Doctor Strange generates $688 million after two weekends, but theater attendance still down from pre-pandemic levels

In the latest sign of just how much comics-based IP dominates the box office, Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has pushed past $688 million globally after two weekends, putting the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe on pace to surpass Warner Bros.’ The Batman, which earned $769 million worldwide. In the US, these two superhero films join Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: No Way Home as the only movies to exceed $300 million domestically during the COVID-19 era.

While these are solid numbers, they do not properly convey the current health of the box office. Globally, ticket sales reached $21.3 billion in 2021, an 81 percent jump over 2020 ($11.8 billion), but half of 2019’s $42.3 billion, according to the Motion Picture Association. In the US, move theater attendance is also down 40% in Q1 2022 compared to the first quarter of 2019 (before the pandemic).

That said, theater operators are more optimistic now than they were in the middle of the pandemic, telling CNBC that they believe ticket sales will continue to improve, especially with major releases lined up for the coming weeks, including Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World: Dominion, Lightyear, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and Thor: Love and Thunder.

Interpret’s VideoWatch reveals a slight uptick in the number of movies US consumers have been going to see during a three-month window over the course of 2021, rising from just 0.40 movies seen in early 2021 to 0.63 movies at the end of the year, but that’s a far cry from pre-pandemic levels when movie goers saw over 1.4 movies per three months. At the same time, even as streaming’s growth has slowed for major players like Netflix and Disney, it’s still factoring into consumers’ daily entertainment time in a major way. Interpret data reveals that US consumers spend about 17 hours each week streaming movies, TV shows, online clips, and livestreams.

Entertainment consumption habits have clearly been influenced by the pandemic, but studios’ big tentpole releases still command sizable box office returns. But will consumers turn off their TVs to go to the theaters when only small/middle size productions are showing?

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