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Major exhibitors have begun to react to a box office recovery possibly being upturned by the omicron variant’s emergence.
“We’re hoping for the best and planning for the worst,” Richard Gelfond, CEO of giant-screen exhibitor Imax, told the Wells Fargo Virtual TMT Summit on Wednesday. Gelfond said vaccines, including booster shots, may either prove effective at fending off the new and heavily mutated coronavirus variant, which has now reached the U.S., or not.
“It’s either good news or it’s bad news,” Gelfond said, adding that Imax has balance sheet muscle, which includes $500 million in liquidity, to survive any theater closures or box office setbacks that may follow in the wake of the omicron variant.
Sean Gamble, president of Cinemark, told the Wells Fargo investor conference that consumer confidence about moviegoing before the omicron emergence was strong, and he didn’t foresee any major impact on holiday moviegoing.
“We’ll have to wait and see on that. We’re looking at the rest of December being a very strong movie cycle. We’re seeing some really good enthusiasm about the films that are coming out,” Gamble argued as investors raise concerns over the latest threat to the economic recovery from the pandemic.
The omicron variant has been detected in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany and other major theatrical markets worldwide and follows two years of shutdowns, cinema closures and box office collapse before the recent box office recovery for the exhibition industry.
Over the five-day Thanksgiving corridor last week, traditionally a busy box office frame, domestic grosses stood at $142 million, which was off from $263 million at a comparable time in 2019, per Comscore.
The big test case may be Sony and Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, which debuts Dec. 17. Both AMC Theatres, the biggest global circuit, and Cinemark disclosed on Nov. 30 that advance ticket sales were the second-biggest totals for the chains, following 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.
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