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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.

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Updated 19 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

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.

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