Theaters Kick Off 2021 With Hopes of Erasing Worst Year Ever

This year will be different. Or at least, it had better be, for a U.S. box office crippled by pandemic-driven theater closures, customer fears and a dearth of new films.

It’s already off to a rocky start. Analysts and studios expect the top films this weekend to be those that were released weeks ago, including “Wonder Woman 1984” and “The Croods: A New Age.” Two-thirds of domestic theaters are closed, and the few new, small-budget movies that do come out in limited fashion are unlikely to drum up enough demand for venues to financially justify reopening.

Instead, the plan is to hang on until better days -- likely not before April or later -- when big-budget fare will be released again. Cinemas that survive may even get to enjoy a windfall, as a backlog of highly anticipated movies are released to movie lovers who have missed the smell of movie-theater popcorn and the spectacle of the big screen.

“We’re going to go into this new year with a lot of hope,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore Inc. “There’s a lot of great movies on the way, but we have to have a safe and healthy environment in which to see them.”

Theaters Kick Off 2021 With Hopes of Erasing Worst Year Ever

This weekend there will be no new wide releases in the U.S. Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman 1984,” released on Christmas Day in cinemas and for no additional cost on HBO Max, is likely to top the box office, according to an analysis by BoxOffice Pro. The film outperformed the AT&T Inc.-owned studio’s expectations on its opening weekend, earning $16.7 million, but ticket sales have fallen precipitously, likely due to its availability on streaming and weak reviews.

Movies from other large studios are expected to continue generating ticket sales, long after their premieres. Universal Pictures’ “The Croods: A New Age,” which was released Nov. 25, may generate more than $2 million in domestic box-office revenue this weekend, followed by another film from Comcast Corp.’s studio, “News of the World.”

There are signs that when the business does restart, pent-up demand for new films could undo some of the damage of 2020, in which box-office receipts fell 80% compared with a year earlier. In Asia, theaters have largely reopened and are setting records. Further, Hollywood studios plan to release a deluge of delayed major films, from a new James Bond installment to the long-awaited Marvel Comics movie “Black Widow.”

“We’re looking at a 2021 that’s literally loaded with hit movies,” Dergarabedian said. “We just have to hope that the theaters are available and that the audiences show up.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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