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Movie Theater Stocks Plummet After Modest ‘Avatar 2’ Opening Weekend

"Avatar: The Way of Water" had a big opening weekend — just not Pandora-big.

Avatar: The Way of Water

“Avatar: The Way of Water”

Walt Disney Studios

IndieWire already told you that “Avatar: The Way of Water” alone is not the savior that the box office needed, but now Wall Street is taking notice. AMC Entertainment (AMC) and Cinemark (CNK) stocks both took steep dives on Monday, a strong suggestion that some market watchers expected more at the box office from the final blockbuster of 2022.

Shares in AMC dropped 8.26 percent on Monday, when Cinemark sunk 10.30 percent (CNK has rallied back a few points in after-hours trading). IMAX closed the first trading day after the “Avatar 2” opening weekend down 5.76 percent. Disney, the studio behind “Avatar: The Way of Water,” declined 4.77 percent to hit a low point not seen since 2014. (The beginning of the pandemic came darn close for Disney, which was forced to shut down theme parks.) The overall stock market was far closer to flat on Monday.

So why the pessimism for these four players? James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequel brought in $134.1 million over the weekend, an impressive figure and one of the larger openings of the year — but it isn’t the Earth-shattering figure put up by “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($260 million) this same time a year ago. The “Avatar 2” opening weekend was below initial box-office projections, underperforming some by as much as $50 million.

And “Avatar” was pretty much the only thing for the masses to flock to this weekend. The other movies in the Top 10 grossed a combined $18 million, with a lack of not just studio fare but also few new platform releases from independent distributors (A24’s “The Whale” was the exception). It doesn’t help that there’s only so much new stuff coming next weekend over the Christmas holiday, including Paramount’s “Babylon,” Sony’s Whitney Houston biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and Universal’s animated “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” pointing to a potentially muted holiday at the movies.

That said, there could be at least one other Pandora-sized savior at the box office early in 2023, specifically Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” as well as some other genre films like “M3GAN,” “Knock at the Cabin,” and “Creed III.” And analysts are hopeful that globally, next year can continue to gain on 2022 — even if we might have to wait another full year before the box office returns to pre-pandemic levels.

AMC stock did find some positivity on Monday however. AMC CEO Adam Aron reported that the theater chain’s newly launched APE stocks — which are preferred equity share stocks — have raised $162 million for the company and slashed $180 million of its debt obligations this year. In fact, it’s capital that Aron already put to some use by announcing AMC had acquired a closed ArcLight Theaters location in Boston.

“Even though the APE units and our common shares are economically equivalent, it is disappointing that the APE units have since inception consistently traded at a significant discount to the AMC common shares,” CEO Adam Aron said in a press release. “While the trading prices of the two securities seem to reflect distinct market and trading dynamics, the APEs are serving precisely the purpose originally intended for them.”

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