Kings of the US Box Office: Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron and Godzilla Minus One

Kings of the US Box Office: Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron and Godzilla Minus One

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The titular Boy and the Heron as well as Godzilla from Godzilla Minus One on a blank background next to text "King of the U.S. Box Office.'
Japanese film is having a moment in North America, as Studio Ghibli's The Boy and the Heron and Godzilla Minus One take 1st and 3rd at the box office.

Japanese media has never seemed as mainstream in North America as it does today. From the films of Kurosawa Akira opening in American theaters and the popularization of Americanized Godzilla films in the 1950s, to Astro Boy and Speed Racer enticing children to gather around TV sets in the ’60s, to the slow growth of anime from subculture to popular entertainment mainstay from the ’80s till today, the gestation of Japanese entertainment in America morphing from peculiar to conventional seems nearly complete. This weekend, for the first time, two films in the North American box office top-three will be Japanese movies.

The films in question are beloved animation director Miyazaki Hayao’s potential swan song, The Boy and the Heron, and the first new Japanese Godzilla film in seven years, Godzilla Minus One. Both films belong to parts of Japanese pop culture that have now firmly endeared themselves amongst fans worldwide. Godzilla has been thrilling viewers abroad for 3/4ths of a century; the output of Studio Ghibli, first formed by Miyazaki and Takahata Isao in the mid-80s, made its breakout in North America with 1997’s Princess Mononoke, and has slowly become as beloved and iconic for some overseas fans from younger generations as are the films of Walt Disney.

Despite passionate fanbases, the idea of two Japanese-language films resting at the top of the North American box office would still have been inconceivable only a decade ago. The previous Ghibli and Japanese Godzilla films didn’t exactly rock the world with their opening weekends; Anno Hideaki’s 2016 Shin-Godzilla made a mere $458,342 in its NA opening weekend. Meanwhile, Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises (2013) managed a relatively impressive $1.5 million during its first weekend in wide release. [1]

So, conceive of this: the top two movies in the United States and Canada this Friday were both Japanese.

US poster for The Boy and the Heron.

Unprecedented Box Office Success

Godzilla Minus One and The Boy and the Heron have crushed their predecessors’ opening weekend grosses in only their first Friday in theaters. Minus One made $4,726,373 on Friday, December 1st; this weekend (December 8th), Heron opened to a Friday (inclusive of previews) of $5.2 million. (That’s more than many Miyazaki films made in their entire North American runs.)

Right now, The Boy and the Heron is projected to take in at least $10 million over the weekend. [3] Minus One will likely come in as number 2 or number 3, facing most of its competition from Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.

This opening marks several milestones for Studio Ghibli in the United States. It’s the biggest Miyazaki opening ever, and the only non-franchise anime film to ever be #1 at the NA box office. Additionally, it’s the first 2D-animated film to reach #1 since Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, way back in 2009. [4]

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With this, Heron should be on track to best 2010’s Arrietty as Ghibli’s best-ever performer in North America. (Arrietty, an adaptation of the classic British children’s novel The Borrowers, made $19,202,743.) It will join other recent anime films with impressive box office runs. These include Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, which made a whopping $47.7 million. In 2022, the CG-animated Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero made $38.1 million, and also topped the box office for a weekend.

Review: Miyazaki’s New “How Do You Live” (The Boy and the Heron) Marks an Eerie Return

After a decade, master director Miyazaki Hayao is back with a full-length animated film. How does Studio Ghibli’s mysterious” How Do You Live” (Kimi-tachi wa Dou Ikiru Ka) stack up?

Watch our review of The Boy and the Heron.

A Bright Spot in a Tarnished Local Box Office

The relative and impressive success of Heron and Minus One comes amidst a notable downturn for the US box office. A series of major US releases have failed to meet expectations; DC’s The Flash, Marvel’s The Marvels, and Disney’s Wish have all been unqualified box office bombs. While all three films will likely make more than Heron and Minus One combined, the two Japanese films are outperforming expectations. Minus One, with a reported budget of around $13 million, will be highly profitable.

This weekend is also light on major domestic releases, making for a perfect window for these anticipated Japanese films to shine. Early December is often a dead zone for American theaters, with families being busy with preparations for the upcoming winter holidays. The successful industry strikes of the past year have also left theater marquees bereft of major releases.

So, there could be no better time for these two movies to soar into North American theaters. Together, they’ve accomplished something new, and impressive, and shown just how much of a hold Japanese popular culture continues to have on the hearts of many the world over.

Sources:

[1] The Wind Rises. Box Office Mojo.

[2] Murphy, J. Kim. (Dec 9, 2023 8:08am PT). Box Office: ‘The Boy and the Heron’ Rises to No. 1 in North America With Projected $10 Million Debut. Variety.

[3] D’Alessandro, Anthony. Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Boy And The Heron’ Growing To $10M-$12M Opening; ‘Renaissance’ Loses Glam With -74% Drop – Box Office Update. Deadline.

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Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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