There’s still a glimmer of hope for the movie theater industry this year, despite dismal domestic box office sales and climbing coronavirus cases, analysts said.
The country’s two biggest markets, New York City and Los Angeles, still could give sickly box office sales a much-needed jolt if they reopen before the end of 2020.
“A true box office restart might not be that far off on the horizon,” said MKM Partners media analyst Eric Handler, who noted that Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman 1984” and Disney’s Agatha Christie mystery, “Death on the Nile,” are both still slated for December 2020 premieres.
The analyst noted that both the Big Apple and the City of Angels are inching closer to meeting their respective state criteria for reopening cinemas. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed cinemas to reopen in the state this weekend. And media watchers expect NYC to fall close behind as COVID-19 outbreak clusters in places such as Brooklyn and Queens shrink. While Los Angeles is battling rising cases, Handler said he is “hopeful that by Thanksgiving” both cities are able to reopen.
“A lot can happen in the next four to six weeks,” the analyst said, adding that if those cities resume ticket sales then dour box office predictions for this year and 2021 could be “eased.”
Currently, about 90 percent of movie houses are open in the US, but they are operating at reduced capacity and are all located outside of the country’s highest grossing markets. So far, the domestic box office has grossed about $1.95 billion this year versus $11.32 billion in 2019, according to ticket sales tracker, Box Office Mojo.
The National Association of Theater Owners said if major markets reopen, the box office could get a meaningful boost if studios release new films to draw people to the theater.
“New, highly anticipated movies drive box office,” said NATO rep Patrick Corcoran. “With major markets like NYC open – which accounts for around 5 percent of national box office – a major release like ‘Wonder Woman’ will multiply current box office many times. But one movie is not enough.”
Rich Greenfield, an analyst at LightShed Partners said he expects “Wonder Woman 1984,” which is slated to debut in theaters on Christmas Day, to be released on Warner Bros.’ sister streaming service HBO Max, instead.
Warner Bros. declined to comment on whether it is considering that possibility.
Greenfield said that Warner Bros. learned from “Tenet,” the spy thriller it released during the pandemic, as a cautionary tale. “Tenet,” which cost about $200 million to produce, grossed $52 million domestically and $289 million internationally, but was expected to bring in $800 million pre-pandemic.
“It’s a little hard to imagine releasing it in theaters giving how Tenet has done,” Greenfield said, noting that “Wonder Woman” also cost around $200 million to produce.
But Handler was quick to point out that putting the blockbuster on HBO Max, isn’t a winning strategy either, given that the studio has already taken a big hit from “Tenet.” He also noted that Disney tried a similar streaming strategy when it put “Mulan” on Disney+, and lost a lot of money in the process.
Although HBO Max is trying to grow its subscriber base, using “Wonder Woman” as a way to do that would be a “very, very expensive” way to do that.
“At the box office, ‘Wonder Woman’ could more than double what ‘Tenet’ did,” he said. “Moviegoing will beget moviegoing. Right now, I think everyone is watching the New York and LA data.”