Thanksgiving weekend has historically seen a plethora of movies for moviegoers to get out of the house and kick back after feasting on copious amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie.
But this year the movie slate is pretty sparse. The North American box office has few new movies this weekend, which are likely to attract tons of box-goers.
Strange World, Disney’s new animated film about a family of explorers, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is expected to gross just about $30 million domestically over the five-day holiday weekend — a nice if muted opening. Another Disney film, Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is now entering its second week and is set to gross around $40 million domestically over the holiday weekend. It has grossed $552 million so far.
The chalkboard is a far cry from the Thanksgiving weekends of yore. Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest times of year for cinemas, as in many ways it kicks off the lucrative Christmas box office season — much like Memorial Day weekend kicks off summer. For example, movies like “Creed,” “Moana,” and “Knives Out” aired on Thanksgiving weekends and did well.
So what happened to Thanksgiving this year? Blame Covid again.
“The impact of the pandemic, both in terms of production disruptions and shifts in the release calendar, has pretty much lightened the table for cinematic appetizers,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore (SCOR), told CNN Business.
Supply chain issues in Hollywood have hampered film productions throughout the year. Ticket sales have been strong over the summer thanks to hits like Top Gun: Maverick, but big new releases have been hard to find in recent months. “Wakanda Forever” is another notable exception, grossing a record $180 million earlier this month, but otherwise it’s been pretty quiet at the Cineplex.
The lack of major releases explains why domestic box offices are down 32% so far this year compared to pre-pandemic 2019. The number of publications on 2,000 screens or more has decreased by 36%.
Holidays like Thanksgiving are important to theaters because “they act as a calendar-based touchstone” that audiences may associate as “a sort of prime time,” Dergarabedian added.
“That’s when the biggest and brightest movies come out, and Thanksgiving is certainly one of those time frames that has developed that kind of identity over the years,” he said. “It would be a shame for Thanksgiving to end up as another marginalized holiday season, like Labor Day weekend.”
But the 2022 holidays aren’t over yet, and thanks to James Cameron and his sequel to ‘Avatar’ – the biggest blockbuster in cinema history – there’s hope on the horizon.
Avatar: The Way of Water, which launches December 16, could spark a surge in admissions to help the industry end the year on a high. The Cameron film is the first since the 2009 original, and there are some questions as to whether this very expensive film can attract the same type of audience. Others argue: You’re betting against the director of Titanic, Terminator, and Aliens at your own risk.
As for Thanksgiving, Dergarabedian hopes the holiday will make a comeback as the theater industry normalizes.
“This is likely a temporary shift and the result of challenging market dynamics over the past two and a half years,” he said. “Thanksgiving will once again be one of the most important cinema weeks of the year.”