Rumors of the death of movie theaters were greatly exaggerated

Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, now wielded by Jane Foster (actor Natalie Portman), struck another mighty blow for Disney by pulling in $143 million for Thor: Love and Thunder in its opening weekend. The film is also the third-highest domestic opening of 2022, behind Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness at $187 million and Jurassic World: Dominion at $145 million.

Thor: Love and Thunder is the fourth film in the franchise and the strongest opening in the Marvel series. More importantly, the film, along with Minions: The Rise of Gru, which had a $107 million opening, has helped July 2022 beat the same opening box office period in July 2019, even when adjusted for inflation.

The big July blockbuster film in 2019 was Spider-Man: Far From Home, which earned $92 million ($105 million when adjusted for inflation). What this signals is that, at least in the US, the public’s concerns about Covid-19 risks at large public venues like movie theaters may be largely in the rear-view mirror.

Marvel’s God of Thunder success is another step toward post-pandemic normalcy

At the height of the pandemic, as lockdowns prevented large indoor gatherings and forced the closure of nearly every public-facing consumer outlet except supermarkets, Hollywood studios were in a panic. As a result, some studios tried hybrid releases, which had major films like Black Widow simultaneously debut in theaters and via streaming television in a bid to soften the impact of closed movie houses.

That strategy proved to have mixed results, but nevertheless kept the public engaged with the notion of big-budget film releases, even if they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, necessarily visit a crowded movie theater to see them. However, in 2021, as Covid-19 vaccine availability bolstered the public’s confidence, Hollywood studios began testing the waters for return to theater-exclusive releases, with promising results from films like Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. 

The real box-office test of whether movie theaters are truly in post-pandemic territory will come during the upcoming fall and winter months, when a surge of Covid-19 infections are expected to take hold in the US.

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