As we have chronicled over the last few weeks, moviegoing has slowed down dramatically. This is laid at the feet of Hollywood studios, which have not delivered any new releases with wide commercial appeal since Sony’s 8/5 opening of BULLET TRAIN. The August box office is down dramatically from July and theatre attendance has hit lows not seen since the height of the pandemic. Labor Day weekend is traditionally a low point in the film calendar, and this year was particularly bleak, with very little to offer in terms of new products.
Therefore, it was not surprising when last Sunday (8/28) NATO announced that studios and exhibitors had teamed up to offer moviegoers the first-ever “National Cinema Day” at the movies. For all shows on Saturday, September 3rd moviegoers could enjoy $3 movie tickets for any seat at any screening in any format, including IMAX, Dolby Atmos, 3D, etc… On Wednesday (8/31), most Canadian exhibitors announced that they too would join in on the promotion.
Knowing that the average movie ticket price was $9.16 when it was last measured in 2019 and that a ticket to an IMAX screening in New York could sell for as much as $25, National Cinema Day was a substantial price cut for consumers. We will highlight the dramatic effect this promotion had on the box office in our weekend review.
NATIONAL CINEMA DAY
In fact, movie lovers flocked to cinemas for the one-day event on Saturday. Assuming the round number of $9 per ticket without any discount, approximately 1.4 million tickets were sold on Friday. Using $3 per ticket sold on Saturday’s National Cinema Day, the number of moviegoers swelled to approximately 8.2 million. This represented a 585% increase from Friday to Saturday, whereas a typical increase from Friday to Saturday would be in the range of 30%-40%. While it is likely that some consumers opted to postpone their Friday moviegoing until Saturday in order to benefit from the promotion, the Saturday swell was so dramatic that the box office total for the three days came in higher than if exhibitors had left ticket prices unchanged.
It appears that the two animated family films MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU and DC LEAGUE OF SUPER-PETS benefited most from the discount day, with MINIONS seeing its Saturday gross rise by 52% compared with the prior Saturday and SUPER-PETS Saturday sales rising 42% from last week. In fact, many locations sold out their available seats for these two films, with exhibitors having placed them in smaller auditoriums since both were in the last weeks of their expected theatrical runs. Many parents concluded that a $3 investment to entertain each of their kids for 2+ hours at the movies was a deal not to be ignored. Saturday also saw the box office for TOP GUN: MAVERICK increase by 27% and BULLET TRAIN by 3%.
Attendance at theatres drives exhibitor profitability, with add-on revenue coming from concessions, gaming, and advertising. Based on this year’s success, most exhibitors will look forward to a National Cinema Day redux next year and beyond. Studio income is based on the average ticket price, and even with the discount, the overall box office increased this weekend from what it would otherwise have been. If National Cinema Day does become an annual event, it will impact how studios release their films in the weeks before and after the day. Because of the unusually weak film lineup this year, it was particularly helpful to drive attendance.
TOP FIVE FILMS FOR THE WEEKEND
The re-issue of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME eked out a win at the box office with $6M, holding off stiff competition from popular titles that have played in theatres throughout much of the summer. Aided by the National Cinema Day promotion, TOP GUN: MAVERICK climbed back up to a second place with $5.5M in new ticket sales, which was 16% higher than last weekend’s take. Now in its fifteenth week, MAVERICK has now tallied $699M in Domestic ticket sales and will break the $700M sound barrier on Monday.
DC LEAGUE OF SUPER-PETS was re-animated in its sixth weekend, earning $5.45M which was 32% higher than last weekend. BULLET TRAIN came in fourth place with $5.4M on its fifth weekend, dropping by only 4% from last weekend. Last weekend’s #1 film THE INVITATION came in fifth place, with $4.7M which was down 31% from last week’s opening.
The promo-fueled weekend was intended to stimulate grosses over Labor Day, one of the slowest weekends of the year. However, last year Disney opened SHANG CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS with $75M over the same holiday weekend, powering the three-day take for all pictures to $111M. As a result, despite the positive impact of the promotion, this year’s Labor Day weekend was only 41% compared to the same weekend in 2021. That being said, one can only shudder to think how bad this weekend would have been without National Cinema Day.