Film releases, which have slowed to a trickle during the pandemic, are bringing studio gold to the screen, and it’s been a booming June for Hollywood’s biggest studios. Elvis just slipped out Top Gun: Maverick for the highest-grossing film of the last weekend in June, with each film grossing over or nearly $30 million. With three high-flying weeks, Tom Cruise’s aviator goggle sequel has also surpassed the billion dollar mark in international earnings. It is the first film of the year and only the second COVID-era event to break that cap (after Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home earn $1.9 billion).

Speaking of webbed feet, there’s not a single caped crusader in the blockbuster lineup (although there are still dinosaurs and wizards). Cinema industry analysts attribute the increase in admissions to a combination of two factors: convenience in returning to the cinema and excellent theatrical releases.

While the industry is celebrating the masses pouring back into theaters by swimming in heaps of cash like Scrooge, things may not be looking brighter for the big cinema companies until 2024. During this time, chains are taking important strategic steps to return to a pre-pandemic cinematic reality.

A screen shot of Austin Butler as the King in the preview for the 'Elvis' filmfor Paramount, Top Gun: Maverick is a $525 million exclamation point extending an explosive 2022 at the box office. Box Office Mojo reports North American earnings for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 at 190 million dollars, The Lost City at 105 million dollars, Scream at $81 million and donkey forever at $57 million.

Warner Bros Discovery had sales of $3.159 billion for the quarter ended March 31, a 13.14% increase over the same filing in 2021. In North American markets The Batman raised nearly $370 million and Fantastic Beasts approaching $100 million.

As studios explode, theaters are reaping much of that cash injection… and still bleeding money. Cinemark’s revenue quadrupled from Q1 2021 to Q1 2022, but the chain still lost $74 million. AMC Entertainment’s first-quarter revenue grew five-fold … and the chain still lost $337 million. Box office numbers are still down 33% compared to the same weekend in 2019.

Indie Wire reports that media analysts at MoffettNathanson expect 2022 to be slightly down and 2023 to be theatrical revenue to show no growth at all. Movie theater chains like Cinemark are hoping the tide will rise over the next few years.

A crowded cinema hall
PX here

Cinemark CEO Sean Gamble said he expects Cinemark to reach “normalized levels” in box office revenue by 2024, during the company’s first-quarter earnings call. By that time, he claimed, the complications of the pandemic would have subsided, and “streaming platforms will be in a much more mature place… Then the pendulum will shift.”

Going to the cinema is an experience in itself, but this market has a ceiling as digital platforms now own a large share of viewer time, distribution funds and studio production. Because of this, chains have made a 180-degree path, stopping on their heels to turn and embrace once-shunned streaming studios. In 2021, a statement from Cinemark said more than 10 Netflix films have been tested in its immersive environment. This contains Red noticean action comedy starring Dwayne Johnson opposite Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot that was shown in 750 theaters across the country a week before it launched on the streamer.

Cinemark also plans to enable emerging technologies to generate more organic revenue to help theaters and theatergoers alike. During the call, CFO Melissa Thomas said Cinemark intends to “evolve to a more dynamic pricing model.” This would allow individual theaters to be more flexible and the company as a whole to collect data that responds to pricing pressures such as inflation. It also encourages hardcore movie fans to get more involved in exchange for perks.

One place where Cinemark may collect user information is the Movie Club, which provides members with benefits such as discounts on concessions and movie tickets. Though theaters have essentially disappeared for two years during COVID-19 restrictions, Movie Club’s membership is nearing the million mark, ahead of 2019. In the first quarter of 2022, 20% of the company’s box office revenue came from Gamble, according to Gamble club members.

Gamble added that Cinemark’s once-untouchable cinema window is shifting, as evidenced by several Netflix films that only showed for a week. This is a significant change from the traditional 72-90 day opening. Gamble said today, “Movies have a better financial model. There’s a better economic equation for these titles for the studios because they can get to houses sooner…lower risk and a better financial model could result in more of these films being released theatrically.”

This also puts a healthy revenue stream in Netflix’s pockets. Red notice spent three weeks at the top of the Netflix Top 10 with over 354 million hours streamed on the service, becoming one of the most watched Netflix original films of all time, according to the company’s metrics.

Those benefiting the most from the industry’s recovery are viewers, with summertime popcorn movies like Minions: The Rise of Gru, Thor: Love and Thunderand nope release this month. Like a dam being released, there is an assured cascade of films that will have a steady flow over the next two years.

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