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Spider-Man Webs in a Huge Audience; AMC and Cinemark Still Need a Hero

The latest Marvel film broke a pandemic record.

This weekend proved that people are still willing to go see a movie in theaters, as long as that movie has Spider-Man in it. That confirms the pandemic-era trend where superheroes, action franchises, and little else will bring people back to AMC (AMC) - Get AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Class A Report and Cinemark's (CNK) - Get Cinemark Holdings, Inc. Report theaters. 

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” had the best box office total since the pandemic began, bringing in a record-breaking $253 million in North America. This is the second biggest debut period, right behind “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019, which brought in $357 million.

The film, which was jointly produced by Sony  (SNE) - Get Sony Corp. Report and Disney  (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report, has yet to open in China, the world’s biggest film market, but still managed to bring in $601 million in its opening weekend globally

Make Mine Marvel

The well-reviewed film, starring Tom Holland as the wall-crawler and Zendaya as his love interest MJ, was expected to have the biggest weekend haul of the year, as some analysts were predicting a total of around $150 million, according to Variety. Previously, the year’s biggest opening went to another superhero film from Sony, as “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” brought in $90 million in September.  

Sony and Disney’s accomplishment would be staggering on its own, but it’s even more noteworthy as the weekend saw a spike in COVID-19 infections due to the omicron variant, as CNN reports that reported cases of infection are 10% greater than they were a week ago. 

New York City was hit particularly hard by the variant, as restaurants and broadway shows closed, the band LCD Soundsystem canceled a Brooklyn residency, and “Saturday Night Live” sent most of the cast and crew home and taped a bare-bones holiday special with a skeleton crew. 

But that wasn’t enough to keep people away, especially in New York City, as theaters there were the second-highest revenue drivers in the country behind Los Angeles, and two Manhattan locations, AMC Empire and Lincoln Square were among the top-five biggest earners total, according to “Variety.”

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Marvel films are always popular, as four out of the top five earning-films of the year, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and “Black Widow” are Marvel-related.

But anticipation for this “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was particularly high, as the film had been rumored to have a number of twists, including the return of actors and characters from the previous versions of the Spider-Man films, that fans didn’t want to be spoiled on. That likely spurred them to see the film on the opening weekend, if not the opening night, as it also had the biggest one-night release of any movie this decade. Spoiler phobia was so strong, in fact, that Delete Twitter was actually a trending topic on social media for a while last week just because people did not want the film's twists ruined. 

A Good Weekend Does Not Mean An AMC and Cinemark Turnaround

A $253 million haul would have been cause to break open the champagne even before the pandemic set in, and theaters owners such as Cinemark and AMC must be feeling pretty good about now. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is proof that people will still go out to theaters to see a movie rather than staying at home. But what’s next?

A weekend to weekend drop-off of 40% to 50% in box office is fairly typical, and previous Christmas weekends had box office totals of $100,707,869 in 2018 and $99,025,055 in 2017, according to Box Office Mojo. That would mean Spider-Man, based on historical norms, would actually lead 2021's Christmas weekend box office to higher levels than were delivered those two years, but below the nearly $200 million 1092 pulled in led by Disney's "Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker."

The problem is that audiences have shown that while they are willing to turn out for blockbusters -- mostly superheroes, major franchises including James Bond and Fast & the Furious, as well as some major family fare -- they're not willing to go to theaters for anything less than that. That leaves AMC and Cinemark struggling on weekends that don't have a major tentpole film of the type that people seem to want to watch in theaters.

Theater owners have been struggling with profitability for years, even before the pandemic, as audiences have more entertainment options than ever. AMC reported a net loss of $13.5 million in 2019, even as total revenue was up 2.4% to $1.44 billion from the year before. 

Spider-Man has saved the day, the weekend, and maybe even a few weeks for AMC, Cinemark, and the U.S. movie business, but there are only a handful of movies each year that appeal to such a massive audience.