The return of actor/director Kenneth Branagh as Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot in another Agatha Christie novelturned into a theatrical release — A Haunting in Venice — is set to top the weekend box office, according to new data from Box Office Pro. The movie, which like previous releases Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Death on the Nile (2022), features an ensemble cast (headlined by Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh), is projected to sell north of $17 million worth of tickets.
That should be enough to best last weekend’s No. 1, Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Nun 2, with almost $12 million in projected revenue in its sophomore weekend. Sony Pictures’ The Equalizer 3 should round out the podium with more than $7 million in projected ticket sales.
Other returnees include Focus Features’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 ($5.5 million in projected revenue); Warner Bros. Pictures’ enduring Barbie with more than $4 million in additional projected ticket sales, followed by the DC Comics superhero film Blue Beetle (projected $2.8 million); Sony Pictures’ Gran Turismo ($2.4 million); Universal Pictures’ Oppenheimer ($2.2 million), and Paramount Pictures’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem ($2.1 million).
Music sensation Taylor Swift Aug. 31 announced that a feature film of her current Eras global concert tour will begin screening in U.S. cineplexes (only) beginning Oct. 13. Swift’s ongoing two-year tour is expected to generate more than $2 billion in revenue in the U.S. alone, with average venue attendance reaching 72,000 thus far. The average Swift concert ticket costs $254, with supply and demand forces driving after-market prices well above face value.
Movie tickets are priced at $19.89 (Swift’s birth year) for adults and $13.13 (Swift’s favorite number) for children and seniors.
“The Eras Tour has been the most meaningful, electric experience of my life so far and I’m overjoyed to tell you that it’ll be coming to the big screen soon,” Swift posted on social media.
News of the concert movie screening in AMC Theatres, Regal Cinema, Cineplex sent shares of AMC 9% higher as the exhibitor said it would screen the movie up to four-times a day over the weekend. Exhibitors are reportedly updating their ticketing systems to deal with the expected crush of concert moviegoers.
While people have started to resume watching movies at the theater, attendance in the United States is still only at about 64% of pre-pandemic visiting rates while home viewing has locked in gains from the pandemic, according to Interpret’s VideoWatch data.
The bump of people watching new releases at home — either through steaming services or digital rentals or purchases — that started during the pandemic has held steady and is not showing signs of any decline.
Amid weak box office receipts, movie theaters are increasingly looking for creative ways to boost revenue, Interpret noted. In the latest ticket price experiment, AMC has announced plans to roll out Sightline — the mammoth theater chain’s version of tiered pricing that takes inspiration from Broadway and live sports and concert venues to vary the cost of admission based on seat location. With Sightline, premium seats in the center of the theater cost more while less-desirable seats, such as those in the front row, cost less. AMC is rolling out the initiative first in New York City, Chicago and Kansas City, and plans to expand the program across the country by the end of the year. Sightline is also constructed in such a way as to encourage joining the theater chain’s Stubs loyalty program and A-List subscription plan.
AMC Entertainment Holdings Nov. 8 reported a third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) net loss of $226.9 million, which was up slightly from a loss of $224.2 million during the prior-year period. Revenue increased 27% to $968.4 million, from $763.2 million a year ago. Through nine months of the fiscal year, revenue topped $2.9 billion, up 115% from revenue of $763.2 million a year earlier.
CEO Adam Aron attributed the muddled Q3 results to a “particularly soft” industry-wide box office in the quarter.
“But encouragingly, our overall per-patron metrics for both admissions
revenue and food and beverage spending remain well above pre-pandemic levels, growing a sizable 12.0% and 30.0%, respectively, compared to the third quarter of 2019,” Aron said in a statement.
The executive, like much of Hollywood, has high hopes for the fourth quarter theatrical releases of Disney/Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which has posted advanced ticket sales surpassing expectations, as well as Strange World and Avatar: The Way of Water, among other films.
Indeed, Black Panther advance ticket sales have reportedly topped $45 million.
As the exhibition business continues to struggle, Aron said the world’s largest chain would continue to explore incremental business opportunities, which include selling branded popcorn at retail and the recently announced Zoom Rooms at AMC, affording groups the ability to connect with other large groups across the country.
“We expect to make more business development announcements in the coming weeks and months, which along with an improving movie theater sector, positions AMC Entertainment to create value for all our stakeholders,” Aron said.
Has the recent jump in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant kept U.S. movie fans from heading to the theater?
New survey data from Whip Media suggests it has.
Whip Media — after surveying more than 1,200 American users of its TV Time app, a free TV and movie tracking app with more than 20 million global users — found the Omicron surge has had a direct impact on the habits of movie fans.
The key takeaway: 57% of respondents said they have skipped going to see a movie in theaters due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.
