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Peeking Behind The Curtain: Movie Theaters in 2023 and Beyond

by 
Bracha Arnold
 on 
February 28, 2024
Peeking Behind The Curtain: Movie Theaters in 2023 and Beyond

The U.S. box office had a particularly strong 2023. Barbenheimer was the word out of everyone’s mouths over the summer, but other films like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and The Super Mario Bros. helped boost both sales and visits. 

How was the overall theater performance compared to 2022 and 2019? Who’s visiting these chains? And what can cinemas do to boost visits during lulls? We take a closer look at location intelligence for the three major theaters – AMC, Regal Cinemas, and Cinemark – to find out.

Lights, Camera, Action

Last year started on a high note, likely related to the strong box office performance of “Avatar: The Way of Water” (which may have also caused January 2024’s visit lag in comparison).  

The “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” release in April helped spike visits further, with foot traffic to AMC, Regal Cinemas, and Cinemark increasing by 43.2%, 36.2%, and 40.8%, respectively. And July brought with it two of the most successful movie releases of all time –  “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” – which topped box office charts for weeks. 

Both films were released in late July, with the massive August visit spikes showing the full power of the two movies. “The Taylor Swift: Eras Tour” movie release in October also boosted visits, though AMC and Cinemark appear to have been the primary beneficiaries of the Swifty-driven foot traffic increase. 

The Show Must Go On

Year-over-four-year (Yo4Y) foot traffic trends offer a broader picture of how out-of-home entertainment is faring. The pandemic forced many movie theaters to shut their doors as social distancing guidelines made going to the movies impossible. In tandem, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime became major movie studios in their own right. 

The increase in at-home entertainment may have something to do with the overall Yo4Y decline in movie theater visits. Despite last year’s success, foot traffic data shows that fewer people are visiting theaters in 2023 than in 2019. Some of the dip is likely due to the chains’ rightsizing, with both AMC and Regal downsizing their fleet in recent years. But the success of this past summer’s blockbusters still brought visits to the two chains close to pre-pandemic numbers – and drove a positive Yo4Y visit surge to Cinemark – indicating that the right feature film can still draw crowds to cinemas nationwide.

Family Film Fans

A closer look at the psychographic characteristics of visitors to the three movie theater chains reveals that families are overrepresented in the chains’ trade areas, while young professionals are underrepresented: Consumer segments identified by the Spatial.ai: PersonaLive dataset as “Ultra Wealthy Families” and “Wealthy Suburban Families” were more prevalent in the theaters’ captured* markets than in their potential markets, while “Young Professionals” were less prevalent. With some analysts lamenting the death of superhero movies, movie studios looking for the next big idea may want to invest in more family-friendly films to cater to these theater-going family segments. 

*A chain’s captured market weighs each CBG according to the actual number of visits originating to the chain from that CBG. A chain’s potential market refers to the population residing in a given trade area, weighted to reflect the number of households in each Census Block Group (CBG) comprising the trade area. A chain’s captured market weighs each CBG according to the actual number of visits originating to the chain from that CBG. 

The Power of Discounts 

Unsurprisingly, movie theaters were busiest on the weekends – Saturday and Sunday received the lion's share of visits across all analyzed cinema chains, followed by Fridays. But the busiest non-Friday or weekend day was Tuesday – likely thanks to the theater chains’ "Discount Tuesday" special. 

Cinemark experienced the largest Tuesday surge – with 12.6% of its weekly visits occurring on its discount day – perhaps due to the company’s decision to extend its discount to non-club members. AMC and Regal also received more visits on Tuesdays than they did during every other weekday (except for Friday).  

As theaters continue to find creative ways to remain competitive in the evolving world of entertainment, “Discount Tuesdays” underscore the significance of a good deal when looking to drive visits to theaters. 

That’s A Wrap

Movie theater visits exceeded all expectations in 2023 as film enthusiasts flocked to watch any number of major box-office releases. Will this momentum continue into 2024? 

Follow placer.ai for more data-driven entertainment insights. 

This blog includes data from Placer.ai Data Version 2.0, which implements improvements to our extrapolation capabilities, adds short visit monitoring, and enhances visit detection.

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