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‘Unhinged’ Big-Screen Debut Points to Nascent Box-Office Recovery

'Unhinged' brings in $4 million in box-office sales, a paltry figure in the pandemic-stricken movie business but a sign of nascent recovery in the theater world.

"Unhinged," a Russell Crowe thriller that takes the concept of road rage to a new level, brought in $4 million at the box office this past weekend - a paltry figure by any stretch but a sign of nascent recovery in the pandemic-stricken movie business.

“Unhinged” became the first post-pandemic movie release of the year on Friday, opening in 1,823 locations across the U.S. and Canada, according to industry research firm Comscore. Only about one-third of the 5,800 theater locations have reopened.

While not even on the radar in terms of normal, pre-pandemic big-screen releases, which typically tally in the tens and hundreds of millions, the results were deemed a success for the low-budget movie, which cost $33 million to make.

They were also deemed a sign of consumers’ willingness to enter dark, confined spaces with others in order to be entertained by the big screen - concerns that cinema owners like AMC Entertainment  (AMC) - Get AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Class A Report and Cinemark Holdings  (CNK) - Get Cinemark Holdings, Inc. Report have been grappling with.

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdown has hit movie-theater operators like AMC particularly hard, not only due to sudden and massive losses in revenue but also due to the runoff effect of more people streaming content directly to their homes and devices, which in turn has raised questions over the viability of the entire theater industry.

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Indeed, AMC and other theater chains have found themselves in an even darker corner financially in recent months as they fight for their decades-old first-rights position to show content first. AMC and Comcast  (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report-owned Universal Pictures got into a war of words and legalities back in April after Universal opted to bypass theaters and release its “Trolls: World Tour” animated movie directly to consumers.

Many of Hollywood’s largest films, including the next installment of James Bond and the ninth iteration of the “Fast And Furious” franchise, have exited the 2020 calendar entirely, while others, like Disney’s  (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report “Mulan” are moving straight to streaming.

Still, the fact that "Unhinged" brought in box-office revenue at all is being viewed as a sign of a rebound. Next weekend, Disney will debut in theaters its long-delayed X-Men spinoff “New Mutants,” while “Unhinged” adds some 500 screens to its release. 

On Sept. 3, Warner Bros. will debut the highly anticipated and oft-delayed Christopher Nolan thriller “Tenet.” AMC currently expects to open about two-thirds of its more than 600 U.S. theater locations in time for that release.

Analysts are counting on additional theaters opening in the coming months to bolster the releases, including “Wonder Woman” on Oct. 2 and Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow” on Nov. 6.