This holds true for both regular moviegoers as well as those who rarely make it to the movies; of the 611 frequent moviegoers surveyed — defined as those who went to the cinema at least once per month before the pandemic started — 58% said they’ve passed on going to see a movie in the theater that they were interested in.
There’s also been a major shift in how fans approach films they are undecided about seeing. Whip Media’s survey found 69% of respondents are more likely to purchase and watch a movie in their home they’re “on the fence” about, rather than go to watch it at a theater.
This is a stark increase from just last summer, when a comparable Whip Media survey found about 50% of respondents said they were more likely to purchase and watch a movie at home that they weren’t sure about. Studios appear to be watching this shift closely, too, with big-budget films like Morbius, starring Jared Leto and Michael Keaton, having its release date pushed back from late January to April 1. Disney has also changed its strategy for its upcoming Pixar release Turning Red, ditching its theatrical release in favor of an exclusive showing on Disney+ beginning March 11.
Whip Media’s survey results come as other polls have found concerns over COVID-19 have increased in recent weeks. One Gallup poll, conducted between Jan. 3 and Jan. 14, found 56% of Americans have avoided large crowds in the past week due to their fear of catching the coronavirus; that’s a higher percentage than at any point since vaccines have become widely available last spring, according to Gallup.
Still, there are signs of optimism from moviegoers. Nearly 60% of respondents said they are “likely” or “very likely” to go see a movie in the theater within the next six months.
That figure could increase in the next few weeks, too, if the Omicron surge peaks and then starts to decline. Data this week from New York City, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. (among other major American cities) shows the seven-day average of cases has declined — suggesting the Omicron wave may have already crested.
And one thing, of course, that’ll help drive fans back to the theater is a blockbuster movie they feel they have to see on the silver screen. We’ve already seen this with Spider-Man: No Way Home, which has climbed to $1.69 billion at the global box office since being released in December 2021.
The best bet to shake off Omicron fears and have a strong box office performance is The Batman. The latest Dark Knight flick — starring Robert Pattinson and set to come out on March 4 — looks poised to drive fans to the theater. Of more than 1,000 respondents who said they are interested in seeing The Batman, 61% said they prefer to see it in a movie theater — the highest percentage of any major film coming out in the next few months.
Jeni Hatfield Benhain is director of data solutions at Whip Media, whose enterprise software and data platform enables media companies to efficiently distribute, control and monetize their TV and movie content to drive revenue and direct-to-consumer growth. With her extensive knowledge of consumer audience analytics, she is charged with developing data-driven growth strategies for the world’s largest entertainment organizations including major SVOD services, networks and studios.
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.”
“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.
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.
Despite a sluggish Halloween box office with the annual trick-or-treat event falling on a Sunday, AMC Theatres, Cinemark and Imax said the month of October was their highest monthly box office since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Data firm Box Office Mojo said October revenue across all domestic exhibitors neared $622 million, which was the highest monthly total since the $638 million generated in February 2020.
Leawood, Kan.-based AMC, which touts itself as the largest exhibitor in the world with 950 locations and 10,500 screens, said the month was also the highest in ticket sales in Europe and other foreign markets.
The month featured major theatrical releases including Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage, MGM’s latest James Bond actioner No Time To Die, Universal Pictures’ Halloween Kills, MGM’s The Addams Family 2, and Warner Bros. Pictures’ Dune, among others.
Plano, Tex.-based Cinemark, which operates 323 domestic locations, said the October results were due to studios releasing tentpole titles sidelined by the pandemic.
“Congratulations to our studio partners for creating must-see big-screen content with something for everyone,” CEO Mark Zoradi said in a statement.
Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said Dune and No Time to Die together accounted for 20% of the exhibitor’s $100 million in global ticket sales.
“It is clear the global film industry has reached a turning point,” Gelfond said on the exhibitor’s fiscal call. “The movies are back. Imax is delivering global box office grosses in line with or above pre-pandemic highs as consumers return to theatres around the world.”
This month (November) features major studio releases include Eternals (Disney/Marvel), Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Sony Pictures), Encanto and West Side Story (both Disney), Spider-Man: No Way Home (Sony Pictures), Matrix Resurrections (Warner Bros. Pictures) and Sing 2 (Universal).
The Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe release Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings shattered pre-COVID-19 Labor Day box office records, generating an estimated $90 million across domestic multiplexes over the four-day holiday period.
It was a fiscal homerun for the pandemic-challenged exhibition business.
Meanwhile, at the single-screen Avery Theater in Garner, Iowa, (population 3,059) about 92 mask-less parents and their children Sept. 3 purchased $4 tickets ($3 for kids) to see the local debut of Paramount Pictures’ Paw Patrol: The Movie — the adventure animation comedy that bowed nationwide Aug. 20.
