Thanksgiving weekend traditionally offered a plethora of movies, allowing moviegoers to get out of the house and kick back after eating copious amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie.
But this year the movie menu is quite sparse. The North American box office has few new movies this weekend that are likely to draw huge moviegoers.
“Strange World,” Disney’s new animated movie 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. But early box office results from Wednesday and Thursday indicate that “Strange World” will likely fall even below those initial expectations.
Another Disney movie, Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” is now in its second week and will take home the holiday weekend with about $40 million domestically. It has earned $552 million to date.
The slate is a far cry from Thanksgiving weekends of old. Thanksgiving is usually one of the busiest times of the year for movie theaters because in many ways it marks the start of the profitable holiday box office season — similar to how 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 shuffling the release calendar, has left the table fairly light for cinematic entrées,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore (SCOR), told CNN Business.
Supply chain issues in Hollywood hamper movie productions year-round. Summer ticket sales during the summer have been strong thanks to hits like “Top Gun: Maverick,” but major new releases have been hard to come by in recent months. “Wakanda Forever” is another notable exception, grossing a record $180 million earlier this month, but otherwise it’s been pretty quiet in theaters.
The lack of major new releases helps explain why domestic box office sales are down 32% so far this year compared to pre-pandemic 2019. 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.
“This is when the biggest and brightest movies are on the market, and Thanksgiving is definitely one of those timeframes that has developed that kind of identity over the years,” he said. “It would be a shame if Thanksgiving ended up as yet another marginalized holiday season, like Labor Day weekend.”
But the 2022 holiday season isn’t over yet and hope is on the horizon thanks to James Cameron and his sequel to ‘Avatar’ – the biggest blockbuster in movie history.
“Avatar: The Way of Water,” which premieres December 16, could unleash a wave of moviegoing to help the industry end the year on a high note. Cameron’s film is the first since the 2009 original, and there are some question marks over whether this exorbitant film can attract the same type of audience. Others argue: one bets against the director of ‘Titanic’, ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Aliens’ at their own risk.
As for Thanksgiving, Dergarabedian hopes that as the theater industry normalizes, the holiday will make a comeback.
“This is likely a temporary shift and a result of the challenging market dynamics of the past two and a half years,” he said. “Thanksgiving will rise again as one of the most important movie theater weeks of the year.”