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At Their Annual Convention, Theater Owners Celebrate The Return Of Moviegoers

A large group of medium-sized bags of popcorn on the counter of a movie theater. A man with light-tone skin is seen in the background working behind the counter, alongside a popcorn machine, a small Dasani-branded refrigerator with a clear front showing Dasani water inside, and other movie theater concession stand equipment.
A view of a concession stand serving soft drinks and popcorn.
(Joe Corrigan
Getty Images for Universal Music)
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At the start of the very first studio presentation at CinemaCon on Monday, the annual convention of movie theater owners in Las Vegas, the sound system blasted the Elton John song I’m Still Standing. 

The point also could have been made by playing Queen’s The Show Must Go On, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ or, perhaps most fitting, Monty Python’s I’m Not Dead Yet. 

After the pandemic devastated the theatrical business and killed off exhibitors both big and small, movie theater owners and studio executives at CinemaCon say the worst is over.

The convention’s opening panel, in fact, was called “Movie Theaters Aren’t Going Anywhere.”

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In it, Jeffrey Cole, the director of USC’s Center for the Digital Future, said that despite the rise of streaming and fall of per-capita multiplex attendance, recent global hits like Top Gun: Maverick, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Avatar: The Way of Water and The Super Mario Bros. Movie prove there’s still huge theatrical demand.

“There cannot be billion dollar movies without theaters,” he said.

Sony Pictures say they 'held fast'

Sony Pictures hosted the opening studio presentation; the studio showed previews and entire scenes from its upcoming slate, including Napoleon, Bad Boys 4, The Equalizer 3 and Kraven the Hunter, among other titles.

Tom Rothman, the CEO of the Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, scolded some of the journalists in attendance along with thousands of exhibitors, saying, “For the past three years, as the punditocracy pissed on your business, we at Sony held fast. We were the only major studio devoted entirely to theatrical.”

Rothman failed to mention that Sony is also the only major studio without its own streaming service, so it’s not as if the studio could release its movies any other way.

What are the prospects for a full recovery?

Still, there are plenty of signs a full recovery isn’t likely. Ten years ago the average domestic moviegoer went to the multiplex about four times a year.

Now, it’s half that, and the downward trend was clearly visible before COVID.

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Even though last years’ box office revenues were much better than those of 2021, they’re still down about 37% from the last full year before the pandemic, 2019.

But thanks to films like The Super Mario Bros. Movie, this year’s box-office projections are getting rosier.

On Sunday, a London-based research firm called Gower Street Analytics projected that global box office revenue could reach $32 billion this year, which is up from an earlier projection of $29 billion.

And that means the rest of CinemaCon — and the future of exhibition, too — might unfold like so many of those feel-good underdog sports movies: The team does much better than past seasons, but it doesn’t win the championship.

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