Image from “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”.


Superhero movies have kept the box office afloat this year, prompting theater operators to believe that audiences may finally be ready to return to cinemas in droves.

Domestic ticket sales for the first four months of the year are still down around 40% from pre-pandemic 2019 levels, but theaters are seeing significant gains from a year ago.

Hit titles like Warner Bros.’ Paramount’s ‘The Batman,’ ‘Sonic 2,’ and Marvel-Sony’s ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ drove ticket sales up 365% from 2021, reaching $1.85 billion, according to Comscore data.

Theater owners tell CNBC they hope ticket sales continue to rise in the coming weeks, especially after the release of Marvel’s season-opening ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ summer blockbusters.

The past two years have suffered from lackluster summer movie slates, as lockdowns shuttered theaters and coronavirus strains kept many would-be moviegoers at home.

Studios had been reluctant to release films, fearing their new films would not turn a profit and many opted to postpone titles until 2022. Now, with many health and safety mandates repealed and consumers seemingly more comfortable returning to theaters, studios stuck to their release dates.

Theaters will see a steady stream of highly anticipated films following the release of “Doctor Strange” on May 6. ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’, ‘Lightyear’, ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ and ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ will hit the big screen in quick succession over a nine week period.

“It’s only fitting that a Marvel movie kicks off the 2022 summer movie season and kicks off what seems like the first ‘normal’ May Labor Day streak we’ve seen. for almost three years,” Paul said. Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Dergarabedian noted that the industry’s summer, which spans an 18-week period, is traditionally responsible for around 40% of the domestic box office.

CinemaCon, a convention for Hollywood studios and movie theater owners in Las Vegas, kicks off Monday, and exhibitors are expressing cautious optimism for the summer movie season and the rest of the year.

The success of “The Batman” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which showed that adult audiences would return for franchise features, is helping to fuel that optimism. Participation in “Sonic 2,” which has grossed more than $145.8 million domestically since its April 8 release, also gives theaters hope that the “Toy Story” follow-up “Lightyear” and the next film in the Minions franchise will appeal to families.

Additionally, movie theater returns over the past year have also boosted the concessions business, according to a new report released Thursday by movie ticketing site Fandango. A survey of 6,000 moviegoers who bought a ticket on Fandango determined that 93% had bought concessions at the cinema in the past year, up from 84% the year before.

Additionally, 67% of respondents said they spent $20 or more on popcorn, candy, soda and other concessions. This expense report bodes well for movie theater owners, who don’t share concession sales with studios the way they do with movie ticket sales.

Next week at CinemaCon, exhibitors will discuss ways to attract moviegoers who have been slow to return to the cinema as well as how to improve the experience of going to the cinema.

Theater owners have gotten creative during the pandemic, offering unique food and drink options, adding more mobile options for advanced ordering and payment, and diversifying the content available on the big screen.

The current consensus among box office analysts and theater owners is that 2022 can’t surpass the $11.4 billion generated in 2019, but say it could ring in at nearly double the $4.4 billion. dollars raised last year. Most estimate around $8 billion in ticket sales, with franchise films acting as the catalyst.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Fandango.

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