Looking back, my tedious daily routine in the South Korean military was only bearable because I could look forward to watching the latest episode of Demon Slayer in my barracks. Without a doubt one of the best anime series of 2019, Demon Slayer is a riveting story that follows the journey of a young boy, Tanjiro Kamado, after a demon slaughters his entire family and transforms his sister, Nezuko, into a demon. Bent on finding a way to cure his sister, Tanjiro joins the Demon Slayer Corps. The best aspects of Demon Slayer are certainly the gorgeously animated action scenes (I don’t think anyone can truly forget that Tanjiro vs Rui scene), the exhilarating background music, and the lovable characters of the series.
But if you told me that Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train, which is a movie that picks up the story where the series ended, would become one of the top ten grossing movies in the world for 2020, I wouldn’t have believed you.
As of right now, Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train (which literally translates into “infinity train”) has steamrolled past Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name (25 billion yen) and Disney’s Frozen (25.5 billion yen) into the third highest grossing movie of all time in Japan with almost 26 billion yen at the box office. The highest and second highest are Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away (30.8 billion yen) and 1997’s Titanic (26.2 billion yen) respectively. These aren’t the only records the Mugen Train is breaking though, as Demon Slayer the Movie has become Taiwan’s highest grossing movie of the year and the country’s highest grossing Japanese film.
What do both Japan and Taiwan share in common? They have been highly effective at suppressing the COVID-19 outbreak. Due to the successful measures taken by both governments, Japanese and Taiwanese citizens feel comfortable and safe to go on with their movie theater routines.
As of press time, Demon Slayer the Movie is sitting in sixth place for highest grossing movies of 2020 with over $261 million at the worldwide box office. This is even more impressive considering that the movie is a continuation of the series and thus, is tailored to those with a considerable familiarity with the storyline.
The impressive records set by Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train will be difficult for most Hollywood movies to surpass this year. With the rampant spread of COVID 19 in the United States, most big Hollywood films have been postponed to next year after the disappointing box office results of director Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. While the film is still in fourth place for overall box office this year with just over $350 million, the $200 million budget film is still costing Warner Brothers anywhere between $50 million and $100 million. Without a doubt, Tenet would have grossed far more had it not been for the graveness of the COVID 19 circumstances.
Even Wonder Woman 1984 has rescheduled its release date from June 5th to Christmas, with the unprecedented option to stream the movie on HBO Max on release day. Warner Brothers is hoping that the digital release will garner more subscribers for HBO Max, which has traditionally struggled against its competing streaming platforms, during a time when online streaming is now the dominant method for content consumption. Given the current circumstances, the measure is understandable as only 50% of US movie theaters are currently open. Regal Cinemas has even closed all of its theaters for the second time in October, whereas theaters currently open are struggling to stay afloat with the lack of new films coming out.
As Asian countries have generally been managing the pandemic better than Western countries, Asian films have also overtaken Hollywood films in the worldwide box office. For the first time ever, five of the top 10 grossing movies of 2020 are from China and Japan. For the first time since 1997, none of those top 10 films include a film by Disney. While this is definitely a feat to be celebrated for any Asian film enthusiast or anyone that wishes to see more diversity at the box office, no movie has yet surpassed the $500 million box office mark, which is a first since 1995.
Even in Asian countries, some are opting for streaming options. This year the South Korean film industry has witnessed the migration of several films to Netflix instead of theater releases. According to an article in the Korean Herald, these films include the already released Time to Hunt, The Call and the upcoming blockbuster Space Sweepers. By switching to a Netflix release instead of a traditional theatrical release, these films can reach Netflix’s immense global audience base of around 195 million subscribers in 190 countries.
A Netflix release is also financially less risky, as the streaming giant offers a fixed price while absorbing the pecuniary risks that could occur due to a film’s performance. A box office smash would obviously reap more benefits, however, the pandemic has made it extremely difficult to predict a movie’s success in theaters. As of press time, South Korea will soon be raising social distancing levels to level 2.5, the second highest tier in the five tier scheme. As a second wave of COVID 19 has hit Korea, with daily cases reaching 600 for the second time in nine months, movie theaters are now required to close at 9 PM. This would have dramatically impacted a film like Space Sweepers had it been released in theaters.
COVID 19 has had a crippling blow to the film industry, particularly Hollywood. Nevertheless, it has also granted Asians films the opportunities to gain the recognition that they deserve in a Western-dominated industry, as Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train has demonstrated. It is hard to say what the film industry will look like next year. Has COVID 19 crippled Hollywood irrevocably, or will Hollywood bounce back with blockbusters like Black Widow, James Bond: No Time to Die and Dune? Whatever the outcome may be, Mugen Train shows no signs of slowing down, especially as it has yet to to make a stop in South Korea, as it steamrolls through the box office.