The death of movie theaters has been greatly exaggerated. What exactly their new life will look like in a post-pandemic world remains to be seen.

A solid box office since early September has rekindled hopes for a sector once considered to be among the continuing victims of the pandemic. Walt disney‘s

SAY 0.66%

Marvel’s latest installment, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” has grossed more than $ 206 million domestically since its launch on September 3. Sony‘s

SONY -0.24%

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” – based on another Marvel character – opened for $ 90 million gross last weekend. And the much delayed James Bond “No Time to Die” by MGM MGM 1.01%

grossed $ 121 million in its first international markets ahead of its domestic release next weekend.

It puts investors in line. Cinemark CNK shares 3.56%

and IMAX IMAX 1.89%

have jumped 27% and 34%, respectively, since Shang-Chi’s release. AMC Entertainment AMC 0.79%

lost 16% during this period, but the new status of the world’s largest cinema operator as a ‘stock meme’ has left it more exposed to recent market turmoil that has generally taken riskier names breathless. .

The recent trend suggests that audiences will always look to the big movies, especially when there are no other options. “Shang-Chi” notably outperformed the domestic take of $ 184 million for “Black Widow” despite the latter film being on the market for an additional two months and based on a much more well-known Marvel character. Disney released “Black Widow” simultaneously in theaters and as a premium offer on its Disney + streaming service, but the performance of “Shang-Chi” seems to have made an impression. Disney announced on September 10 that its remaining movie slate for 2021 would launch in theaters first.

However, the theatrical business faces certain obstacles. Sales remain well below normal; Domestic box office revenue in the third quarter, which was largely free from restrictions related to the pandemic, was 51% lower than the same period in 2019, according to Box Office Mojo. This is largely due to a lighter slate, as the quarter saw 55% fewer releases than the same period in 2019. And many studios now have their own continuous outlets to feed investors. rewarding them for the change. Disney, which has produced the vast majority of high-grossing blockbusters over the past five years, revamped operations last year to focus more on streaming.

Thus, the remaining films slated for theaters this year have yet to attract significant numbers for their creators to remain sold in the exhibition market. Disney’s ‘Eternals’ and ‘Encanto’ in November will be key titles to watch, especially the latter, as family-oriented films still haven’t done well in today’s market, possibly due to a lack of vaccination options for young adolescents and children. Sony, one of the few major studios without a streaming release, has a new Spider-Man episode plus “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” on the way. And a big question mark still hangs over AT & T’s “Dune” and “Matrix Resurrections”‘s

T 0.37%

WarnerMedia, given the studio’s decision late last year to put its entire 2021 theatrical list on its HBO Max service on the same day.

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down every AMC theater for months. But the pandemic isn’t the only thing pushing the company onto financially fragile ground. Photo illustration: Jacob Reynolds / WSJ

That leaves a lot of work for Mr. Bond. The film franchise based on the character created by Ian Fleming in 1953 is the fifth biggest grosser in terms of the global box office, according to industry monitoring site The Numbers. But the James Bond films still don’t have as wide an appeal as Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises. A single Bond film, 2012’s “Skyfall,” grossed over $ 1 billion worldwide, compared to nine Marvel films that topped that mark. Bond movies are also fewer and more widely spaced, and the six-year span since 2015’s “Specter” is the longest hiatus for the franchise since the early ’90s. That will make “No Time to Die” the star. first release of the drinker and womanizer superspy of the “Me Too” era.

But going to the movies isn’t completely out of fashion just yet, and movie theater owners are praying that Mr. Bond isn’t either.

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Write to Dan Gallagher at [email protected]

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