Study: Theatrical Recovery Still a Work in Progress; Vax Mandates, Lower Prices Would Help

A new study finds that while theaters have recovered quite well from COVID-19, they still need to do more — including building confidence among movie fans through vaccine mandates, and lowering ticket prices — if they want the box office to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The key is winning back “former filmgoers,” a “significant yet less understood segment of the movie-going public,” according to a Dec. 1 press release from the collective of three research and cultural insights firms behind the study: custom film research firm The Quorum, strategic cultural advisory Cultique, and research, strategy and creative agency Fanthropology.

More than 2,500 pre-pandemic movie-goers were polled nationally in October 2021 about their attitudes about going to the theater. Nearly half of the respondents (49%) said they once went to the theater but no longer do so. 

“Theatrical has made an admirable recovery, but future growth depends on understanding and winning back former filmgoers,” said David Herrin, founder and CEO of The Quorum. “The data show that there is an opportunity to gain back filmgoers who are currently on the sidelines, but only by the industry addressing both emerging and long-standing issues. Interestingly, the good news is that the majority of former filmgoers have signaled their willingness to come back.”

Access the full study here on The Quorum website

“This is an important time for theaters to reset habits coming out of the pandemic,” added Kristen Longfield, head of research at Fanthropology. “The decisions theaters make now will determine what the future of theatrical moviegoing looks like, and whether the audience is robust or anemic.”

Former filmgoers are not all the same, the study found. Rather, they fall into one of three groups. “Reluctants,” who account for 26% of those who no longer go to theaters, are those who began going back but then stopped with the emergence of the Delta variant. “Hopefuls” (58%) are those who have never returned, but hope to one day in the future. And “Likely Losts” (16%) are those who stopped going to theaters when the pandemic struck and don’t see themselves returning in the future.

Among former filmgoers, 59% said they don’t feel safe in a theater. However, requiring proof of vaccination would go a long way toward making them comfortable about going back, the study found. While some filmgoers perceive mandates as an overreach, the data show a net positive gain in attendance. 

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The study also contends that safety concerns over COVID-19 have exacerbated longstanding beliefs that going to the theater is too expensive and that the experience doesn’t provide great value. A majority (56%) say they would return to the theater if the experience provided more value.  

There are several ways that theaters can enhance the filmgoing experience, according to the study. On the concession side, price reduction of classic concessions was the leading request (65%) among former filmgoers, followed by availability of local food favorites (63%), healthier food options (58%), and craft cocktails (58%). On the in-theater side, the leading driver was more space between seats (69%), newer seats (65%), ability to order food and drinks from your seat (65%), and more large-format screens (63%). While the majority of respondents also cited enforcement of phone usage (58%) and fewer commercials (56%) as driving factors, these trailed the issues related to seating and large-format screens.


Paramount Q3 Licensing, Home Entertainment Dwarfs Theatrical Revenue

Paramount Pictures Nov. 4 disclosed third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) licensing and home entertainment revenue from movies of $513 million, which was down about 12% from revenue of $584 million in the previous-year period. When including television production, the “licensing and other” segment totaled more than $1.5 billion — up nearly 18% from revenue of $1.28 billion a year earlier.

Paramount, like other studios, no longer calls out home entertainment sales of packaged and digital media separately. The segment is now included in the studio’s licensing business.

That said, the studio’s wholesale distribution of movies dwarfs its box office. Paramount saw just $67 million in quarterly theatrical revenue, which was up from $6 million recorded in the previous-year period when most theaters were shuttered due to the pandemic.

So, while A Quiet Place Part II and Paw Patrol: The Movie performed relatively well at the pandemic box office, Paramount’s underwhelming year-to-date theatrical revenue of $202 million is attributed to just three movies, when including “G.I. Joe” spin-off Snake Eyes.

Major Tom Cruise tentpole theatrical titles Mission: Impossible 7 and Top Gun: Maverick, in addition to a relaunch of the “Scream” franchise, have been pushed back to 2022.

Meanwhile, the studio remains a major producer of TV programming, while also aggressively licensing content to third-party distribution channels, led by streaming, which include Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, as well the branded Paramount+ platform and sister service Showtime OTT.

