Is ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ a Box Office Hit? Depends on How It Holds Up Against ‘Super Mario Bros.’

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” rolled the dice at the weekend box office, taking out “John Wick: Chapter 4” with its $38.5 million debut. But Paramount and eOne’s adaptation of the popular role-playing game needs to hold up against “Super Mario Bros.” to be successful in its theatrical campaign.

So far, “Dungeons & Dragons” has generated $71 million globally — including $33 million at the international box office. Those numbers aren’t bad, but the film cost a hefty $150 million to produce and tens of millions more to market, so it’s not yet a clear theatrical winner. The fantasy action-comedy needs to stick around in North American and overseas theaters through the spring to justify its price tag and potentially ignite a new franchise.

The good news: analysts believe it’s primed to keep bringing in crowds given its great reviews and enthusiastic word-of-mouth. The bad news: “Dungeons & Dragons” has to keep pace with another game-to-screen adaptation, Universal and Illumination’s kid friendly animated adventure “Mario,” which is getting a jump on the weekend by opening on Wednesday, April 5.

“With ‘Super Mario’ on the way and ‘John Wick 4’ on its tail, ‘D&D’s’ fate will be determined by audiences over time,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior Comscore analyst. “The opening weekend performance of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ is just the first step in the journey for this well-reviewed film.”

Analysts believe there are several reasons why “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Mario” can co-exist at the box office, even though the latter is poised to clobber the competition and potentially become the year’s first billion-dollar blockbuster. On top of brand recognition and an all-star voice cast of Chris Pratt, Anya-Taylor Joy and Jack Black, “Super Mario Bros.” will benefit from the months-long lack of movies for family audiences.

Both films were positively received, which is especially relieving to fans after the ill-fated 2000 “Dungeons & Dragons” with Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch and Marlon Wayans and the epic live-action failure of 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.” starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo.

And although there’s risk of cannibalization among gaming enthusiasts, there’s hope the new remakes will appeal to different age groups. The PG-rated “Mario” is targeting a slightly younger audience compared to “Dungeons & Dragons,” which is PG-13.

“We’ve seen when you have good movies in the marketplace, the marketplace expands,” says Paramount’s president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson. “This is going to be one of those times where you see two pictures thrive and co-exist.”

As Aronson notes, the month of March demonstrated that cinemas have recovered enough to sustain more than one major movie at once. In the last four weeks, “Scream VI,” “Creed III” and “John Wick: Chapter 4” not only racked up big ticket sales, they also set franchise-opening weekend records despite opening in consecutive weeks.

Still, there were casualties in the pile-up of blockbusters in March. “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” which cost $110 million, suffered from poor reviews and majorly stumbled with $53 million in North America and $119 million globally to date. Its business fell sharply after its opening weekend — a sign that audiences didn’t like what they were seeing and told friends and family to steer clear.

“A film that has positive word of mouth and above-average reviews always has an opportunity to connect with audiences outside opening weekend,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “However, the issue with ‘D&D’ is it will be running into a likely box office buzzsaw in ‘Super Mario Bros.’ — one that courts a very similar family audience.”

Alternatively, the new offerings in March were profitable because none of them were catering to the same demographic, says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “There was a healthy variety of genres, attracting different tastes,” he says, pointing out that “John Wick” is an action thriller, “Creed” is a sports drama, “Scream” is a horror film and “Shazam” is superhero yarn.

Another knock against “Dungeons & Dragons” is the majority of the country’s more expensive premium large format screens, like Imax and Dolby, will be reserved for “Super Mario Bros.”

“‘D&D’ will have those high profile — and very lucrative— PLF screens for less than a week,” says Bock. “That’s going to make its second campaign very tricky indeed.”

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