US Movie Theater Chains Open On The Heels Of Modest Canadian Success

"The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" has opened in Canadian theaters. (Photo Credit: Paramount Animation)

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The "Spongebob Squarepants" theme song opens with the admonishment, "I can't hear you!" The same could be said for Canadian box office results for a new movie based on the cartoon character who lives in a pineapple under the sea, but the ticket sales nevertheless show some moviegoers don't fear the multiplex.

With most U.S. chains still padlocked by the pandemic, a handful of high-profile films nevertheless have opened in North American theaters, largely in Canada. Major exhibitors operating in our neighbor to the north began opening last weekend, showing two new releases — "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" and Russell Crowe's "Unhinged."

The ticket sales certainly weren't impressive on an absolute scale, as most Canadian auditoriums are operating at 50% capacity, with the rest of the admissions coming from drive-ins. The "SpongeBob" film grossed an estimated $865,000 in 300 Canadian locations, while "Unhinged" took in $601,000 in one fewer location.

But the turnout was still an encouraging sign, as AMC, the world's biggest theater owner, begins opening the doors at about 100 of its U.S. locations today after five months without customers.


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"If the pandemic taught us anything, people want to get out of their houses and apartments," AMC CEO Adam Aron said on CNBC this week. "If somebody told me I could go to a hardware store for three hours, I'd say, What an exciting afternoon!"

AMC, which is restarting by charging 15 cents for screenings of older films (on opening day only), hopes to have about two-thirds of its theaters open by Sept. 3, when Christopher Nolan's delayed "Tenet" is set to premiere. Regal, the nation's second largest chain, also is opening some of its venues this weekend. (None, for either chain, are in California, where they remain closed by state order.)

Crowe's "Unhinged," from the new independent company Solstice Studios, is set to open in domestic theaters on Friday. The "Spongebob" movie, from Paramount Pictures, will bypass an American theatrical release and instead debut on video-on-demand channels before moving to the CBS All Access streaming platform.

Among the other films that are scheduled to have limited theatrical releases in the coming weeks: "The Personal History of David Copperfield"; "The New Mutants"; "Bill & Ted Face the Music"; and "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It."

Meanwhile, the National Association of Theatre Owners will unveil on Friday a new marketing campaign in an attempt to persuade consumers that it's safe to return to the multiplex.