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US theatres kick off 2021 with hopes of erasing worst year on record

Cinemas that survive may even get to enjoy a windfall, as a backlog of highly anticipated movies is released

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Analysts and studios expect the top-performing films over the recent weekend to be those that were released weeks ago, including Wonder Woman 1984 (above) and The Croods: A New Age.

Los Angeles

CRIPPLED by pandemic-driven cinema closures, customer fears and a dearth of new movies last year, the US box office is certainly hoping for a better year in 2021.

Things are already off to a rocky start. Analysts and studios expect the top-performing films over the recent weekend to be those that were released weeks ago, including Wonder Woman 1984 and The Croods: A New Age.

Two-thirds of US theatres are closed, and the few new, small-budget movies that do come out in limited fashion are unlikely to drum up enough demand for venues to financially justify reopening.

Instead, the plan is to hang on until better days - likely not before April or later - when big-budget fare will be released again.

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Cinemas that survive may even get to enjoy a windfall, as a backlog of highly anticipated movies is released to movie-lovers who have missed the smell of cinema popcorn and the spectacle of watching shows on the big screen instead of at home.

"We are going to go into this new year with a lot of hope," said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore. "There are a lot of great movies on the way, but we have to have a safe and healthy environment in which to see them."

The recent weekend saw no new wide releases in the US. Warner Bros' Wonder Woman 1984, released on Dec 25 in cinemas and for no additional cost on HBO Max, is likely to top the box office, according to an analysis by BoxOffice Pro.

The film outperformed the AT&T-owned studio's expectations on its opening weekend, earning US$16.7 million, but ticket sales have fallen precipitously, likely due to its availability on streaming and weak reviews.

Movies from other large studios are expected to continue generating ticket sales, long after their premieres. Universal Pictures' The Croods: A New Age, which was released Nov 25, may generate more than US$2 million in domestic box-office revenue over the weekend, followed by another film from Comcast's studio, News of the World.

There are signs that when the business does restart, pent-up demand for new films could undo some of the damage of 2020, in which box-office receipts fell 80 per cent compared with a year earlier. In Asia, cinemas have largely reopened and are setting records.

Hollywood studios plan to release a deluge of delayed major films, from a new James Bond installment to the long-awaited Marvel Comics movie Black Widow.

"We are looking at a 2021 that is loaded with hit movies," Mr Dergarabedian said. "We just have to hope that the theatres are available and that the audiences show up." BLOOMBERG

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