Led by Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II” ($58.5 million) and Disney’s “Cruella” ($26.5 million), North American grosses totaled close to $100 million for all titles available during the four-day Memorial Day weekend. Meanwhile, stock prices for AMC Theaters soared to $68, nearly double its previous all-time high and 1087 percent above its close a year ago.
The AMC saga may be worthy of a book by Michael Lewis (“Liars Poker,” “Moneyball,” “The Big Short”), but it shouldn’t be taken as the overarching symbol of a soaring future (especially if/when stock-price fundamentals finally come into play). Theaters will need more than strong debuts — and Reddit-fanboy stock-market rallies — in order to thrive.
Stronger openings and better holds
With fewer films opening, and a hunger among core moviegoers to return, frontloading is not a surprise. What’s needed next are stronger starts that turn into longer holds.
“A Quiet Place Part II,” with the help of a holiday weekend, improved 14 percent over the initial film’s total. But as the sequel to a critically acclaimed sleeper hit, a stronger performance would be expected — especially with the benefit of an additional day.
For films with above-average openings, 2.5 to 3 times opening weekend is a good run. Most recently, family films (“The Croods: A New Age,” “Raya and the Last Dragon”) and some lower-budget genre titles (“Nobody”) have fared best, including those with same-day or early home viewing.
Top films have not held as well. “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which opened Wednesday March 24, has only just doubled its initial five days. “Mortal Kombat” opened to $23 million, but has made only $18 million more since. “Demon Slayer” has been a sleeper surprise, but has barely more than doubled its $21 million debut.
Did “Cruella” make more money this weekend?
It’s clear that the box office alone is not enough to determine a studio’s actual results. Over five days, “Quiet Place II” grossed more than twice as much as “Cruella,” which was also available at home for DIsney+ subscribers willing to pay a premium. But which studio took home the bigger paycheck?
Paramount might see a 55 percent return from theaters so far, or $34 million. Figure that with PVOD play, Disney gets less for “Cruella” — perhaps 47.5 percent, or $14 million.
Head to head, that represents a $20 million shortfall for Disney. However, with “Cruella” available at home for $29.99 — a sum that Disney collects in full — it would take 667,000 rentals, which represents less than 2 percent of Disney+ subscribers in the U.S., to make up the difference. (As a point of comparison, it took approximately 2.9 million ticket buyers for Disney to earn that $14 million.)
Theaters must battle corporate preference
When studios moved into alternative platforms early in the pandemic, it was an opportunistic acceleration of long-term strategies. Today, that puts theaters in the challenging position of not only proving that they’re a good choice, but they’re also the best one.
In March 2020, Disney+ was four months old. HBO Max launched two months later, in May. Universal’s Peacock started in July, and Paramount+ in March 2021. Over the last year, we’ve seen multiple anticipated theatrical releases sold to streamers at a profit. Amazon will be in a stronger position with with its MGM acquisition.
Strong programming on rival platforms challenge theatrical releases and it decreases the number of films in theaters. For exhibitors, it means those films that do make it to theaters will need even better performances to make up the shortfall.
Beware of overhype and premature declarations that all is well; it’s early days yet. Still, besting modest expectations for a holiday weekend is a major plus and chances today for theater survival are better than they were a week ago.