Over the Memorial Day weekend, American movie theatre came back to life as some customers reverted to pre-Covid-19 habits, sparking optimism that cinema businesses may mount a rebound after a difficult year.
While holiday box office earnings provided solace to studio executives and aided the country’s gradual but steady economic recovery, Hollywood is still faced with a difficult question: Do movie theatres have a future or was the weekend comeback merely a blip?
“I view it as a ratcheting back up,” Jeff Goldstein, head of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures, said optimistically.
“We always thought it would be more of a slow climb out of the epidemic than a light switch going,” Goldstein noted. “There’s a lot of interest in figuring out what the new post-pandemic normal is.”
“You can’t close a business down for anywhere from six months to a year and not have any money without it having a lasting effect,” he said, acknowledging that movie theatres have had a hard financial ride.
According to figures from media measurement firm Comscore, the combined North American box office garnered $97 million during the four-day weekend. John Krasinski’s long-awaited horror sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” took in $57 million at the box office.
In contrast, Disney’s “Cruella” made around $26.5 million over the four-day period, which is a decent haul considering viewers could rent the “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” prequel on the Disney+ streaming service the same day it was released in cinemas.
According to Comscore, the North American box office might surpass $100 million during the holiday weekend. It’s the best overall showing since Covid-19 prompted the great majority of cinemas to lock their doors and spectators to flee to their homes in March 2020.
“It does signify the return of robust theatergoing, and it is a huge milestone in the recovery of the $40 billion+ worldwide box office industry,” said Chris Aronson, head of domestic distribution at Paramount Pictures, which distributed both “A Quiet Place” films.
The success of the sequel to “A Quiet Place” comes on the heels of the year’s greatest smash, Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which grossed almost $100 million domestically after grossing just over $30 million on its opening weekend in March.
According to Comscore, 75% of cinemas that were open in 2019 have reopened, with the figure likely to climb as the epidemic subsides and more people are vaccinated.
In addition to the musical “In the Heights,” the ninth movie in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, and Marvel’s “Black Widow,” the summer schedule is jam-packed with potential blockbusters. (Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, distributes the “Fast and Furious” films.)
Many chains are in serious financial problems as a result of the pandemic-era shutdowns. Pacific Theatres, a California-based operator, has announced that none of its facilities, including the iconic ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, will reopen.
According to the Amazon-owned website Box Office Mojo, the weekend revenues were also much behind those of the same period in 2019, when Disney’s live-action adaptation of “Aladdin” dominated the U.S. box office with more than $116 million in ticket sales.
Meanwhile, conditioned by months of lockdown and attracted by the flexibility of on-demand viewing, many customers have grown even more used to watching movies from the comfort of their living rooms.
If studios and theatres want to keep their doors open, Dergarabedian believes they must develop methods to make the big-screen experience compelling long after the novelty of returning to routine has worn off.
At least some big studios have attempted to react to the changing situation by making new titles available to watch at home significantly sooner than in previous years. (Prior to the epidemic, most films were only allowed to show in theatres for a 90-day period.)
Warner Bros. Pictures has opted to distribute all of its 2021 films simultaneously in cinemas and on the HBO Max streaming service, including “In the Heights.”
After only 45 days on the big screen, “A Quiet Place II” will be released on the Paramount+ platform, perhaps luring new customers to one of the more recent arrivals in the extremely competitive streaming industry.