Leadership / 06.02.21
The Return of the Summer Movies!
Movies were back in a big way this past Memorial Day weekend. Led by the long-delayed “A Quiet Place Part II,” the combined North American box office recorded at least $97 million in ticket sales, according to media measurement firm Comscore. The highly anticipated horror sequel captured the lion’s share of that, grossing $57 million in the United States and Canada, according to Tuesday morning studio estimates. That’s up big time from the holiday weekend a year ago — traditionally the start of Hollywood’s summer blockbuster season — which saw box-office revenues plunge to just $843,000 amid the pandemic.
Internationally, movie ticket sales have been even more robust. The previous weekend, the latest “Fast & Furious” installment, “F9,” was a big winner. Distributed by Universal Pictures, it debuted with a robust $162.4 million in overseas ticket revenue ahead of its June 25 North American release date.
So, is it finally business as usual for the Hollywood studios? Not so fast. While there has certainly been signs of pent-up demand for the moviegoing experience being unleashed, domestic ticket sales for all movies during the Memorial Day holiday have routinely topped $200 million pre-COVID-19. Most agree it will still take time for movies on the big screen to make a sustained and complete comeback.
Among them is Chuck Duncan, film reviewer for Hotchka. “As with most major events, the farther away we are from them, the more things return to normal,” he says. “For a couple of years, studios didn’t release movies on 9/11 out of respect, but that’s fallen by the wayside. Once the word ‘pandemic’ is lifted, I think we’ll start returning to a normal routine, and that includes going to the movies.”
He continues, “What I think the impact on the movies themselves will be, at least for the foreseeable future, is that studios are going to focus just on releasing blockbusters to draw people back. Smaller films may suffer, going directly to PVOD [premium video on demand] or a streaming service, and Hollywood and theaters are going to need the ‘F9’s and Marvel films to draw people back to the big screen. I think that bears out just by looking at the performances of ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ compared to ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead.’ ‘G vs. K’ was an event movie that got people back to the movies, even while it was on HBO Max. The other, not so much. I’m optimistic it will happen, but it will take time.”
Duncan brings up a good point. When theaters were closed due to coronavirus restrictions, companies like AT&T and Walt Disney Co. leaned heavily into their streaming services, debuting many movies online to lure subscribers and prove to investors they could adapt their businesses. The strategy worked. For example, the Disney+ service quickly gained ground on both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video as it offered films previously set for theaters like “Mulan” and “Soul” exclusively on the platform.
ScreenIt.com founder Jim Judy says, “I think some business will return [to cinemas], but not to levels like before. That’s mainly due to the formation of new/increased viewing habits over the past year-plus and that humans basically are lazy and cheap. It’s far easier to go to the living room than drive to the multiplex, and one movie ticket will likely cost more than an entire month of Netflix. And shortened home video release windows — or none at all — will make any fence sitters keep on sitting.”
Jeffrey K. Lyles, host of the popular movie podcast Lyle’s Movie Files, is more optimistic. “People love going to the movies,” he says, “and they go for even lousy ones. Once they’re comfortable, this will be one of the quicker indicators that life is back to normal again … especially with such a summer movie slate ahead.”
Shannon Moore, Director of Allied Global Marketing’s Washington, D.C., office, is equally positive. Allied handles the promotions, publicity and movie previews for a number of the major studios in various markets nationwide. “Personally, I think it will be sooner,” Moore says. “I don’t even have kids, just dogs — but also dishes and laundry and unopened mail, and my husband never wants a snack at the same time I do, and countless other small distractions that happen during at-home movie viewing. I long to be in a theater where no one asks me to pause the movie because their phone rang!
The stakes are certainly high. Ravaged by cinema closures, North American box-office revenues plunged to $2.2 billion in 2020 versus $11.4 billion the year before, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Most of those interviewed for this article agreed that theaters and cineplexes now have an opportunity to show off changes and new innovations they’ve made during the pandemic to lure audiences back.
Suggestions start with the practical. “I kind of don’t want to be touching things other people have touched and then eat food,” Duncan says. “Make add payment options available through the theater’s app, Google Pay and Apple Pay so we don’t have to pass cards and cash back and forth. I really have a touch phobia now, I suppose.”
Others believe the various theater operators should remind audiences why they used to go to the movies in the first place rather than staying in their living rooms. “While safety is obviously a concern,” Judy says, “I think theaters will need to promise a more visceral experience than what moviegoers have been getting at home, and should use that in their advertising or interviews in news stories. Such as how size does matter — perhaps even using psychological studies to prove the point — in terms of ‘shock and awe’ and one’s enhanced enjoyment of what they’re seeing. Ditto for the sound experience.”
Lyles is hopeful the cinema chains will be more aggressive in their promotions. “As far as lures go, an incentive program like ‘Buy 2 Tickets, get 1 Half Off’ or a free drink/small popcorn would help,” he says. “Another could be matinee nights with cheaper prices, or [a night where] kids are free.”
Moore concludes, “I think the key ingredient is great movie content. Not just new releases, but the creative steps theaters have taken to make catalog titles available, and re-release favorites like ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ [in 2020, this cult favorite celebrated its 10th anniversary with a special return to select theaters]. As reopening progresses, and people see others in their local areas out and about returning to normal, it will be the lure of a big-screen experience that reminds them they’ve missed that for so long.”
And, on that note, here are the five movies I think will make or break the 2021 summer movie box office moving forward:
“In the Heights”
This month, “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu is bringing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakout musical “In the Heights” to the big screen. The musical, which Miranda wrote before “Hamilton,” was also a Tony winner. Set in New York’s Latino neighborhood, Washington Heights, the story follows an ensemble cast led by Anthony Ramos as Usnavi, a bodega owner who dreams of better things. (June 11)
The latest Pixar creation is set on the Italian Riviera and follows two young sea monsters who transform into humans to explore the world above. Luca and Alberto are excited to discover so many new things, but they get in way over their heads once they leave the ocean. (June 18)
While Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson won’t be in this ninth “Fast and the Furious” movie, John Cena will take the beefcake this time as Dom’s (Vin Diesel) villainous brother, Jakob. He’s an assassin who allies with Cipher (Charlize Theron), the villainess from the previous film, to put Dom and his crew to their greatest test. For Lyles, this is his No. 1 must-see. “I cannot get enough of that outrageous franchise,” he says, “and the ridiculous stunts they pull off have to be seen on the big screen!” (June 25)
Natasha Romanoff’s stand-alone is the 24th Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. “Black Widow” is reportedly set after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” but also tells the title character’s origin story. David Harbour of “Stranger Things” will co-star as Red Guardian, the Russian Captain America, Romanoff’s husband, and possibly the main bad guy. (July 9)
Based on Disneyland's theme park ride, “Jungle Cruise” pits Dwayne Johnson as a riverboat captain who has to brave all sorts of wild animals, reptiles and supernatural threats. Emily Blunt co-stars. (July 30)
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Tags: Leadership , Movies