‘Conjuring’ Overtakes ‘Quiet Place’ to Lead Box Office

AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. stock has been on a tear, but many of the seats at its movie theaters will be empty this weekend.

Domestic box-office sales fell compared with last weekend, when ticket purchases hit a pandemic record. There are two new major releases, but neither is drawing the audience that the highly awaited “A Quiet Place Part II” brought to theaters last weekend. Ticket revenue may continue to slide until more blockbusters arrive later in the summer.

The roller-coaster movie sales figures, which remain far below pre-pandemic levels, stand in stark contrast with the soaring valuation of the world’s largest theater chain. Though AMC’s sales have started to recover, the road ahead remains more challenging than legions of highly optimistic internet traders suggest.

“The weekend after Memorial Day typically sees a drop at the box office, and we’re expecting a similar trend to play out,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro. “It will still be a few more weeks before theaters have a closer-to-normal supply of films.”

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” a new release from AT&T Inc.’s Warner Bros., overtook “A Quiet Place Part II” to lead the weekend box office, generating $24 million sales in North America, according to researcher Comscore Inc.

Existing customers of WarnerMedia’s HBO Max are able to watch “The Conjuring” at no extra cost. “A Quiet Place,” the horror film from ViacomCBS Inc.’s Paramount Pictures starring Emily Blunt, ranked No. 2 with $19.5 million in weekend sales, lower than the industry estimate of $22 million. Walt Disney Co.’s “Cruella,” which also debuted last weekend, came in third.

“Cruella” costs Disney+ streaming subscribers an extra $30 to view at home -- which may well have made it more lucrative to Disney last weekend than “A Quiet Place Part II” was to ViacomCBS, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Geetha Ranganathan.

Based on an estimate from the tracking app Samba TV that 686,000 subscribers bought access to “Cruella,” and given the typical 50% split of box-office revenue with theater owners, Ranganathan figures the Disney prequel generated $34.1 million for the parent company, compared with about $28.5 million for “Quiet Place II.”

Capacity Limits

This weekend’s releases may be enough to fill seats for many showtimes around the U.S., but not all of them. Some markets still limit the number of people who can sit in an auditorium at once. For example in Los Angeles, the largest moviegoing market in the U.S., officials require cinemas to rope off half of their seats to allow customers to social distance.

Further, the availability of new movies online is probably still siphoning off customers, and may for some time to come. The pandemic gave streaming services increased negotiating power over theaters, causing them to cut the time between new films appearing on the big screen and at home.

Even with a resurgence in interest in going back to the cinema, attendance may not reach pre-pandemic levels next year, according to Rich Greenfield, an analyst at Lightshed Partners, who is among AMC’s more bearish observers.

Greenfield expects AMC to be unprofitable through at least 2024. He said in March the stock was worth one penny, while shares of AMC closed Thursday at $51.34.

None of that has deterred AMC’s online army of traders, who tweet and post messages all day urging others to send the shares ever higher. On Wednesday, AMC became more valuable than half of the members of the S&P 500, after starting the pandemic smaller than all of them. Its stock is up more than 2,100% this year.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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