Cinema operators optimistic about 2022 box office ahead of CinemaCon

Still from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.


Superhero films have kept the box office afloat this year, prompting theater operators to believe that audiences may finally be ready to return to theaters en masse.

Domestic ticket sales for the first four months of the year are still down around 40% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, but cinemas are seeing significant year-on-year gains.

Blockbuster titles like Warner Bros.’ “The Batman,” Paramount’s “Sonic 2,” and Marvel-Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” have fueled a nearly 400% increase in ticket sales to $1.7 billion as of 2021, according to data from Comscore.

Theater owners tell CNBC they hope ticket sales will continue to pick up in the coming weeks, especially following the release of Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which kicks off the summer blockbuster season.

The past two years have suffered from lackluster summer movie panels as lockdowns closed cinemas and coronavirus variants kept many potential moviegoers at home.

Studios were reluctant to release films over fears their new films would not turn a profit, and many chose to delay titles until 2022. Now that many health and safety regulations have been lifted and consumers seem more comfortable venturing back into theaters, the studios have stuck to their release dates.

Cinemas will see a steady stream of highly anticipated films following the May 6 release of Doctor Strange. Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World: Dominion, Lightyear, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and Thor: Love and Thunder will hit the big screen in rapid succession over a nine-week period.

“It’s entirely fitting that a Marvel film kicks off the 2022 summer movie season, kickstarting the first ‘normal’ corridor from May to Labor Day that we’ve seen in almost three years,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Dergarabedian noted that the industry’s 18-week summer traditionally accounts for about 40% of the domestic box office.

CinemaCon, a convention for Hollywood studios and movie theater owners in Las Vegas, begins Monday and exhibitors are expressing cautious optimism about the summer film season and the rest of the year.

The success of The Batman and Spider-Man: No Way Home, which showed that adult audiences will be returning for franchise features, is helping to fuel that optimism. And its involvement in “Sonic 2,” which has grossed more than $126 million domestically since its April 8 release, gives theaters hope that the Toy Story sequel, “Lightyear,” and the next film in the Minions lineup -Franchise can lure in families.

In addition, movie returnees have also boosted concession business over the past year, according to a new report published Thursday by Fandango, a movie ticketing website. A survey of 6,000 moviegoers who bought a ticket from Fandango found that 93% bought concessions at the cinema in the past year, up from 84% last year.

Additionally, 67% of respondents said they spent $20 or more on popcorn, candy, soda, and other discounts. This spending report bodes well for theater owners who don’t share concession sales with studios like they do with movie ticket sales.

Next week, exhibitors at CinemaCon will discuss how to attract moviegoers who are slow to return to theaters and how to enhance the cinema experience.

Theater owners got creative during the pandemic, offering unique food and drink options, adding more mobile options for advanced orders and payments, and diversifying the content available on the big screen.

The current consensus among box office analysts and theater owners is that 2022 may not surpass the $11.4 billion generated in 2019, but say it will gross nearly double the $4.4 billion raised last year could. Most estimate ticket sales at around $8 billion, with franchise films acting as a catalyst.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Fandango. Cinema operators optimistic about 2022 box office ahead of CinemaCon

Gary B. Graves

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