Theaters have been in “build back” mode since reopening after the pandemic, but the leadership of the largest chains see bright days ahead as more films are released theatrically before they’re made available on streaming services.
AMC, the largest chain in the U.S. with over 7,500 screens, said the number of people in seats jumped 25% domestically. It also saw a 15% gain internationally, and said audience numbers in Europe are nearing pre-pandemic norms.
The increased audience numbers helped lift AMC revenue by 21.5% to $954.4 million.
Cinemark, the third largest U.S. chain with about 4,400 screens, saw an even greater leap, with audience numbers up 30% in the U.S. thanks to a wave of hits that began with 2022 holdovers “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” and continued with new releases like “A Man Called Otto” and “M3GAN,” along with a spate of sequels like “Creed III,” “Scream VI” and “John Wick: Chapter 4.”
The bigger crowds drove Cinemark to post a 32% leap in revenue to $610.7 million for the first three months of the year.
The leadership of both companies also expressed optimism for box office momentum to continue, given the high profile movies to come, including “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” “The Flash” and “Fast X.”
“Consumers continue to demonstrate their avid desire to experience movies, and all forms of content, in a shared, larger-than-life, cinematic setting,” Cinemark CEO Sean Gamble said in a statement. “And our studio partners are collectively reinforcing that there is simply no better way to amplify excitement, interest, cultural relevance, and financial value for their films than with a full-blown exclusive theatrical release.”
During the company’s conference call, Gamble added that April was a strong month at the box office.
Even more encouraging is the movement among studios to release their productions to theaters before they hit streaming services.
“Hollywood Studios again seems to recognize the incredible value creation of theatrical exhibition,” AMC Entertainment Holdings CEO Adam Aron said during the company’s first quarter conference call. “In recent years, some studios were prioritizing their streaming services over theaters. Today, the talk in Hollywood is flipped. Moviemakers know there is money to be made in theaters, and studio after studio is rushing to increase the number of movies that they release first theatrically.”
“Based on indications we continue to receive from our traditional studio partners regarding their targeted levels of production, as well as Amazon’s expressed intention to ramp to 10 to 12 films per year, and Apple’s growing theatrical aspirations, we remain highly optimistic about film volume recovering close to or better than pre-pandemic levels over the next couple of years,” Gamble said during the call.
Aron also noted that it’s not just the traditional studios getting on the bandwagon.
“Amazon Studios just theatrically released their wonderful movie about the true story of Nike introducing the Air Jordan sneakers,” Aron noted. “‘Air,’ starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, has enjoyed more than $47 million of domestic box office success and received far greater consumer acclaim and awareness than it would have had it been released directly to streaming without a theatrical release first.”
Moreover, he continued, Apple plans two major theatrical releases this year, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, set for an October release; and “Napoleon,” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Joaquin Phoenix.
“These additional releases by Amazon and Apple will be just the tip of the iceberg of new content for AMC,” Aron said. He also pointed to reports that the two tech giants each plan to spend $1 billion per year on movies that will head first to theaters.
“We can’t wait to showcase their films,”Aron said. “We could not be more optimistic about the prospects with a movie slate of films coming out during the remainder of ’23, except only say that 2024 looks even better.”