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Blockbusters Drive Movie Theater Comeback

Shira Petrack
October 25, 2023
Blockbusters Drive Movie Theater Comeback

Barbie and Oppenheimer re-ignited excitement around movie theaters and showcased cinemas’ continued relevance in 2023. We dove into the foot traffic data to see how these releases impacted AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas, and Cinemark’s Q3 2023 traffic, whether the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour film drove a similar boost, and what may lie ahead for movie theaters in Q4 and beyond. 

Blockbusters Drive Movie Theater Traffic 

Despite the ongoing economic headwinds impacting many consumer segments, out-of-home entertainment emerged as one of summer’s major winners – in large part thanks to the blockbuster success of Barbie and Oppenheimer. The movies, both released on July 21st, 2023, drove massive and sustained year-over-year (YoY) increase in weekly visits to leading chains, including AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas, and Cinemark. The Equalizer 3 (released on September 1st) then brought another visit spike towards the end of the quarter. Finally, the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour film drove a visit boost following its nationwide October 13th release, although the increase appears to be mostly confined to the AMC chain (more on that below). 

Increase in Returning Visitors 

Part of the movie theater visit growth was likely driven by an increase in the share of repeat visitors. “Barbenheimer” emerged as a cultural phenomenon, with some movie-goers watching both movies as a double feature – and many more who first came to theaters for Barbie or Oppenheimer may have returned later to watch the other film. The popular success of Barbie and Oppenheimer likely also reminded consumers of the pleasures of watching films in cinemas and reminded patrons that trips to the movies are fun social activities that offer something for everyone. 

Movie Theaters Inching Closer to Pre-Pandemic Visit Numbers 

Movie theaters’ Q3 success appears to be making a dent in the year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) visit gap. Compared to 2019, overall visits to AMC and Regal in Q3 2023 narrowed to 16.9% and 19.0%, down from 30.8% and 32.1% in Q2, respectively. Cinemark’s Q3 2023 foot traffic even exceeded its Q3 2019 visits by 0.9%. 

The visit-per-venue Yo4Y visit gaps (the gap between the average number of visits per location in 2019 and 2023) was even narrower. Regal, which has implemented a particularly intensive rightsizing strategy, saw its Q3 2023 Yo4Y visits per venue gap narrow to 3.2%, indicating that the strategic closing of underperforming locations is bringing the chain’s remaining venues to near-per-pandemic occupancy levels. 

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour was another major driver of out-of-home entertainment spending this year, and a recorded and edited version of the concert is now available in movie theaters nationwide. The film was distributed by AMC Theatres, and although it played at all major cinemas, the visit impact appears mostly confined to the AMC chain (see first chart above). During the first week of its release (October 9th to 15th), AMC’s share of combined visits to AMC, Regal, and Cinemark jumped to 49.6% – up from a 41.0%-43.3% relative share during the previous 14 weeks. 

It’s not completely clear why The Eras Tour movie brought such a major boost to AMC but not to the other two chains. Due to the publicized nature of Taylor Swift’s AMC distribution deal, some fans may have mistakenly assumed that the movie would only be showing at AMC venues. AMC may have also had an easier time accommodating the “surprise” October 12th early showing, giving the chain an advantage in catering to the early viewers. Either way, AMC’s outsize piece of the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour pie – both from the distribution deal and from its significant ticket sales – highlights one more path that movie theater chains can take to remain relevant in 2023. 

Movie Theaters Continuing Slow and Steady Comeback

The pandemic may feel like a faraway dream for many consumers, but COVID’s impact continues to be felt in various sectors, including movie theaters. But recent data indicates that the category is slowly and steadily making a comeback, as blockbuster after blockbuster reveals the still-strong appetite for in-cinema entertainment. With a slew of highly anticipated releases scheduled for the next few months, it appears that movie theaters – like other sectors that have been consistently written off – will continue meeting consumer demand for out-of-home entertainment in 2024 and beyond. 

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