Thanksgiving was a cinematic holiday. This year? Thin pickings

New York
CNN Business

Thanksgiving weekend has always offered a slew of movies, allowing moviegoers to get out of the house and relax after eating copious amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes and pie.

But this year, the movie menu is pretty sparse. The North American box office has few new movies this weekend that are likely to attract tons of moviegoers.

“Strange World,” Disney’s new animated film about a family of explorers featuring the voice work of Jake Gyllenhaal, is expected to gross just around $30 million domestically over the weekend of five-day vacation – a nice, albeit muted, opening. But early box office results for Wednesday and Thursday indicate that “Strange World” is likely to meet even those initial expectations.

Another Disney movie, Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” is now in its second week and is expected to earn the holiday weekend with around $40 million domestically. He’s made $552 million so far.

The slate is a far cry from the Thanksgiving weekends of yore. Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest times of year for movie theaters, as in many ways it kicks off the profitable holiday box office season – similar to how the weekend Memorial Day weekend ushers in summer. For example, movies like “Creed,” “Moana,” and “Knives Out” opened on Thanksgiving weekend and did well.

So what happened to Thanksgiving this year? Again, blame Covid.

“The impact of the pandemic, both in terms of production disruption and reshuffling of the release schedule, has left the table quite light on theatrical entries,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore ( SCOR), to CNN Business.

Supply chain issues in Hollywood hampered film productions throughout the year. Summer ticket sales over the summer have been strong thanks to hits like “Top Gun: Maverick,” but big new releases have been hard to come by in recent months. “Wakanda Forever” is another notable exception, having notched a record $180 million earlier this month, but otherwise it’s been pretty quiet at the cineplex.

The dearth of big new releases helps explain why the domestic box office is down 32% so far this year compared to 2019 before the pandemic. The number of releases on 2,000 screens or more is down 36%.

Holidays like Thanksgiving are important to theaters because “they act as a calendar-based touchstone,” which audiences have come to associate as a “kind of prime time,” Dergarabedian added.

“That’s when the biggest and brightest movies come out, and Thanksgiving is definitely one of those times that has developed that kind of identity over the years,” said- he declared. “It would be a shame for Thanksgiving to end as another marginalized holiday period, like Labor Day weekend.”

But the holidays of 2022 aren’t over yet and there’s hope on the horizon thanks to James Cameron and his sequel to ‘Avatar’ – the biggest blockbuster in movie history.

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” which opens Dec. 16, could spark a wave of movies to help the industry end the year with a bang. Cameron’s film is the first since the 2009 original, and one wonders if this very expensive film can attract the same kind of audience. Others argue: we bet against the director of “Titanic”, “The Terminator” and “Aliens” at his own risk.

As for Thanksgiving, Dergarabedian hopes that as the theater industry normalizes, the holidays will make a comeback.

“This is likely a temporary change and the result of difficult market dynamics over the past two and a half years,” he said. “Thanksgiving will once again become one of the most important movie weeks of the year.”


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