After more than three years, the World Health Organization announced May 5 that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a global emergency. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opened in theaters that same day, kicking off the summer box office.
Never has there been a summer season more critical to Hollywood movie studios and cinema operators as this one, as both look to rebound from COVID-19 lows. “I have long said this summer will be the bellwether of the health of the theatrical business. It will be the first play period with a normal release pattern,” a veteran studio executive tells .
After an April superbloom at the box office — led by The Super Mario Bros. Movie — bullish box office pundits believe it is possible for summer revenue to clear $4 billion domestically in a return to pre-COVID-19 levels, or at least some semblance of a return. Throughout the recovery, a major issue has been a lack of product due to delays caused by the pandemic. This summer’s pipeline, however, is a different story and includes 42 wide releases, up from 22 wide releases in summer 2022, when revenue topped out at $3.4 billion, and 32 wide releases in 2019, when revenue clocked in at $4.34 billion.
“The industry is coming back to life quite 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 north of $530 million globally. “But to what extent is full speed? That’s why we must continue to look to 2019 as a barometer. We’re still down double digits [year-to-date].”
He’s not wrong. For the year to date, domestic revenue stands at $3 billion, up 29 percent from the same corridor a year ago but behind 2019 by 24 percent. The good news: Domestic revenue crossed $3 billion on May 14, a mark not reached until June 10 in 2022.
“This represents a remarkable recovery for theaters in the U.S. and Canada,” says Comscore chief box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “This looks one of the strongest summer movie lineups in industry history, at least on paper. Adding fuel to the box office fire is a nice trend of crowd-pleasing movies that are showing incredibly strong week-after-week holds. This could also be a determining factor in hitting the $4 billion threshold.”
The breadth of the summer slate is impressive, from Disney’s The Little Mermaid (May 26) to Pixar’s Elemental (June 16), DC’s The Flash (June 16), Warner Bros.’ Barbie (July 21), Universal’s Oppenheimer (July 21) and the next installments of Fast & Furious (May 19), Indiana Jones (June 30) and Mission: Impossible (July 12).
“We no longer feel like we’re playing on the defense,” an optimistic AMC Theatres chief Adam Aron told THR during the annual confab for theater owners, CinemaCon, in April. “We’re no longer in survival mode but moving toward thriving mode.”
During CinemaCon, several studio executives called on theater owners to make sure consumers have a good experience when resuming their moviegoing habits. That includes pricing and curbing the number of trailers and third-party ads. At AMC locations, for example, there are 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 poll, patrons are more amenable to watching trailers than a traditional advertisement. However, the majority of those queried say trailers should run no longer than nine minutes before a movie starts. And few are in favor of anything running longer than 14 minutes.
Specifically, 27 percent of respondents in the survey say an appropriate length of time for trailers is fewer than five minutes; 31 percent prefer no more than five to nine minutes, while 20 percent opted for 10 to 14 minutes. From there, sentiments fall off sharply. Just 8 percent say an appropriate length for trailer time is 15 to 19 minutes. On the other end of the spectrum, 7 percent of those polled say they would prefer no trailers at all.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to get us to where we need to be. We need to keep people coming back to the movies,” Paramount president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson told theatrical bigwigs at CinemaCon. “We need a true partnership focusing on the long-term health of our business and not focusing on short-term gains.”
This story appears in the May 17 issue of magazine. Click here to subscribe.