Four volunteers work the concession stand selling buttered popcorn, soda pop and candy combo for $5. A retiree named “Lu,” short for Lucille, drives 10 miles from neighboring Britt to run the register, a weekly ritual she considers her civic duty.
“It helps keep prices down,” Lu says. She, and the other volunteers get free snacks, in addition to a movie for their community service.
Working his first solo shift as the Avery’s part-time assistant manager, the twenty-something employee is relieved that nearly half of the 90-year-old theater’s seats sold for Paw’s local debut.
It’s a script the 100-odd single-screen movie theaters still operating across America embrace to survive in a media ecosystem increasingly saturated by streaming.
Large and Small
While major chains AMC and Regal emerge from the pandemic looking to re-establish market dominance, small-town theaters are dealing with an obstacle that pre-dates COVID: Relevance. Moviegoers, especially teenagers, have long sought out multiplexes for a diversity of distractions. Single-screen venues pursue older-demo patrons willing to support local businesses and fund historical theatrical landmarks operating as nonprofits.
Venues include the 81-year-old, 300-seat Kee Theatre in Kiester, Minn. (pop. 462); the 84-year-old Mills Theater in Lake Mills (pop. 1,912); the 131-year-old Clear Lake Opera House in Clear Lake (pop. 7,687); the 90-year-old Fox Theatre in North Platte, Neb.; and the 95-year-old State Theater in Sioux Falls, S.D., once known nationwide as the “movie palace.”
Small-town theaters provide a link to a bygone era before television (and air conditioning) that offered sanctuary on a hot summer day, a social gathering spot as important as the post office, city hall, the bowling alley and church.
“We need more places in this country right now where we can come together and share space with one another and breath the same air. Those places in modern society are disappearing,” Kristina Smith, owner the 350-seat single-screen Callicoon Theater in upstate New York, told the Associated Press. “You’ve got your town hall. You’ve got church. And, sometimes, you have your local movie theater.”
To maintain that legacy, local theaters are pursuing incremental revenue sources such as social media fundraising, donation jars and live events to keep the lights on.
“After 90 years of performances, conferences, lectures and musical entertainment, the historic Fox Theatre must move into the 21st century,” reads the North Platte theater’s website. The venue seeks to raise $500,000 to make the Fox Theatre “the place in our community to experience drama, music and intellectual fulfillment.”
Wall Street Lifeline
Last year during the height of the pandemic, when movie theaters faced an uncertain future, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a chain of 40 independent screens based in Austin, Texas, got lucky. The company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy after securing a sale to a private equity group.
“It’s incredibly exciting to be back on that path so we can bring the Alamo Drafthouse experience to new locations around the country, including our very first [screens] in Manhattan, N.Y., St. Louis and Washington, D.C.,” new CEO Shelli Taylor said in a statement.
Separately, distributor Kino Lorber bowed an online platform that allows moviegoers to support their local indie theater through the purchase of VOD movies.
“Those first theaters [earned] real numbers — they were thousands of dollars, not hundreds,” CEO Richard Lorber said in a media interview. “They were a meaningful indication that there was a customer base that was willing to pay, and theaters are sharing [in] approximately 50% of the revenue.”
While most small theaters can’t bank on a hedge-fund lifeline, just as many don’t have have the resources required to operate a website, let alone over-the-top video distribution.
Take the 500-seat Forest Theatre in Forest City, Iowa (pop. 3,928). According to its Facebook page, the venue was originally built in early 1910’s as an opera house. “The Forest” is now owned by the city and operated by a community board.
H.P. Kobriger handles ticket sales, concessions and digital projection as a side gig. He works fulltime as a financial aid counselor at nearby Waldorf University. Kobriger says The Forest — like most theaters — re-opened in July after a 17-month shutdown due to the pandemic.
“It’s been a challenge re-educating people to think about going out to the movies again,” he says.
Indeed, a recent Tuesday night screening saw just three customers, appropriately watching A Quiet Place Part II — the Paramount Pictures sequel that hit theaters nationwide back in May. The Forest is looking to split into a two-screen venue to double movie options. A crowdsourcing effort to fund construction has thus far generated about $1,440.
In the meantime, the venue, unlike most single-screen operations, operates six-days a week, and bowed Shang-Chi concurrently with the film’s nationwide debut — a marketing win for Kobriger.
“People love Marvel movies,” he says.
Former Kiester Mayor Doug Trytten and wife bought the Kee Theatre in 1986, complete with the original Art Deco neon marquee. They sold it to a nonprofit in 1990 and became board members.
“We just don’t get the crowds that we used, [but the Kee] is still important to our community,” Trytten says.
After re-opening in July, the board decided to downsize expenses, screening one movie over a three-day period during the last weekend of the month.
