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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.

Expand chart
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.

Go deeper

Updated Dec 20, 2021 - Economy & Business

"Spider-Man" crushes pandemic box office record with $260M open

Photo: Sony Pictures

"Spider-Man: No Way Home" has easily become the biggest hit of the pandemic era, bringing in a whopping $260 million in its North America theatrical debut over the weekend, according to Comscore's latest tally.

Why it matters: The movie is now the second-highest grossing North American box office opener in history, behind 2019's "Avengers: Endgame."

Updated 11 mins ago - Economy & Business

Tax season nightmare ahead for understaffed IRS

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns in less than a week, and the filing delays and administrative headaches to come might eclipse last year — which was “one of the worst filing seasons," according to an independent advocacy agency within the IRS.

Why it matters: For taxpayers, especially with complex or paper filings, this means headaches, delayed refunds, and mistakes.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.