Apple & Amazon “Very Pleased” With Theatrical Box Office Results, Cinemark CEO Sean Gamble Says; Streaming And Concert Films Could Soon Give Theaters “More Content Than Ever”

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Cinemark CEO Sean Gamble said Apple and Amazon, two behemoths of the tech world but newcomers to the wide-release movie business, are so far “very pleased” with their results.

During a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss third-quarter results, the major exhibitor boss said Cinemark’s conversations with the two tech firms indicate they remain firmly committed to theatrical releases. “There’s real value they see in this space,” he said. (Netflix, though it continues to invest aggressively in original films, has pursued more limited theatrical rollouts.)

Amazon, which acquired MGM in 2022, plans eight to 12 wide releases a year, Gamble said, with Creed III and Air among its recent titles.

Apple, meanwhile, is “really just getting going,” the CEO said. “They had been operating on a slightly smaller level, and now they’re in business with major filmmakers. They’ve got three huge releases over the next five months, meaning Killers of the Flower Moon, Napoleon and Argylle. All are reaching theaters through distribution partnerships with major studios, but unlike Coda or past Apple films, the trio will spend several weeks in theaters before streaming on Apple TV+.

Killers of the Flower Moon, which opened on October 20, just crossed $100 million at the global box office, with a bit less than half of that tally from the U.S. Air last spring took in roughly $90 million. Given the hefty budgets of each, the receipts don’t suggest profitability based solely on theatrical, but the splash they both made in terms of publicity, awards buzz and marketing offers a potent engine for streaming. New film releases have been proven assets for customer acquisition and viewer engagement.

The influx of streaming titles, in fact, plus a likely wave of Taylor Swift-inspired concert movies, could more than make up for recent shrinkage in traditional studio pipelines. “We clearly see a scenario where two to three years out, we could be looking at more content than ever, more releases than we’ve ever seen in the marketplace,” Gamble said.

The exec’s comments followed the release of stellar financials for the third quarter, which saw the releases of Barbie, Oppenheimer and other hits. Earnings soared above Wall Street expectations, while revenue set a company record and even rose 6% above pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

One species of streaming-related release is not expected to grow, in Gamble’s view: day-and-date titles like Five Nights at Freddy’s. Despite being available on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service the same day it debuted in theaters, the Blumhouse video game adaptation still set a Halloween record with an $80 million bow.

Gamble said Five Nights is the only wide release out of the 89 thus far in 2023 that has simultaneously premiered on a subscription streaming outlet. The day-and-date boom of 2020 and 2021 was prompted by Covid, which caused lengthy shutdowns of theaters and left health-and-safety questions lingering as pricey new releases entered the starting gate. Studios turned to the practice in order to try to get some return on their investments, though Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney both incurred backlash and have since backtracked, shifting more weight to theatrical.

“It’s not something that we favor, by any stretch,” Gamble said of day-and-date. “It’s clearly something that has been tested and, quite frankly, it didn’t work. Our studio partners recognize that. They tried it. They’ve seen that the best way to drive and maximize value for their financial assets and maximize promotional impact is with a theatrical window. And there’s no real indication of moving back in that direction.”

Five Nights at Freddy’s was “somewhat of a unique circumstance,” Gamble said. “Nobody thought that this was going to become the Gen Z phenomenon that it became.”

Flexibility on windowing has helped ease concerns about the need for day-and-date, Gamble added. Cinemark and other exhibitors struck deals providing for theatrical engagements as limited as 17 days, though much longer than that for successful films. That’s a significant change from the previously rigid stance on two-and-a-half-month windows for theatrical runs.

Cinemark execs were pressed throughout the call for their outlook on 2024 and 2025 given release date shuffles caused by the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. While recent news about constructive talks has made him “cautiously optimistic” about a settlement in the near term, Gamble said there is limited visibility on release dates and volume in the near term. “We’re still in a waiting game to see how the schedule plays out,” he said.

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