How COVID Saved Godzilla vs. Kong and the MonsterVerse


Summary

  • Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse thrived during COVID-19, with Godzilla vs. Kong becoming a big box office success despite pandemic challenges.
  • The delay in Godzilla vs. Kong’s release allowed for improvements, focusing more on giant battles and drawing audiences back to the theaters.
  • The MonsterVerse is rejuvenated, with Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire gaining positive reviews and setting the stage for future sequels and success.



Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire has roared into theaters, and while critical reaction has been mixed, audience reaction seems to be extremely positive. The movie is the fifth film in the MonsterVerse and the seventh entry following two television series, Skull Island and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. Following Marvel Studios breaking records with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every studio tried their hand at a shared universe. While others like the DCEU and Sony’s plans for a Spider-Man interconnected franchise spinning out from The Amazing Spider-Man and the Dark Universe all failed, surprisingly, one of the few to actually succeed was Legendary Pictures MonsterVerse.


Starting in 2014 with Godzilla, when the studio announced it was working on Kong: Skull Island, it became clear this was building to a rematch between Godzilla and Kong, following the precedent set forth by the original King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962. Despite a strong start, by 2019, it appeared the franchise might be on the way out after Godzilla: King of the Monsters disappointed at the box office. The MonsterVerse seemed out, but it got an unlikely boost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right up front, it needs to be clear that no film series or movie can justify the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a horrible moment in human history and, according to the World Health Organization, took the lives of 3 million people in 2020 alone. Millions of people lost their lives, work, and homes, and it had an impact on people that is still being felt to this day. This is in no way saying that the COVID-19 pandemic was a good thing for anyone, but more an examination of how Legendary Pictures MonsterVerse was one of the film franchises that did weather the COVID-19 storm. Here is how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted and might have saved the MonsterVerse.



The MonsterVerse Was Quickly Dying

The MonsterVerse saw an incredible start in terms of box office as 2014’s Godzilla had an impressive $93.3 million opening weekend, the fifth biggest of the year. While the movie grossed $529 million worldwide, general audiences’ reactions to the film were mixed due to the controversial nature of cutting away from the action.

2017’s Kong: Skull Island had an impressive $61 million opening in March and outgrossed Godzilla internationally with $568 million. With the film’s tease of Godzilla vs. Kong, it seemed the stage was set for the franchise to grow even bigger. Before the big title fight, Godzilla: King of the Monsters hit theaters in 2019, looking to appease fans disappointed with the previous film, bringing in iconic Godzilla-supporting monsters like Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah.


Despite an extremely positive reaction to the Comic-Con trailer, Godzilla: King of the Monsters did not seem to attract the attention of mainstream audiences. The movie took the number one spot in its opening weekend, but it only reached $47.7 million, $45 million below the previous Godzilla five years prior. Godzilla: King of the Monsters‘ domestic total was $110 million (2014’s Godzilla made $200 domestically while Kong: Skull Island made $160 million domestically), and worldwide was $387 million, a whole $142 million below Godzilla.

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Several factors hurt Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The first was that the movie opened in a crowded summer movie season; even though Avengers: Endgame had been out for a month, it was clearly still a big draw for people, as was Legendary Pictures’ own Pokemon: Detective Pikachu and the previous weekend’s number one movie, Disney’s Aladdin. Then Godzilla: King of the Monsters faced competition from family films like The Secret Life of Pets 2 (which also disappointed) and Toy Story 4. The other factor was that word of mouth from the previous Godzilla might have impacted audiences’ desire to go out for the sequel. Of course, audiences were also primed for Godzilla vs. Kong and were likely not drawn in by the other Toho monsters, instead wanting to get to the main title fight.


One has to wonder if Godzilla vs. Kong had not already begun filming when Godzilla: King of the Monsters came out, and the studio would have canceled the film. Thankfully, the movie was already in motion, but it did mean some significant changes would need to be made behind the scenes. It also seemed like Godzilla vs. Kong would be the final film in the MonsterVerse as it appeared to be a franchise on the decline, and Legendary would not renew its license on Godzilla from Toho.

COVID-19 Delays Build Excitement

Godzilla vs. Kong was initially meant to be a big summer movie as Legendary Pictures set the film for release on May 29, 2020, before bumping it up to May 22, 2020, to take the Memorial Day weekend slot. In February 2019, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures then bumped the movie up to Mar. 13, 2020, to come out less than a year after Godzilla: King of the Monsters, hoping to cash in on what they likely expected to be a big box office gross. After Godzilla: King of the Monsters disappointed, the next movie was delayed until Nov. 20, 2020, looking to capitalize on the Thanksgiving weekend.


The Mar. 13, 2020 release date of Godzilla vs. Kong originally would have been fortuitous, as it was later that the United States declared a national emergency and all movie theaters were shut down. Studios were unsure when theaters would reopen, so some movies were pushed back only a few months, hoping they could be ready for the holiday season, while others delayed movies all the way into 2021. By June 2020, Legendary and Warner Bros. delayed the release of Godzilla vs. Kong to May 21, 2021. Following Warner Bros.’s decision to release their 2021 slate both theatrically and simultaneously on HBO Max, the studio bumped Godzilla vs. Kong up to Mar. 26, 2021, and then Mar. 24, 2021, to get a head start on the Easter holiday.


