With Godzilla vs. King Kong setting a pandemic box office record this weekend, and audience sentiment strong for a return to theaters, several analysts turned bullish on the long-suffering theatrical-exhibition business, saying they expected a strong rebound in the business next year and beyond.
Analyst Eric Handler at MKM Partners released a study suggesting significant pent-up demand for a return to the theater-going experience, with nearly three in five of those surveyed saying they plan to return to watching movies in person “in the near future.”
That phrase meant different things to different folks, and is contingent on numerous variables. But for about three-fourths of the people saying they plan to return (another 43 percent said “no” or “not sure”), “soon” means a wait of no more than six months.
That attitude, combined with the accelerating pace of vaccinations, and the cessation of pandemic-forced theater closures in major markets such as Los Angeles and New York, “sets the industry up well as it looks ahead to 2022,” Handler wrote.
Some of the optimism also was fired by a good second weekend for the monster match-up from AT&T-owned Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures. The latest Godzilla spectacle breathed fire on screen and at the box office in its second weekend, pulling in another $13.5 million to set a pandemic-era record of $70 million. It has grossed another $268.6 million internationally.
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In normal times, that two-week total would have represented a hugely disappointing debut weekend for a reliable franchise, and especially for a film that cost an estimated $160 million to make. But even with a reportedly successful simultaneous release on streaming service HBO Max, the new Godzilla set off hosannas and excitement in the battered film industry.
Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter predicted in a client note that Q4 domestic box office might even crest $2 billion, though he projected slightly less than that, a drop of 10 percent from 2019. For comparison, the film industry grossed $11.4 billion domestically for all of 2019, according to National Association of Theater Owners, a trade group.
Other analysts were even more upbeat about prospects for the suffering shares of theater chains. B. Riley’s Eric Wold predicted 2023 domestic box office would exceed even 2019 levels by 6 percent, driven in part by the pile-up of big-name films that have been delayed into next year and beyond. The resulting super-slate of upcoming releases is ““nothing short of amazing,” Wold wrote.
But any reopening appears likely to go ahead without at least one notable chain, Pacific Theaters and its upscale corporate sibling, ArcLight Cinemas. Trade publication Deadline reported later in the day that owner Decurion will be “handing the keys back to the landlord.”
That maneuver likely is part of complex negotiations over leases on many properties in often high-end malls and similar locations, Deadline suggested.
That the chains aren’t yet for sale suggests plenty of wheeling and dealing ahead, and the chains aren’t necessarily dead. But it’s bad news for the chains’ employees, and for film-industry fans who particularly prized the ArcLight’s upscale experience.
A post replacing the ArcLight website said: “After shutting our doors more than a year ago, today we must share the difficult and sad news that Pacific will not be reopening its ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres locations. This was not the outcome anyone wanted, but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options, the company does not have a viable way forward.
“To all the Pacific and ArcLight employees who have devoted their professional lives to making our theaters the very best places in the world to see movies: we are grateful for your service and your dedication to our customers. To our guests and members of the film industry who have made going to the movies such a magical experience over the years: our deepest thanks. It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve you. Inquiries at [email protected]”
Among the ArcLight facilities now in danger is one on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood, built around the iconic Cinerama Dome where 1960s classics such as Lawrence of Arabia and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World once debuted on its ultra-wide screen. Like many a Hollywood legend, the theater even had a cameo in a Quentin Tarantino film, his industry love letter Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
The Dome and surrounding property were part of a major Los Angeles city redevelopment project that finished in 2002. It added more than a dozen additional screens, a restaurant, bar and gift shop, all adjoining the restored Dome itself.
The resulting facilities have often been home to premieres, film festivals, awards-season special screenings and Q&As, displays of film costumes, and more. The theater’s geodesic dome still protects the world’s largest contoured screen, seemingly wrapping around audiences at 86 feet wide by 32 feet high.
Another ArcLight facility in L.A.’s Sherman Oaks neighborhood, in what formerly had been the San Fernando Valley’s Galleria Mall (famed for Frank Zappa’s song and the movie Valley Girl) was also much frequented by industry insiders and routinely a home for awards-season screenings and similar events.
The reaction in Hollywood to the ArcLight/Pacific news was swift. Oscar-winning writer/director Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk, Moonlight) had a pungent, pithy and pained Twitter response: “Fuck!”