Nov 29, 2021 - Economy & Business

Thanksgiving box office shows theaters have long road to recovery

Disney's "Encanto." Photo: Disney

Box office ticket sales over the Thanksgiving holiday show that consumer confidence in moviegoing is slowly improving but not enough to bring the struggling theater industry back to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, if ever.

Why it matters: "We may have to temper expectations a bit" for next year, said Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

  • While some analysts initially predicted the domestic box office would hit $10 billion next year, Dergarabedian said that "may be somewhat optimistic."
  • Dergarabedian expects this year's domestic box office total to be about $4 billion, which would be down nearly $7 billion from 2019.

Driving the news: Box office ticket sales for the five-day Thanksgiving holiday were down around 46% from 2019, Comscore estimates.

  • Domestic ticket sales from Wednesday to Sunday were about $140 million, compared to $263 million in 2019 and $315 million in 2018.
  • Disney's "Encanto" was the clear holiday weekend winner, bringing in $40 million over the five-day weekend, followed by MGM's "House of Gucci," which brought in $21 million.
  • By comparison, Disney's "Frozen 2," the top Thanksgiving title in 2019, brought in $123.7 million over the five-day holiday.

Be smart: Thanksgiving tends to be a modest moviegoing period compared to other holidays, but this year it served as an important indicator for how consumers are feeling about moviegoing ahead of the holiday season.

  • The last week of the year between Christmas and the New Year tends to be the busiest time for the box office each year.
  • This year's Thanksgiving totals "gives us a really nice boost of momentum heading into the holiday season," Dergarabedian said.
  • Sony's "Spider-Man: No Way Home," which debuts in theaters exclusively on Dec. 17, "could be the first $100 million opener of the pandemic era in North America," he added.

The big picture: Analysts were expecting a fuller box office recovery in 2022, but fears of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant could derail progress.

  • Theater stocks sunk Friday amid fears that another wave could continue to impact studio production and moviegoing next year.
  • "There is not enough information yet around this ... but the main question here is how this virus is working with the vaccination," Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger told CNBC on Friday.
  • Dergarabedian noted that "Encanto" and other children's movies out right now like "Clifford the Big Red Dog" are benefitting from vaccines being eligible to children ages 5-11.

What to watch: While studios are still trying to figure out their release strategies moving forward, shortened theatrical windows and more simultaneous at-home releases are expected as the streaming industry becomes more competitive.

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