales in 2022 compared to 2021. Last year, they made up 7.7% of tickets sold and 10.9% of box office by value.

Monthly data shows that the Korean box office is recovering to 2020 levels. The total of January and February 2023 reached KRW 214 billion, a figure better than any other pandemic-hit year (2020-2022). Still, revenue was 38% below the first two months of 20219, the industry’s last normal year. And 68% of the market share went to foreign titles.

In terms of viewership, the start of 2023 is even further behind 2019 – just 19.4 million tickets were sold, down 52% compared to the 40.4 million turnstile visits in January and February 2019 – with the big gap somewhat obscured by higher average ticket sales prices. The significantly lower headcount could prompt cinema operators to reconsider the number of venues in operation.

Along with other KOFIC analysis of the success of sequels, the stubbornly low staff count also suggests that a significant segment of the Korean public is turning to other destinations for entertainment. Going to the cinema is becoming a rarer, more expensive activity, increasingly motivated by event films, franchise rates and big-screen extravaganza.

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