LOS ANGELES: After a year of dismal ticket sales during the pandemic, film theatre operators expect a roster of superheroes, fighter pilots and the most popular spy in the cinema can help them make a return in 2021.
In the United States and Canada, normally the world’s biggest film industry, nearly two-thirds of theatres remain closed. In 2020, box office earnings plummeted 80 percent from a year before.
But when Covid-19 vaccinations roll out and James Bond, Black Widow and other heroes appear in new blockbusters scheduled to start lighting up screens in the future, theatre owners and industry experts see cause for hope.
“I think we’ll see a lot of improvements in 2021, but I think it’s going to take some time to get there,” said Shawn Robbins, BoxOfficePro.com’s chief analyst. “By no means will it be an overnight return to normal.”
It is unclear about the timing of any rebound, as debut dates may change. If they continue to judge when the pandemic will disappear, Hollywood executives have repeatedly shuffled their schedules. Slow delivery has cooled initial optimism about vaccines. And viewers would have more viewing opportunities at home.
Studios are reportedly aiming to give theatres a heavy slate of big-budget movies that have been yanked from the 2020 calendar.
No Time to Die, from MGM and Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures, is a James Bond thriller planned for April. For May, Black Widow, from Marvel Studios of Walt Disney Co, and Universal’s latest Fast & Furious instalment are scheduled.
Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures by ViacomCBS Inc, Universal’s animated Minions: The Rise of Gru, and Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are awaited summer films.
The theatre company was buoyed during the Christmas holiday by the attendance for Wonder Woman 1984. While ticket sales for the film from AT&T Inc’s Warner Bros. came in higher than anticipated, even though US viewers could stream the film at home on HBO Max, well short of a typical action film debut.
The same dual-release approach is expected by Warner Bros. in 2021 for 17 films, including a Dune remake and Godzilla vs. Kong.
Wonder Woman’s 1984 success revealed an appreciation for the big screen, B. Eric Wold, analyst at Riley, said in a research report.
This tends to reinforce the thesis that they will once again become filmgoers as audiences are welcomed back to theatres with enticing content,” said Wold, who follows major chains such as AMC Entertainment and Cinemark.”
On Christmas Day, B&B Theatres, which runs in nine states, sold out some of its Wonder Woman 1984 shows, executives said. But to ensure social distancing, they gave just 25 percent to 50 percent of seats, depending on the state.
“We’re seeing our attendance increase week after week,” Executive Vice President Bobbie Bagby Ford said. “But she added that until vaccines expand and attendance limits can be lifted, she did not expect the industry to hit “any semblance of standard.
“It will probably be the 2021 holiday before I see us back in full swing,” she added.