Hurricane Matthew Shouldn’t Rain on the Box Office for Long

The upcoming storm is bad timing for “The Girl on the Train,” but bad weather isn’t much of a deterrent to avid movie-goers

Movie theaters on Florida’s Atlantic coast are getting ready to shut down Thursday as Hurricane Matthew prepares to make landfall.

And with their Friday status remaining uncertain, that might cause this weekend’s box office to take a dip, which would be bad news for the projected number one movie, Universal’s “The Girl on the Train.”

There’s only so much rabid film fans can do when the theater is closed. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night usually keeps people from going to the movies as long as it’s physically possible to get there, but they can’t control the forces of nature. So while Matthew is forcing cinemas to close for now, don’t expect people to stay away for long, even if they need to paddle their way to the concession line.

Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said that other than blizzards or similar extreme weather events that physically prevent people from getting to the movies, ordinary bad weather isn’t much of a box office deterrent.

“Outside of some blizzards on the weekends, weather has very little effect on the box office,” he told TheWrap.

After all, a climate-controlled cinema is the perfect tonic for both a sweltering summer day and a teeth-chattering winter night. And when the sky is opening up and 100-mph winds test the structural integrity of every building, it’s natural to want to get lost in the magic of Hollywood. History appears to prove that out — the box office declined the weekend affected by several notable recent storms, but quickly rebounded, proving movies aren’t just recession-proof — but also waterproof.

Hurricane Sandy, which started bearing down on New York City on Oct. 28, 2012, was one of the few non-snowstorm weather events that appeared to have a material impact on the box office. New York theaters started shutting down by mid-afternoon on the 28th, a Sunday, and BoxOfficeMojo estimated the storm, which flooded subway lines and plunged half of Manhattan into darkness, might have kept business down by as much as 10 percent.

That weekend, four new nationwide releases all underperformed, and the box office fell 28 percent from the previous weekend. “Argo,” a film that had come out two weeks prior, ended up as the weekend’s box office champ. The following week, the box office jumped 48 percent as “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Flight” claimed the top two spots.

In January, Winter Storm Jonas temporarily closed theaters across the mid-Atlantic seaboard, which may have directly contributed to a 15 percent decline at the weekend box office, Patrick Corcoran, vice president of communications at the National Association of Theater Owners, told TheWrap in June.

That shows up in the box office totals from the weekend of Jan. 22, which was when the storm hit. The box office was down 32 percent from the previous weekend and 23 percent from the following weekend, as another holdover, “The Revenant,” took the top spot.

Granted, “Kung Fu Panda 3” came out on Jan. 29 and was always going to open bigger than the three Jan. 22 debutants: “Dirty Grandpa,” “The Boy” and “The 5th Wave,” but the weekend’s blizzard, which dumped up to three feet of snow in parts of the Northeast, made a night at the movies a much more difficult undertaking.

On Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned that Hurricane Matthew could be the most destructive storm to hit Florida since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, which was the costliest storm in American history at the time — and which caused more than one-weekend blip on the box office.

Andrew made landfall on Monday, Aug. 24, dumping nearly 14 inches of rain on metro Miami. And as millions of Floridians and others in the path of the storm boarded up their windows and stocked up on nonperishables, the box office for the weekend immediately preceding the storm dropped 27 percent from the prior weekend. It fell another 5 percent the week after, as local residents began to grapple with the $26 billion in damage the storm caused.

But for those seeking an escape from waterlogged and ravaged storm-affected regions, theaters that were still open could certainly offer that. The No. 1 movie the weekend after Andrew? “Honeymoon in Vegas.”