Paramount generated $893 million in quarterly revenue licensing TV product to third-parties and retail channels. That’s up almost 80% from revenue of $498 million in the previous-year period.

Jeff Shell Upbeat on Concurrent Peacock, Theater Movie Release Strategy

When Universal Pictures released Halloween Kills on the Peacock subscription streaming platform the same time as the sequel’s box office debut on Oct. 15, the move marked NBCUniversal’s ongoing proactive steps to rejigger movie distribution in the streaming ecosystem.

Speaking on the Oct. 28 Comcast quarterly earnings call, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said the decision to offer $9.99 monthly Peacock subscribers (not $4.99 free ad-supported subs) early access to Jaime Lee Curtis’ return as Laurie Strode and her cursed lifelong battle against Michael Myers, paid off.

“We added a few million more subscribers,” Shell said, adding that the move, coupled with the Tokyo Summer Olympics on Peacock, energized the platform. NBCUniversal gave no updates on Peacock subscriber data, which topped 54 million sign-ups and 20 million paid subs through June 30.

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Kills, which generated $49.4 million to lead all weekend new releases, was the second movie after The Boss Baby: Family Business on July 1 to have a concurrent streaming bow. The latter, a sequel to 2017’s The Boss Baby, also topped its opening weekend box office with $16 million in ticket sales.

Shell said the results underscore the reality that streaming and box office can co-exist without cannibalizing revenue streams. The executive was instrumental in Universal taking a hatchet to the 90-day theatrical window — now releasing some titles on premium VOD just 17 days after their exhibitor debut.

“We’ve seen across all streaming platforms that movies move the dial,” Shell said. “It shows that you can play in two different markets.”

In addition to releasing select titles on Peacock and in theaters at the same time, the SVOD service in 2022 will have exclusive access to all Universal titles four months after their box office debut as part of the studio’s new Pay 1 window distribution strategy.

Shell said he remained “really excited” about the status of Peacock going forward.

“We’ve been in business for just over a year, and we’re already more than a third of where Hulu is now, which is a service that’s been more than decades in the making,” he said.

Notably, Kelly Campbell, former president of Hulu, was hired by Shell to the same position at Peacock earlier this month.

Box Office Forecast: Will It Be a Case of ‘Halloween Kills’ James Bond?

This weekend’s (through Oct. 17) box office battle finds James Bond being challenged by the murderous Michael Myers, who has been tormenting moviegoers since 1978 — 16 years after the first Bond movie. While both characters have survived being shot, blown up, stabbed, drowned, hacksawed and torched (Myers), the box office is a wholly different beast.

MGM/United Artists Releasing’s No Time to Die, featuring actor Daniel Craig in his supposed last performance as Agent 007, opened a week ago to a strong, yet unspectacular, $56 million North American box office. Myers’ return in Universal Pictures’ Halloween Kills marks the third release in the Blumhouse reboot that brought back original teen (now grandmother) Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

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Unlike the previous release, which was a box office and critical success, Kills will be the first in the franchise to have concurrent availability on a streaming platform. Universal is making the movie available at no extra charge to Peacock subscribers — a marketing move that could undermine ticket sales similar to the impact of HBO Max on recent Warner Bros. Pictures’ releases.

As a result, Kills is tracking to generate more than $35 million domestically, according to Universal, far below the $76 million Halloween opening weekend in 2018 — but still ahead of the projected $25 million for No Time to Die in its sophomore weekend. Interestingly, women made up nearly 50% of Halloween moviegoers in 2018.

Meanwhile, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel (20th Century Studios) makes its theatrical debut across more than 3,000 screens — featuring Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. The period actioner is projected to generate more than $8 million in ticket sales.

Other returns include Sony Pictures’ Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($25 million), The Addams Family 2 ($7.3 million) from MGM/UA Releasing, and Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($2.9 million).

‘Shang-Chi’ Passes ‘Black Widow’ as Top 2021 U.S. Box Office Release

The Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe release Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has surpassed Marvel Studios’ Black Widow as the top-grossing domestic movie with three months left in the 2021 box office.

