New Covid Pandemic Surge Won’t Weaken Box Office This Weekend

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Despite more transmissible Covid variants racing through the population, entertainment venues are seeing increased business and the new pandemic surge won’t weaken movie theater box office this weekend. With Jurassic World: Dominion and Top Gun: Maverick doing blockbuster business and Lightyear bringing Pixar back to theaters after a long hiatus, audiences are gifting a summer revival to the industry, but at a very risky time.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness got the ball rolling in early May with a huge $450 million global bow. The Doctor Strange sequel now looks likely to surpass $950 million worldwide, exceeding more conservative estimates and with a chance to still surprise us with stronger holds than anticipated (although at this point the weekly numbers are consistent enough that it seems unlikely it could surpass these figures by more than perhaps $5 million at this point).

Top Gun: Maverick has definitely defied a lot of the even rosiest predictions, starting with a nearly $250 million opening weekend around the world just three weeks ago and currently flying high with $806 million in the tank and plenty of open sky ahead. The film — now Tom Cruise’s highest-grossing film of his entire career — will likely hit somewhere around $870 million worldwide this weekend, on its way to about $950+/- million by the end of its run, and at this point $1 billion is not out of the question at all.

I’ll also go on record as expecting Top Gun: Maverick to get several Oscar nods, probably including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and possibly even another Best Actor nomination for Cruise himself.

The latest release to benefit from audience enthusiasm is Jurassic World: Dominion, which enters the weekend at roughly $450 million in global receipts and is stomping its way toward $200+/- million weekend haul. The final total for this chapter of the dinosaur franchise will probably be in the vicinity of $930+/- million.

You might notice the final numbers for all of these films are similar. I think that points to a range we can expect to remain mostly consistent for the weeks ahead, albeit increasing slightly into July as more summer films hit theaters and more people are out of school or on work vacations. Films are taking turns as dominant players at the box office, and releases have been staggered enough and relatively few enough to avoid stepping on each other’s feet too much. The result is a steady trend for blockbusters.

The reopening of the box office has been tried before, of course, and failed. It wasn’t really until Christmas and the arrival of Spider-Man: No Way Home that it truly felt like the filmgoing public was ready to just let chips fall where they may. That’s when viewers start returning en mass to big crowded indoor venues, laughing and eating and talking while largely (and sadly) unmasked and spreading Covid like wildfire again.

Booster rates are also not nearly as high as they need to be, and young children are mostly unvaccinated and at great risk (despite summer movie season being filled with kid movies and other family fare).

So I’m expecting several big blockbuster weekends of business, and then rising hospitalization rates and infection rates to finally generate a slowdown founded on too many workers out sick, too many audience members out sick, and too many children sick and hospitalized.

This isn’t doomsaying, it’s simply being conscious of reality and aware of what’s happened every time in the past that we’ve reopened too soon and amid surging variants. At some point, enthusiasm for profit margins and lazy impatience about restricted lifestyles will once again give way to reality, once reality hurts enough to force us to comply.

Which is to say, I’m confident theaters will enjoy good box office results for several more weeks, until the cost of that finally catches up with us as it has every single time before, so our box office predictions have to realistically account for such possibilities and probabilities. I hope I’m wrong, I hope this surge is smaller and more short-lived, I hope the rising infection rates don’t see corresponding hospitalization rates, and I hope this latest reopening is safer than any previously and doesn’t result in the same things as before. But until I see proof of any/all of that, I’ll have to assume at some point theaters will experience downturns again.

But not this weekend, and n0t these films. We’ll see how July goes when it gets here.

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