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Batman has a big hole to fill for theaters

Such is the state of the American movie theater industry, where even the worst superhero is being told to cheer up the business.

In two months, it is already clear that the theatrical exhibition has a long way to go to return to pre-pandemic levels. The home box office was around $ 761 million as of March 3, less than half the average for 2017-2020 at the same point, according to Box Office Mojo.

Theater operators tell “The Batman”. The eighth DC Comics superhero-based live-action film will hit theaters on Friday, 10 years after it marked the last major franchise film, “The Dark Knight Rises.” The latter will also be AT & T’s first major exclusive theater‘s

T 0.38%

Warner Bros. the studio released the full list last year at once on its HBO Max streaming service.

Expectations are high. Cinemark directors,

CNK 0.29%

IMAX IMAX – 1.07%

and AMC Entertainment AMC – 2.54%

everyone was talking about the movie in the calls for the last fourth quarter, and now “The Batman” is expected to surpass $ 100 million in the opening weekend. The demand is strong enough that AMC and Cinemark intend to use the film to test a premium price model, rather than for other photos that are charging slightly more for Batman tickets.

It would be the second best opening since the pandemic began after Sony‘s

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” hit. But even if the last Batman matched more than $ 668 million in the first month of the film, the industry-wide box office would remain below $ 2.4 billion in the same period in 2019. And that is by no means certain. : “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the third film of all time now at home.

In other words, not even a super Batman performance will get the theater business back to normal. Not even the strong list of successful films planned for the end of the year. In the summer and fall, there will be releases of major franchises such as Marvel and Jurassic Park, as well as sequels to the long-awaited “Top Gun” and “Avatar.” But Wall Street is skeptical; Credit Suisse’s Meghan Durkin expects a $ 8.55 billion box office for this year, about three-quarters of the 2015-2019 average of $ 11.4 billion. And Cinemark, AMC and IMAX’s 2022 consensus revenue estimates are about 84% of 2019 levels, according to FactSet.

The pandemic is likely to give the theater business a lasting haircut. Spider-Man showed that viewers will be looking for megablockbusters in established franchises, but films outside of that category still have a rough outlook, especially as most major studios suffer from double the reluctance of older filmmakers to return to theaters and eat. feed from their streaming outlets.

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The constant relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions could lead to the return of more filmgoers. After all, the high demand for cruises, theme parks and concerts shows a lot of people ready to return to their own entertainment. But these experiences have few alternatives; even the so-called “metaverse” concerts are almost unmatched. In a report last week, Morgan Stanley’s Ben Swinburne predicted that the home window would remain low at $ 9 trillion by 2023-25, adding that “film is the only sub-industry to return to life” in our coverage. ”Over the previous levels of the pandemic.

Studios and movie chains that want to change that trajectory will need more than superheroes to save the day.

Write Dan Gallagher at dan.gallagher@wsj.com

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Batman has a big hole to fill for theaters

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