U.S. Exhibitors Bullish Over 2016 Box Office Prospects

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'

Top execs like Imax CEO Richard Gelfond see a strong year ahead with tentpole releases for 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' and 'Captain America: Civil War.'

2015, a record year for Hollywood box office thanks to performers like Jurassic World and Furious 7, will be a hard act to follow.

But theater owners and operators on Thursday were bullish about their 2016 prospects at the multiplex as they predicted big hauls from Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War, on top of hopefully unexpected hits. "The more and more 2016 has come together, the more impressive it looks," exhibition giant Cinemark CFO Sean Gamble told the MKM Partners Entertainment, Leisure & Internet Conference in New York.

"There's a lot of strong content out there. It's to be seen what happens. Ultimately, if the films are good, that will drive people to go to the box office," he added. Regal Entertainment Group CFO David Ownby also liked what he sees looking to next year. 

He told the MKM Partners conference the box-office outlook for 2016 was "looking a lot like 2015," before adding: "We think about the business as very stable" long-term despite annual drops or increases in box office.

Overall, Ownby said it was "hard not to be excited about being in the movie business." For Imax CEO Richard Gelfond, much will turn on the box office performance in January with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which hits theaters on Dec. 18.

"We're a huge percentage of advance ticket sales (for Star Wars) ... close to a third of the U.S. market. If January goes well, that will determine a lot of 2016," Gelfond predicted. Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi said next year may benefit from release dates for movies moved from this year to 2016, just as the 2015 box office take grew after movies were moved to this year from the studios' 2014 slate.

At the same time, the 2016 release slate will also be impacted by changes in release dates for movies like Avatar 2, which shifted to December 2017 from December 2016. "You never know which one will break out, which one will be a Straight Outta Compton, which one will perform like a Furious 7, which one will get moved like The Good Dinosaur, which got moved from one year to the next," Zoradi said.

Asked about exhibitors’ and especially Regal’s relationship with Hollywood studios, Ownby said: "The relationship is generally very good," adding Regal also feels that "a healthy eco-system" was good for everyone. The Regal CFO did acknowledge that people may hear about "minor skirmishes on the fringes."

But Ownby stressed the relationship overall between studios and cinema chains was "very, very good." Cinemark CEO Zoradi, also asked about studio relationships, said they are "in one of those stable periods. It's never perfect, but we have good relations relative to our commercial deals."

He added Cinemark has multiyear deals with the studios, allowing both partners to effectively promote movie releases. "There's always going to be some commercial issues coming up and we're going to solve them. And we both have the same mutual interests at the end of the day, and that is to put consumers into those seats and generate box office and split it up."

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