As pandemic-related uncertainties gripped the U.S. in spring of 2020, the lights dimmed at over 7,000 movie theaters nationwide. No one was quite certain when they would return, and many longtime analysts predicted the industry had taken its final breath. At the same time, streaming services, which had already begun recognizing exponential growth, capitalized on the situation to build their subscriber bases. Just as movie theaters planned re-openings, some studios began testing a model where films were released on the same day, both streaming and in-theater.
However, nearly two years into the battle against COVID-19, the cinema business is on the verge of a Hollywood-style comeback. When naysayers started writing the industry’s obituary, the enthusiasm from movie fans began its resuscitation. With just 3,000 U.S. theaters open in March 2021, Godzilla vs. Kong stomped right past industry forecasts with a massive $48.5M five-day opening. The box office haul was even more impressive considering the film’s simultaneous release on HBO MAX. Not long after A Quiet Place II gave the industry its first banner weekend, with the horror sequel topping the box office with a $57M four-day holiday opening.
And this was just the beginning. As vaccination rollouts increased and restrictions lifted, more theaters opened their doors to welcome back moviegoers. Today 90% of regular movie attendees have returned to theaters.
“Moviegoers have made a statement and it is loud and clear – intermission is over,” said Christine Martino, Executive Vice President, National Ad Sales, Screenvision Media. “Importantly, our advertising partners are following. They recognize the power of the big screen and unique opportunity to connect with this highly engaged audience.”
Sony’s decision to move-up Venom: Let There Be Carnage served as a leading indicator that the comeback was on. The studio quickly adjusted its slate to take advantage of moviegoing enthusiasm, moving it up with a less-than-normal marketing window of only two weeks.
The decision followed Disney’s bigger-than-anticipated opening weekend for theatrical exclusive Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The Marvel movie collected $75.5 million over the weekend and a mighty $90 million in its first four days of release, crushing Labor Day weekend records.
Venom went on to set October records with a $90.1M opening weekend. Those box office receipts were encouraging both to theater owners and to studios. With the upcoming Q4 slate expected to match previous Q4 2018-2019, it is no surprise that a 45-day theatrical exclusive window was agreed upon for 2022.
This return would never have been possible without the people that truly saved the industry: the movie fans. 90% of them say watching movies at home will never replace the movie theatre experience. And proudly, more than 70% believe that they played a role in saving the movie theatre industry. With the industry’s robust recovery finally forecasted for the coming year, it’s possible the sequel to our story may be even better than the original.