The long-awaited anime film Jujutsu Kaisen 0 finally hit American theaters this week. Early reports suggest it had a sensational opening weekend with box office analysts estimating it made around $17.6 million, making it the weekend's second-most popular movie behind The Batman. This is a mind-blowing achievement, and these box office figures show how anime has gone from a rare curiosity to a mainstream force at the American box office.
Originally titled Tokyo Metropolitan Curse Technical School, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is based on a manga written by Gege Akutami. Set before the events of the smash-hit anime, the film tells the story of Yuta Okkotsu, a young man who is sent to a magical school after acquiring a powerful but dangerous spirit. Those behind the school hope this education will allow Yuta to control his powers -- while letting them keep watch over him.
Historically, anime films have not performed well at the American box office. Even those now regarded as classics had terrible box office runs in the United States. The great works of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli may be highly praised and sell out in theaters when they're brought back today, but upon their initial release, they were mostly overlooked. 1999's Princess Mononoke, for instance, only made $2.2 million during its first eight weeks in cinemas. Spirited Away, often considered the quintessential Ghibli movie, didn't fare much better, only making around $450K on its opening weekend in 2002. In fact, the film didn't get much attention until it won Best Animated Feature at the Oscars in 2003.
The only films to buck this trend back then were the Pokémon films. Thanks to the popularity of the video games and the dub, the movies were successful at the box office. 1999's Pokémon: The First Movie made $31 million during its opening weekend, with its sequel -- Pokémon: The Movie 2000 -- earning over $19 million in its first weekend.
However, as time has gone on, anime movies have done better and better at the box office. For instance, 2015's Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' made over $2 million during its opening weekend alone. And of course, 2020's Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train cemented anime film in the American consciousness, making over $19.5 million in its opening weekend and setting a record for the best opening for a foreign-language film released in North America in the process.
However, it should be noted that anime films are not just making more money. They're also getting more conspicuous releases, which shows how anime as a whole has grown in popularity. For instance, early Ghibli movies only opened in select art-house cinemas, with Spirited Away only being played in 26 locations -- a far cry from Jujutsu Kaisen 0's 2,336 theaters. Most other anime movies were only distributed as special events, with limited showings and short engagements rather than full theater releases.
Even films from the mid-2010s, like 2018's My Hero Academia: Two Heroes, only got screened in around 400 cinemas. This shows how anime is still growing -- and that modern movie distributors know anime films have widespread appeal and will sell tickets. They're no longer art house curiosities; anime series are mainstream and fans will pay to see their favorite stories play out on the big screen, meaning anime films can be treated like domestically produced blockbusters.
Imagine going back in time and telling an early-2000s anime fan that an animated movie based on a Shōnen Jump property was competing with a Batman film at the box office; they would surely laugh it off as folly. But Jujutsu Kaisen 0's success emphasizes how anime films are big draws in America -- and proves that Demon Slayer's incredible numbers were not a one-off. Because of this, we can expect to see other anime films dominate the box office charts in the future, giving American-produced blockbusters stiffer competition than ever.