“We didn’t know what would happen with this Delta variant, so we opted to be conservative about opening all month,” he says.
The theater, like others, has been digital since 2012, when studios stopped sending out 35-millimeter movie reels. The venue now sports a Barco 2K cinema projector with 4,000-watt lumens, 7.1 Dolby sound processor and a 3 Terabyte Dolby server.
“You basically get a Blu-ray Disc [from the studios] and plug it in, which is slick,” Trytten says. “I like that.”
Trytten says he used to get paid $25 weekly as “digital cinema manager,” and now chuckles that his “pay” has been reduced to monthly.
“We pay the concession people, usually high-schoolers or young people. And we have a cleaning lady, but of course, everybody’s hours are shorter,” he says.
Trytten thought the transition to digital would reduce the Kee’s monthly overhead. It didn’t. Studios still charge the same $250 weekly rental fee. For example, the Kee only gets access to a Disney movie three weekends after major exhibitors. That’s because the studio mandates exhibitors screen a Disney/Marvel/Pixar title for a minimum 17 consecutive days, which conflicts with The Kee’s operating schedule.
“Movie companies are basically dictators,” Trytten says. “We always figured when we went to digital, we would get a big discount on the rental price. But no, they’re greedy.”
The 67-year-old doesn’t know if the Kee will make it financially, but, because of its nonprofit status, he is hopeful the venue can break even. Trytten says the fiscal goal is largely dependent on what movies the Kee showcases.
“Most of the time we don’t get movies that interest people,” he says. “Mediocre movies in a large city will probably break even or make money. But not here.”
The Kee’s latest screening — Disney’s Jungle Cruise — a title Trytten says was selected by an agent, performed well. Next up is Disney/20th Century Studios’ Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds.
“I hired this guy back in 1986, and he’s been our [movie] booker ever since,” Trytten says, adding that Disney’s delayed releases to smaller venues amounts to a “penalty.”
“We pay a price because a lot of people who wanted to see Jungle Cruise have already seen it. But that’s the business option we took,” he says.
Trytten says he understands the changing movie distribution landscape won’t always include theaters like the Kee. With more consumers opting to stay home and stream movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu, single-screen theaters tread a fine line.
“Heck, I’m a cord-cutter. I stream all that stuff too,” he says. “What is the appeal of the movie theater? The big screen and Dolby digital sound.”
Trytten says his goal is to keep the Kee going for as long he can. The venue received limited federal assistance during the pandemic, about $3,000 to $4,000, which Trytten says kept the theater functioning through the winter.
“It wasn’t all bad,” he says. “But it still sat empty.”
It was a good day for publicly-traded movie theater stocks. Shares of AMC Entertainment, Cinemark (parent of Regal Cinemas) and Imax Aug. 23 at market closed up almost 7%, respectively, as investors welcomed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration officially approving the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.
The vaccine, which has been known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, will now be marketed as Comirnaty (koe-mir’-na-tee), for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older, according to the FDA. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization, including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age, and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 31% of respondents cited FDA approval key to getting a vaccine. Government approval will also encourage private businesses to mandate vaccinations among their employees.
The approval is a huge win for the theatrical industry, which has been trying to woo apprehensive moviegoers back into cinemas. The past weekend was the lowest domestic box office in two months, generating less than $60 million in ticket sales.
“While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., said in a statement. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”
AMC CEO Adam Aron, earlier this month on the exhibitor’s fiscal call, welcomed increased vaccination rates among consumers — a trend that mirrors the world’s largest movie exhibitor’s ongoing efforts to sanitize theaters, ventilation and air filtration systems, in addition to ticketless movie screenings.
“Vaccination increasing is very important for AMC and for the movie theater industry generally,” Aron said on the conference call.
The latest box office figures from Comscore show nearly 90% of movie theater locations are now open globally for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“At Comscore, we´ve been privileged to witness firsthand how our partners in the global exhibition community have fought daily against the adversity of the pandemic and recovery has been remarkable,” Arturo Guillén, EVP and global managing director for Comscore Movies, said in a statement. “The latest box office openings and revenue show that throughout the world, consumers are clamoring to be back at the movies in their preferred theaters.”
Films such as Universal’s F9, which has thus far generated more than $500 million worldwide, along with Paramount’s with A Quiet Place Part II, Disney’s Cruella, Warner Bros.’ The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Sony’s Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway and Lionsgate’s The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, have collectively generated more than $1.3 billion in global box office revenue, according to Comscore.
“As the studios continue to ramp up the rollout of their most-anticipated films, audiences are showing up at their local cinemas to enjoy the big screen experience,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst, Comscore, said in a statement. “Blockbuster films shown in a movie theater become ‘must see’ events that no matter where you live, speak the international language of cinema to like-minded movie fans around the world.”