‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Might Sell as Many Tickets as ‘Dune: Part Two’

For the first time since July with “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” there should be two films with grosses over $40 million this weekend — with a chance both might be over $50 million.

“Kung Fu Panda 4” (Universal), despite getting a tiny fraction of the online hype that “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.) got before its opening and terrific start, could sell as many tickets worldwide — and end up an even more profitable project.

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Most important, potentially two major grossers at the same time come just in time for struggling theaters, and as a needed reminder to studios about theatrical bounty. And it’s not in a vacuum, either. This week also sees “Cabrini” (Angel Studios) and “Imaginary” (Lionsgate), with big franchise entries “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” (Sony) and “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” (Warner Bros.) coming later this month.

The new “Dune” just passed the $100 million domestic mark, the first 2024 release to do so. This weekend’s hold will make projecting its ultimate haul more precise, but as of now, $225 million (give or take $25 million) looks reasonable, with a chance to go higher.

Dreamworks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has been high-end successful in earlier releases. The most recent, in 2016, had a domestic gross (at today’s ticket prices) of around $175 million, with worldwide around $600 million. That alone would suggest a significant haul this time around.

'Kung Fu Panda 4,' Chameleon (voice: Viola Davis), 2024. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
‘Kung Fu Panda 4’©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

But what elevates the film’s prospects higher are two factors that add major wind into its sails. Both should boost its grosses, particularly long-term.

Animated films are a substantial part of the critical family market in theaters. Those include some with broader appeal (“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”) with ratings no more restrictive than PG contributed 19 percent of domestic box office in 2023 (up from 13 percent in 2022). But so far this year, only about 9 percent has accrued. (The live-action “Wonka” also had younger audience attendance).

And worse, until “Panda,” nothing animated of significance has opened. That’s a huge void, ready-made for “Kung Fu Panda 4” to exploit.

Then, among top animated titles, it has no competion until late May when Sony releases “The Garfield Movie.”

How important is this? “Migration” was #6 last weekend in its 11th week, despite also having had almost two months of home availability on PVOD. “Panda” could sustain a similar or even bigger success.

Add the timing of its release. Though school spring vacations vary by area (due in part to different dates for Easter every year), virtually all will be off some time during the initial month of “Panda.” And it should be the top choice for younger audiences at a time when they are most likely to be taken to a theater.

THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE, from left: Mario (voice: Chris Pratt), Luigi (voice: Charlie Day), 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

Last year, Universal released “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” the Wednesday before Easter (in April then) to massive success and with less reliance on spring breaks (plus interest from many older viewers). This year, “Panda” has that earlier and more comprehensive boost added to its positioning as the first new kids’ title in months.

It might come closer than expected, but it would be an upset if the film’s domestic or worldwide gross exceeded “Dune: Part Two.” But “Panda” has a real potential to gain bragging rights by two other standards.

Its reported production budget was $85 million before marketing. That’s over $100 million less than “Dune,” which also likely had a higher marketing cost. Add to the usual heavy post-theatrical platform interest in similar films that might make it equal to Denis Villeneuve’s films in home revenues. So it could potentially be more profitable.

Plus, with a significant number of lower-cost children’s tickets in its sales and without the major boost “Dune” gets from premium higher-priced tickets, it won’t be surprising if “Kung Fu Panda 4” ultimately sells more tickets.

That would be particularly gratifying for theaters, as there aren’t reduced kids’ prices for concessions (which families are more likely to purchase overall).

“Dune: Part Two” deservedly has gotten major media attention. But as a crucial new film for theaters, “Kung Fu Panda 4” could be nearly as important.

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