Dec 21, 2021 - Economy

Movie theaters get box office hit with "Spider-Man," but Omicron looms

An AMC sign hangs above walkers along a sidewalk in an urban environment.

An AMC movie theater in Times Square. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Movie theaters were bustling last weekend as "Spider-Man: No Way Home” delivered smashing results, but it's too early to call it a comeback.

Catch up quick: Disney's Marvel movie spun up the second biggest weekend ever for a new film in North America, reaping an estimated $260 million in ticket sales, according to Comscore.

Why it matters: Movie theaters have been desperate for customers since the pandemic cratered their business and empowered studios to bypass the big screen for streaming services. Spider-Man's performance would've been cause for celebration, even in pre-pandemic times — but the omicron variant may yet spoil the plot of the movie theater comeback.

  • “Omicron is the big unknown here,” Tuna Amobi, media and entertainment analyst at CFRA Research, tells Axios. “To what extent does it role back some of the gains we’ve seen remains unclear.”

With Spider-Man’s ticket sales, the domestic box office is poised to top $4 billion this week, nearly doubling 2020’s full-year performance, according to Box Office Mojo.

  • Yes, but: We’re a long way off from 2019’s $11.3 billion.

Our thought bubble: With all due respect to Peter Parker, we need to see more before we declare Spider-Man’s performance more than a one-off success. The underwhelming showings for recent non-superhero flicks — and the less-than-pre-pandemic performance of other superhero films like “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi” — do not inspire confidence.

Domestic box office ticket sales
Data: BoxOfficeMojo; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

State of play: Shares of AMC and Cinemark jumped on Friday after initially promising box office reports and rose further Monday despite the broader stock market's selloff.

  • AMC’s stock has been vacillating since it became a favorite of meme stock traders on social media earlier this year. So it’s hard to say whether the stock’s movement is reflective of moviegoing trends.

Flashback: AMC narrowly escaped bankruptcy in 2020 after deep cost cuts and a series of financial maneuvers, including repeated fundraising, helped the company ride out pandemic shutdowns. But others weren’t so lucky, like Alamo Drafthouse, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The bottom line: Expect turbulence to continue. But "what’s pretty clear is there’s a significant amount of pent-up demand waiting to be released," Amobi said.

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