Shang-Chi, starring Chinese-born Simu Liu, generated $3.59 million across 3,952 theaters Friday night (Sept. 24) to reach $186.7 million. That figure tops the previous polesitter, Marvel’s Black Widow, with $183.4 million. Shang-Chi is expected to dominate the domestic box office for the fourth consecutive weekend.

Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, still leads the global box office with $378.3 million, compared to $330.8 million for Shang-Chi.

Both titles, along with other major Hollywood releases, have not yet been released in China, the world’s No. 2 box office market. While no official reason has been given, reports suggest that with the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party occurring this summer, the Chinese government is reluctant to showcase Western movies.

Despite Shang-Chi featuring a largely Asian cast, including Liu, the actor emigrated to Canada with his parents at the age of five — a move, media reports suggest, was largely due to his parents’ opposition to communism.

Regardless, the success of the two movies heralds back to Disney’s triumphant pre-pandemic 2019 box office, when it tallied more than $11 billion in global ticket sales — largely on the back of Marvel superhero movies, and the Chinese box office.

Weekend Box Office Projection: ‘Shang-Chi’ Won’t Back Down

Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe release Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is expected to maintain its grip on the domestic/global box office following a record Labor Day debut.

The Asian-American-led superhero movie is projected to generate $40 million over the three-day weekend ending Sept. 12, almost 50% off its record debut $75.4 million three-day ($94.7 million four-day) tally last weekend. The movie is projected to surpass $148 million at (4,300) U.S. theaters.

Notably, Shang-Chi has no China release date, a significant loss considering Marvel movies typically generate 10% to 20% of their global box office in the world’s most-populous country.

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New releases include Warner Bros. Pictures Malignant, which is expected to generate $6.5 million across 3,800 screens. The movie will also stream concurrently on HBO Max. Sony Pictures’ Show Me the Father ($2.3 million at 1,073 screens) and Focus Features’ The Card Counter ($1.1 million across 580 screens) also arrive in theaters.

Returning features include 20th Century Studios’ Free Guy at $5.5 million across 3,600 screens ($101.5 million total domestically); Universal Pictures’ Candyman at $5.3 million across 3,279 screens ($48.4 million); Disney’s Jungle Cruise ($2.6 million/$110 million); Paramount Pictures’ Paw Patrol: The Movie ($2.3 million/$34.6 million); Sony Pictures’ Don’t Breathe 2 ($1.2 million/$30.2 million); and United Artists’ Respect ($770,000/$23.4 million).

Disney/MCU’s ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Smashes Labor Day Box Office Record

Disney’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings topped expectations, generating an estimated $90 million across 4,300 North American screens over the four-day Labor Weekend ended Sept. 6. The first Asian-American led Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero release added another $56.2 million internationally, to bring its global total around $136 million. Shang-Chi has not yet been released in China or Southeast Asia.

The movie’s $75.5 million three-day total through Sept. 5 ranked as the second-highest in the pandemic era behind Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow, which generated $80 million in its opening weekend through July 11. Shang-Chi also edged Universal Pictures’ F9: The Fast Saga, which realized more than $70 million in its June 27 domestic opening weekend box office.

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Unlike Shang-Chi, Black Widow debuted concurrently with a $29.99 Premier Access add-on option for Disney+ subscribers.

Shang-Chi shattered the previous Labor Day box office record, set in 2007 with director Rob Zombie’s Halloween, which generated more than $30.5 million in ticket sales.

Meanwhile, Disney’s Jungle Cruise topped the $100 million box office threshold after selling another $5.2 million in tickets, despite also being available concurrently as a Disney+ add-on. Disney-owned 20th Century Studios’ Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds, is also approaching the century mark in domestic ticket sales, adding an estimated $11.2 million. It is not yet available on Disney+.

Universal Pictures’ horror sequel Candyman finished runner-up to Shang-Chi with $13.4 million, bringing its total two-week box office to nearly $42 million. Paramount Pictures’ Paw Patrol: The Movie added $5.2 million, to bring its three-week total to $31.5 million.

