After more than three years, the World Health Organization announced on May 5 that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a global emergency. James Gunns Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opened in theaters that same day, kicking off its summer box office.
Never has there been a summer season as important to Hollywood movie studios and movie theater operators as this as both attempt to recover from the lows of COVID-19. “I have long said that this summer will be the barometer of the health of the theater world. It will be the first playing period with a normal release pattern,” says an experienced studio manager The Hollywood Reporter.
After a great bloom in April at the box office – led by The Super Mario Bros. movie – bullish box office pundits believe it’s possible that domestic summer revenue will unlock $4 billion in a return to pre-COVID-19 levels, or at least some semblance of a return. During the recovery, a major problem has been a lack of product due to delays caused by the pandemic. This summer’s pipeline is a different story, however, and includes 42 wide releases, up from 22 wide releases in Summer 2022, when revenue reached $3.4 billion, and 32 wide releases in 2019, when revenue reached $4.4 billion. amounted to 34 billion.
“The industry is coming back to life nicely,” says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners, citing the better-than-expected performance of Marvel and Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which has already earned more than $530 million worldwide. “But to what extent is full speed? That is why we must continue to look at 2019 as a barometer. We are still in double digits (year-to-date).”
He’s not wrong. For the year to date, domestic revenue is $3 billion, up 29 percent from the same corridor a year ago, but behind 2019 by 24 percent. The good news: Domestic sales passed $3 billion on May 14, a milestone not reached until June 10 in 2022.
“This marks a remarkable recovery for theaters in the US and Canada,” said Comscore chief box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “This looks like one of the strongest summer movie lineups in the history of the industry, at least on paper. Adding fuel to the box office fire is a nice trend of crowd-pleasing movies showing incredibly strong results week after week. This could also be a determining factor in reaching the $4 billion threshold.”
The width of the summer slate is impressive, from Disney’s The little Mermaid (May 26) to Pixar’s Elementary (June 16), DCs The flash (June 16), Warner Bros.’ Barbie (July 21), Universals Oppenheimer (July 21) and subsequent episodes of Fast & Furious (May 19), Indiana Jones (June 30) and Mission Impossible (July 12).
“We no longer feel like we’re playing on the defensive,” an optimistic AMC Theaters chief Adam Aron told THR at the annual confab for theater owners, CinemaCon, in April. “We are no longer in survival mode, but moving towards thriving mode.”
At CinemaCon, several studio executives called on theater owners to ensure consumers have a good experience as they resume their movie-going habits. That includes pricing and cutting back on third-party trailers and ads. For example, AMC locations have 20 to 25 minutes of trailers and a Nicole Kidman public service announcement, while Cinemark’s pre-movie show includes trailers and a third-party ad.
According to a new THR/Morning Consult survey, customers are more likely to view trailers than a traditional ad. However, the majority of those surveyed say trailers should run no more than nine minutes before a movie starts. And few are in favor of anything longer than 14 minutes.
Specifically, 27 percent of survey respondents say an appropriate length of time for trailers is less than five minutes; 31 percent prefer no more than five to nine minutes, while 20 percent choose 10 to 14 minutes. From there, the feelings drop sharply. Only 8 percent say an appropriate length for trailer time is 15 to 19 minutes. At the other end of the spectrum, 7 percent of those surveyed say they would rather have no supporters at all.
“We have a lot of work to do to get where we need to be. We need to keep people coming back to the movies,” Chris Aronson, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution, told theatrical lords at CinemaCon. “We need a true partnership that focuses on the long-term health of our business, not short-term profits.”
This story appears in the May 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.