Has the box office finally returned to normal?

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Need proof that the box office is really, really bouncing back from COVID?

Look no further than the national charts, where not one, not two, but four the films — a mix of new releases in Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic “Elvis” and Blumhouse’s chilling thriller “The Black Phone,” plus leftovers with “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World Dominion” — draw from good ticket sales.

It’s the third weekend in a row that more than one major film has managed to sell a significant number of tickets. After a tough time for cinemas, which were closed for months during the pandemic and then struggled a lot to bounce back, it’s a welcome change of pace as, finally, it signals that audiences of all ages are returning to the big screen. .

Hollywood needs this trend to continue throughout the summer with Marvel’s “Thor: Love and Thunder” (July 8), Jordan Peele’s “Nope” (July 22) and the star-studded action thriller “Bullet Train from director David Leitch (August 5). until theatrical release.

“It’s been another great weekend, with two successful new stories appealing to very different audiences, in addition to strong business activity,” said David A. Gross, who runs film consultancy Franchise. EntertainmentResearch. “And we’re heading into a long holiday weekend.”

For a time, there were only one-off hits fueled by young men who dominated the cinematic landscape while leaving remnants for virtually every other release, from “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (early 90 million) to “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (debut at $260 million) and “The Batman” (debut at $134 million). box office were adaptations of popular comic books or sequels to well-known film franchises, so while these were helpful in showing that the films had the potential to match pre-pandemic box office expectations, the results ultimately left industry pundits concerned that other movies, especially from genres that weren’t superhero, might not survive at the box office.

“I’ve always maintained that the box office is healthiest when there’s something for everyone,” says Chris Aronson, who heads national distribution at Paramount. “That’s what you see now. There is something for every taste.

Plus, there are movies that audiences really want to see on the big screen. According to CinemaScore’s exit polls, recent releases like “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Elvis” and “Jurassic World Dominion” earned ratings in the “A” range from ticket buyers, indicating audiences were satisfied after left the theatre. This kind of reception is important for fueling positive word-of-mouth and, in turn, getting people to ditch HBO Max in favor of their local multiplex. It’s been an uphill battle for Hollywood studios since many high-profile movies landed straight on streaming services during the pandemic, conditioning moviegoers to wait to watch new releases at home.

But over the weekend, a wide range of deals convinced people to part with their TV remotes. In a first for COVID times, four movies — “Elvis” ($30.5 million in its debut), “Top Gun: Maverick” ($30.5 million in its fifth weekend), “Jurassic World : Dominion” ($26.4 million in its third weekend) and “The Black Phone” ($23.3 million in its debut) — each made $20 million or more. Meanwhile, a fifth, Disney’s Pixar film “Lightyear,” was close to $17 million.

“What a terrific result,” said Jim Orr, head of national distribution for Universal. “You have tentpoles, family movies, horror movies, adult drama/musical. It’s very encouraging for the future and a good sign that people really want to be back in theaters.

A week earlier, the box office hit another rarity: Three movies — ‘Jurassic World Dominion,’ ‘Lightyear,’ and ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ — each grossed more than $40 million between Friday and Sunday. .

And the good fortune looks set to continue next weekend as “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” the fifth installment in Universal and Illumination’s popular “Despicable Me” franchise, opens on the big screen. The animated comedy is expected to generate at least $65-70 million when it debuts over the July 4 holiday weekend.

Movie industry analysts believe the increase in attendance is a combination of two factors: people feel more comfortable returning to theaters and the movies that come out are worth spending money on. hard earned to be seen on the big screen.

There is data to support the first theory. A record 88% of moviegoers are “very or somewhat comfortable” going to the cinema, according to the latest study from the National Research Group. About a year ago, that percentage was closer to 59%. It means people are feeling better and better about going back to a dark room with strangers, a reality that kept many ticket buyers from going to the movies in the early days of the pandemic.

“Behavioral change is slow, and for the last two-plus years of the pandemic, people couldn’t go to the movies and got out of the habit,” says Jeff Goldstein, president of national distribution for Warner Bros. Now, he observes, audiences are eager to return to the cinema. “Without a doubt, the market is coming back.”

But things are not yet back to normal. The box office is still down 33% from the same weekend in 2019. Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock says that’s because studios are releasing fewer movies than in the past.

“The audience shows up. There just aren’t as many choices,” Bock said. “That will change in the summer of 2023.”

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