The delay in the movie’s release date likely benefited Godzilla vs. Kong. Not releasing the film less than a year after Godzilla: King of the Monsters gave the filmmakers time to rework elements that might not have worked in the previous film. The movie underwent some changes in the edit, with certain characters’ roles heavily reduced or cut from the movie entirely, as Jessica Henwick (The Matrix Resurrection) was cast in the movie but cut from the final film, and reduced the movie to focus solely on the giant battles which the audience had expressed interest in wanting to see.

It also made sure not to overwhelm audiences with too many entries so quickly, as was the case when Lucasfilm released Solo: A Star Wars Story just five months after Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Now, two years after the last film and the COVID-19 pandemic made people feel cooped up inside, the stage was set for a movie about big monsters demanding to be seen on the big screen.


Godzilla vs. Kong Was the Movie That Audiences Wanted During the Pandemic

Godzilla vs. Kong opened in theaters on Mar. 24, 2021, and hit HBO Max the same day. The movie was released in 3,064 theaters in the United States and grossed $31.6 million in three days and $48.1 million over the five-day weekend. While those numbers might not be impressive on their own, considering the projections for the movie were $23 million, and it was during the early days of the vaccine rollout, so many did not feel safe going out to the theaters, those were some big numbers. It was so big, in fact, at the time, and it was the biggest opening following the pandemic.


The movie grossed $100.9 million, a box office miracle during the beginning stages of theaters reopening. Grossing only $10 million less than Godzilla: King of the Monsters while also facing a pandemic and competing with the movie being available for audiences to stream in the United States for a base HBO Max subscription charge makes Godzilla vs. Kong‘s box office impressive by every metric. To make it even better, the movie outgrossed the non-pandemic release Godzilla: King of the Monsters at the worldwide box office with $470.1 million.

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There is certainly a chance that Godzilla vs. Kong will always perform better than Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Just by the very nature of both characters, they are big cultural icons that the average moviegoer understands the significance behind their battle. Yet it was clear that the nature of the movie, two giant monsters fighting in major cities, was a movie that was begging to be seen on a big screen and would not be the same when viewed at home.


Most of the major COVID-19 releases were smaller-scale movies (Scoob, The King of State Island, Trolls World Tour), and many of the biggest titles that were set for 2020 (Black Widow, The Jungle Cruise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife) were delayed into 2021. The biggest titles, like Soul or Wonder Woman 1984, were Christmas releases and seemed like movies being dumped on streaming services to get more subscribers.

After over a year of being stuck inside, quarantining, and watching movies at home, audiences clearly wanted to see a big movie on the big screen. Godzilla vs. Kong was the first event blockbuster film that many audiences saw in theaters for the first time in over a year. Even with being available on Max, audiences wanted to see the two legendary titans on the biggest screen they could get. If Godzilla: King of the Monsters suffered from too much competition, Godzilla vs. Kong benefited from no competition.


Much would be written about how movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home, Top Gun: Maverick, and later Barbie and Oppenheimer brought audiences back to the movies, but it was really Godzilla vs. Kong that paved the way. Now, public perception of the franchise has changed. It was no longer on the decline but was seeing a Renaissance. It bounced back and would ride the audience’s goodwill to greater heights.

The MonsterVerse Lives and Continues to Succeed

Before Godzilla vs. Kong was released, there was an unsaid fee air that this was the final MonsterVerse movie. This is what it had all been building to, and they just needed to get to this point. However, following the movie’s impressive COVID-19 pandemic box office and the large number of views on HBO Max, the idea of the MonsterVerse continuing did not seem as far-fetched as it would have been in 2020. The following week after Godzilla vs. Kong‘s opening, discussion began about a sequel.


Legendary Pictures renewed its license with Toho to continue making Godzilla films, and for over a year, rumors circulated about a new MonsterVerse film. By January 2022, it was confirmed that a new Godzilla series was in development at AppleTV+, which would become Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. Then, in May 2022, it was officially confirmed that a sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong was in the works, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters premiered to positive reviews from critics, and now Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire looks to be one of the biggest openings in the MonsterVerse, coming well above the projected $50 million opening weekend that the studio initially estimated. The movie is also looking to be a massive hit internationally.


In many ways, 2024 is an echo of 2021. Only two Warner Bros. movies released during 2021 were able to cross $100 million domestically, and those were Godzilla vs. Kong and Dune, both films produced by Legendary Pictures. Other notable Warner Bros. franchise films like The Suicide Squad and The Matrix Resurrections were severely hurt by Warner Bros.’s decision to release them on Max and theaters on the same date, but Godzilla vs. Kong and Dune drew audiences out to the theaters. In 2024, their sequels, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire and Dune: Part Two, respectively, show how their audiences have grown in the past three years. Dune: Part Two opened to $82.5 million, which was above expectations, and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire looks to do the same.


Godzilla vs. Kong was the movie that audiences needed after the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a big screen spectacle that demanded to be seen on the biggest screen possible and gave audiences exactly what they expected from the title. It did not try to push boundaries to challenge audiences but was the comfort many filmgoers needed to remind them why they love going to the movies. Now that has paid off, as the MonsterVerse franchise appears to be back on track and could continue for years to come. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is currently playing in theaters.



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