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Sunday, May 19, 2024

There’s Hope for American Movie Theaters After All

A year ago it would’ve seemed unfathomable: Over the Memorial Day holiday, a single film had a good opening weekend at the North American box office. After 15 months of Covid-19 theater closures, delayed release dates, and general anxiety about the future of moviegoing, A Quiet Place Part II is projected to bring in north of $57 million. That’s the most any movie has made during the pandemic and far outpaces the last record holder: Godzilla vs. Kong, which snagged $32 million in March.


To be clear, $57 million isn’t what Hollywood insiders would definitely call “boffo”—previous Memorial Day weekends have seen openings that top $100 million. But for the past year and change, as theater chains have faced bankruptcy and scores of movie lovers have hunkered down with a buffet of streaming services to fill their needs, there has been genuine concern about whether theater-going, as it has existed for a century, would survive. A Quiet Place Part II’s opening shows that it might. 

The sequel to 2018’s A Quiet Place isn’t the only bright spot. Disney’s Cruella de Vil origin story, Cruella, is projected to rake in more than $26 million for the four-day weekend—a total that comes despite the film also being available to Disney+ subscribers for an additional $30 fee. (For comparison, Disney’s live-action Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which was released in theaters only, brought in $37 million domestically during its pre-pandemic opening weekend.) As the coronavirus pandemic stretched through 2020, and many studios opted to put their big releases on streaming platforms, many wondered if audiences would return to theaters when they could watch the same films at home. Cruella’s modest, but strong, opening illustrates that they will.

The big box office news comes amidst a glimmer of hope for theaters themselves. Cinema chain AMC Theatres revealed Monday that it’s raising some $230.5 million to acquire additional theaters and expand its business. The company, which was facing a grim future this time last year, is now raising money through the sale of 8.5 million shares of its stock to Mudrick Capital Management, LP and is considering purchasing the locations previously held by ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters—a move that could give new life to the iconic Cinerama Dome, which, back in April, ArcLight said wouldn’t reopen post-Covid. “With our increased liquidity, an increasingly vaccinated population, and the imminent release of blockbuster new movie titles, it is time for AMC to go on the offense again,” the company's CEO, Adam Aron, told Variety.

A Quiet Place Part II and a sign of life from AMC are just the beginning, though. Movie theaters, and moviegoing, still have a lot of recovering to do. Covid-19 changed how people live their lives, and while it left some of them (or at least me) clamoring for the theater experience, others likely found they were just as happy to stream at home. In a Monday column for Variety, film writer Owen Gleiberman noted that “what’s now clear is that the way this is going to play out, over the next year and maybe the next decade, already has the overheated dimension of a culture war. To go or not to go?” Gleiberman concluded by saying that this past weekend proved the love for theater-going is still out there but that nothing in pop culture is ever for certain. This, of course, is the most salient point. Uncertainty has been one of the most prevalent, non-medical side effects of the coronavirus. It’s created a world where nothing is predictable—not even, ironically, the outcome of Cruella.

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