Weekend honors at the South Korean box office went to the Japanese animation film “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To The Swordsmith Village,” the latest installment in the “Demon Slayer” film and TV franchise.
It earned $2.31 million between Friday and Sunday, for nearly a quarter of the total weekend cinema business, according to data from Kobis, the tracking service operated by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC).
Local charts show another new release, Korean-made crime drama “The Devil’s Deal,” leading the field. That’s because it sold a greater number of tickets 257,000 compared with 235,000 for the Japanese title and Korean charts favor unit sales over gross revenues. With a lower per ticket price, “The Devil’s Door” had a weekend gross score that was a notch lower at $2.00 million.
Further muddying the analysis, the two films released on different days. “The Devil’s Deal” released on Wednesday and scored a total of $3.81 million over five days. “Demon Slayer” opened on Thursday and earned $2.94 million over four days.
Ticket pricing has become a significant factor, not only in determining weekend chart position, but also in shaping the financial health of the exhibition industry.
Another new release, “I’m Hero the Final” also inserted itself into the top three. A concert film starring singer Lim Young-woong, it earned $1.24 million from 66,000 ticket sales. Over its five opening days, it grossed $2.51 million from 135,000 tickets.
The three new openers pushed “The First Slam Dunk,” another Japanese animation that had played since January, from second place to fourth. And they relegated previous chart-topper “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” from first to sixth. “Slam Dunk” picked up $943,000 over the weekend for cumulative of $30.5 million since Jan. 4. “Ant-Man” earned $513,000 for a cumulative of $12.3 million after three weekends.
In fifth, less than $100 ahead of “Ant-Man,” was U.S. film “Missing.” After two weekends on release, it has a cumulative of $2.68 million.
Korean drama film “My Heart Puppy” about two men who seek to relace the dog they lost, opened with $439,000 over the weekend proper and $791,000 over its opening five days.
Korean sports drama “Count” took $323,000 over the weekend, for a 12-day cumulative of $2.61 million.
Another local title, “Marui Video” earned $142,000 over the weekend in tenth place, giving a 12-day cume of $1.21 million.
Inserting itself in ninth place was “Suzume,” the Japanese hit animation which played as previews and official opened in Korean theaters on Wednesday. It earned $312,000 between Friday and Sunday and has already banked $576,000.
The crop of new release films lifted the total weekend box office by 29% over the previous session. But the $9.39 million Friday-Sunday aggregate is still a long way shy of an average weekend in the pre-COVID era.
As a response to depressed levels of business Korea’s cinema operators have made three COVID-era price rises. The mean ticket price in 2022 reached KRW10,285 ($7.92), a 6.5% increase on the KRW9,656 ($7.44) of 2021, according to KOFIC.
The mean ticket price figure masks a growing disparity between titles and the increasing significance of premium screens (and their premium pricing). By way of example, tickets for “The Devil’s Deal” on the latest weekend sold for an average of $7.78, while those of Lim’s concert film went for $18.75 apiece.
A recent KOFIC report shows premium screens (Imax and Dolby, as well as local brands 4DX and ScreenX) enjoyed a 170% leap in revenue in 2022, compared with 2021. Last year they accounted for 7.7% of tickets sold and 10.9% of box office by value.
Monthly data shows box office in Korea recovering to 2020 levels. The January and February 2023 total reached KRW214 billion, a figure better than in any pandemic-affected year (2020-2022). But still, revenues were 38% shy of the first two months of 20219, the industry’s last normal year. And a 68% market share went to foreign titles.
In terms of spectator numbers, the start to 2023 is still further behind 2019 – just 19.4 million tickets were sold, a 52% deficit compared with the 40.4 million turnstile visits in January and February 2019 – with the huge gap somewhat masked by the higher average ticket sales prices. The vastly lower head count may cause cinema operators to rethink the number of venues they keep in operation.
Taken together with other KOFIC analysis on the success of sequels, the stubbornly low headcount also suggests that a significant portion of the Korean public is turning to other destinations for its entertainment. Cinema visits are becoming a rarer, more expensive activity that is increasingly motivated by event films, franchise instalments and giant screen spectaculars.