The week of Thanksgiving is typically a robust time at the box office, as parents with small children flock to cinemas to see new animated features and families seek out the latest blockbuster films that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Covid-19 kept many moviegoers away from theaters last Thanksgiving, leading the box office to deliver its worst performance during the November holiday in decades. However, with vaccination rates on the rise and the recent approval of a vaccine for kids aged five to 11, there is hope that the box office will see significant improvements this year.
“This Thanksgiving will be the first time many families have been able to safely get together since the start of the pandemic, and it’s also the time of year when the most casual of moviegoers often head out to cinemas with their loved ones,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.
Robbins noted that health conscious consumers may still opt to avoid crowded public spaces.
“Still, with how well the box office has rebounded so far this year, we could see a very positive turnout at movie theaters resembling something much closer to pre-Covid holiday seasons than the industry saw twelve months ago.”
In the last decade, the five-day Thanksgiving spread — consisting of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through Sunday — has resulted in more than $250 million in ticket sales each year, according to data from Comscore. The only two years that didn’t hit this threshold were 2011 and 2014, but the box office tally still surpassed $230 million in each case.
Last year, the five-day Thanksgiving box office generated just $21.4 million.
“The Thanksgiving holiday frame in theaters will be exponentially stronger in 2021 than a year ago when the pandemic put the brakes on this traditionally massive moviegoing corridor,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
“The good news for movie theaters is that this year, the Thanksgiving frame will benefit from an excellent slate of interesting movies, a solid five days of holiday fueled moviegoing and, very importantly, a much more vaccinated population,” he said. “In particular, children, whose parents should feel confident and comfortable to take the entire family out to the multiplex.”
All eyes are on Disney’s “Encanto,” which opens Wednesday. The company has long used Thanksgiving as the week to launch new animated titles from its Disney Animation and Pixar studios. Last year marked the first time in five years that Disney did not release a new animated feature during the holiday.
The company has consistently been a top performer in terms of ticket sales during this holiday weekend, as well. Films like “Tangled,” “Frozen,” “Moana,” “Coco,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Frozen II” were all well received by audiences and had strong openings.
Box office analysts are optimistic that more families will head to cinemas compared with last year, but don’t expect the same ticket sales seen in pre-pandemic times.
“Yes, as more kids get fully vaccinated and as more adults get vaccinated or get their boosters, I’m hopeful that our lives can return to normal,” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, a professor in the departments of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
The rollout of vaccines for children is still in its early stages. Around 10% of the 28 million children aged five to 11 in the U.S. have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Rasmussen said. Children are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose.
So, while some parents might feel emboldened to return to cinemas having given their children their first dosage of the vaccine, others may hold off until their children are fully vaccinated, said Dr. Simon Li, an associated professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Li works as a site principal investigator for Pfizer’s Covid vaccine trial in children and called the approval of vaccinations for kids a “huge deal.”
He noted that studies have shown that this age group has been transmitting much of the disease and vaccinating them against it could help stem some of the spread.
“You can still pass infection, it’s just so much lower and so much safer,” he said of children getting vaccinated. “But, people should definitely have confidence going out seeing movies and enjoying life.”
Other films being released this week include “House of Gucci,” “Licorice Pizza” and “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.” There is much interest in “House of Gucci” and “Licorice Pizza” as potential Academy Award nominees, which could drive older moviegoers out to cinemas during the five-day Thanksgiving period.
Additionally, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is entering its second week in theaters and could entice families with older children or nostalgic adults to venture out to theaters after their Thanksgiving feasts.
Box office analysts are expecting the five-day Thanksgiving period to generate between $100 million and $150 million in ticket sales.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is a distributor of “House of Gucci” and “Licorice Pizza.”