AMC: 3.2 Million Moviegoers Bought Tickets Globally July 8-11 — Driven by ‘Black Widow’

AMC Theatres, the largest exhibitor in the world, July 12 announced that it once again broke its previous post-reopening weekend attendance record. For the second time in three weekends, and third time since Memorial Day weekend, AMC recorded its busiest weekend attendance numbers in the last 16 months. Approximately 3.2 million people watched movies at AMC’s domestic and international theater locations from July 8 to 11.

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The industry box office was led by Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow, which opened to an estimated $80 million for its opening weekend in North America, breaking the previous record, which was set by Universal Pictures’ F9: The Fast Saga just two weekends before. Beyond the success of Black Widow, the other nine movies in the top 10 also posted meaningful ticket sales and helped give the industry its first $100-million plus domestic box office weekend since early 2020.

Eight of the top 10 busiest theaters in the U.S. across the whole movie theater industry were AMCs. They were led by the AMC Burbank 30 complex in Burbank, Calif. AMC had more than 2.5 million U.S. moviegoers, a new post-reopening record.

Internationally, more than 650,000 people visited AMC’s theaters in Europe and the Middle East, also a post-reopening record.

Paramount Ups Q1 Licensing Revenue as Theatrical Revenue Craters

With Paramount Pictures generating a record low $1 million in revenue in the first quarter (ended March 31), the studio is offsetting ongoing pandemic-related box office declines by licensing content to Paramount+ and other streaming platforms.

Paramount, which had no releases in the quarter, generated $167 million in theatrical revenue during the previous-year period prior to the pandemic.

As a result, the studio bumped up by nearly 55% “licensing and other” segment revenue to $996 million, from $644 million in the previous-year period. The unit now includes Paramount Home Entertainment revenue from the sales and rental of movies. The home entertainment distributor had revenue of $174 million in the previous-year period.

“Licensing and other” revenue increased in large part from the distribution of content to Paramount+ and third parties, as well as revenue from the licensing of Miramax movies.

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Adjusted pre-tax earnings increased $177 million primarily due to higher licensing revenue compared to the prior-year period, which included higher distribution costs associated with theatrical releases during the first quarter of 2020 prior to the pandemic.

The studio’s last major theatrical hits included Sonic the Hedgehog, which generated $319 million worldwide in 2020, and Bumblebee, with $468 million following its box office debut on Dec. 19, 2018.

Disney’s ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ Remains Atop Domestic Box Office Concurrent With Premier Access in the Home

Disney’s animated Raya and the Last Dragon continues its strong pandemic box office run, reportedly generating an estimated $5.2 million in ticket sales across more than 2,200 domestic screens for the weekend ended March 21. The title has generated about $24.8 million ($71.6 worldwide) since its March 3 bow concurrently with premium VOD ($29.99) availability on Disney+. Raya is Disney’s second PVOD release following live-action Mulan.

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Among the weekend’s top-performing theatrical titles in the U.S., the usual suspects continue to resonate, including Warner Bros. Pictures animation release Tom and Jerry with $3.8 million ($32 million total; $70+ million global); Lionsgate’s Chaos Walking generated $2.2 million ($10 million; $15 million), followed by the studio’s newcomer, The Courier, starring Rachel Brosnahan and Benedict Cumberbatch, the latter as a businessman-turned-Cold War-spy, with $2 million. Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age continues to shine, selling $620,000 in tickets ($55.2 million; $159.7 million) despite being available across multiple retail channels.

Oscar nominees A Promising Woman and Minari saw weekend ticket sales of $195,000 and $306,000, respectively, bring the movies’ total theatrical revenue to $5.7 million and $1.3 million.

The weekend saw most of the U.S. exhibition market re-open for business, albeit at 25% capacity (or 100 people per screen) due to ongoing government restrictions.

“This weekend showed solid results from holdovers, demonstrating the revenue generating horsepower of opening the biggest box-office market in North America,” Paul Dergarabedian, media analyst with Comscore, said in a statement. “Eager movie fans in Los Angeles showed up in solid numbers to enjoy the big screen experience once again.”