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Blockbuster variety makes for 'healthy ecosphere' for theaters

Box Office Pro Chief Analyst Shawn Robbins discusses the summer's upcoming big budget movies.

Video transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, blockbusters are back. This summer is jam full of big budget movies, ranging from family films to star-studded action flicks. This holiday weekend, Disney's live action "Little Mermaid" will be the big movie hitting theaters. Joining me now Shawn Robbins, Chief Analyst at Box Office Pro, as well as our very own, Allie Canal.

Shawn, you know, it feels like every year, we're sort of ramping up to 2019 levels, but we're still well below theater attendance when we think about where things were in pre-pandemic times. Are these the names that are finally going to get people back?

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SHAWN ROBBINS: It's creeping ever so closer, it seems like. And, you know, I think this is the kind of week in the industry has really been looking forward to. "The Little Mermaid" is going to be a huge draw, especially I think for moms and daughters over the holiday. An audience that's really been underserved in recent months, recent years, to be honest.

But at the same time, we have the second weekend of "Fast X". "Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3" has done really well and had great word of mouth. That's a great variety of content to have on not just a big holiday weekend, but effectively the start of summer vacation for a lot of kids. And that's going to build into what looks like a really strong June and July slate as well.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And, Shawn, I want to pick up on that point because you wrote in your preview that driving optimism is the pent up demand for a female-driven tentpole. How important is it to have different genres and different types of movies rather than the same old Marvel, Avatar, superhero films that we seem to have gotten used to?

SHAWN ROBBINS: It's priceless for the industry because, you know, look everybody loves their superheroes, but we want to see-- we want to see a variety of content. Like, if families go out to see "Mario", but at the same time adults go out to see "John Wick". That was the narrative. "Creed III" over the spring.

We see more of that because that contributes to an overall healthy ecosphere for theaters, for studios, when everybody has something they feel like they want to go see, whether you're a young kid or maybe you're in your my age or older, my parents' age.

And we have more of those movies this summer because everything from Marvel to "Little Mermaid" to "Oppenheimer" and "Mission Impossible", the spectrum is really covered.

AKIKO FUJITA: You know, Shawn, we were talking about some of the movies coming out this summer-- the summer in our meeting today. And I can tell you, I had a bit of a flashback because it feels like, whether it's Transformers, you know, "Little Mermaid", "Indiana Jones", I mean, these are all names that we have heard before. Yes, they are in different iterations. But I mean, are we to the point where studios find them as safer bets here because it feels like there's a lot of remakes.

SHAWN ROBBINS: It's true. And I think franchises have been the lifeblood of the box office for many years, even before the pandemic. It certainly trended in that direction. And that is the reality. They are the cash cows. They are the reliable brands. This is a risk-- a risk-averse industry. The studios want to invest in what they perceive as the easiest winners, even among winners that are not always easy to generate. And it's created, I think, a cry for more original content.

I mentioned "Oppenheimer", that will be one of the few high profile examples of such original content this summer, even though it's based on a real person. But essentially it's original film. But at the same time, you know, I think we can still look to the positive side of a lot of these franchise movies have really been well made recently. Things like "John Wick" and "Creed" have been beloved by critics and audiences.

So the upside, I guess, the glass half full aspect of this is, even though there is still a demand for more original content, maybe something like "Everything Everywhere All at Once" last year, some of these bigger IP films and franchises are at least being treated with the care that I think audiences want to see, at least more often than not.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And, Shawn, we were just talking about MoviePass launching nationwide just in time for the summer box office season. What are your thoughts on the return of MoviePass? Could it make a difference domestically here at the box office?

SHAWN ROBBINS: It's going to be fascinating to watch. I hesitate to make too many predictions just because it's been such an interesting journey over the last decade for that company. But I think it in broad terms speaks to what people are looking for. And subscription services have really become the name of the game for every household during the streaming age.

To apply that to movie theaters and to already see exhibition chains with, such as AMC's a-list doing well. Regal has their own as well, over the last few years with similar restructurings. I think there's still an opening here for MoviePass and maybe even other competitors in the future. It's just about getting that model and making it and fine tuning it in a way that works not just for the company financially, but also for consumers from a practical standpoint.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And we have the Hollywood writers strike, it's ongoing. No end in sight at this point. Experts have said it likely won't impact the 2023 box office, but depending on how long this goes. 2024 could potentially be impacted. How much of a risk are you viewing a strike, especially since that production pipeline is so important to the box office?

SHAWN ROBBINS: That's a great question, Allie. And it is something I think that is kind of a looming minor concern, but it becomes a bigger concern with each passing week that the strike goes on. And that's just kind of the reality of the industry. We have to look at the time tables, the lead time for productions on, especially major films. As you mentioned it shouldn't have much impact on 2023's releases.

But as we look at 2024, which at the moment has a pretty strong slate up and down the calendar, some of those productions could be impacted or delayed. And we saw that happen about 15 years ago in 2007, 2008, when films like the first "Transformers" sequel was impacted and notably received poor reviews from audiences and critics in large part, as some creators went on to blame because they didn't have enough time to finish the script.

So it's really tough to predict and say which ones will be impacted more than others. But it's something I think that the entire industry is going to have to look at over the next few weeks and the next few months.

AKIKO FUJITA: So, Shawn, we've talked about the wide range of blockbusters that are set to be released. What's the one pick you have, your must see?

SHAWN ROBBINS: My must see, that's a tough one. You know what, I'm personally-- I grew up a huge "Indiana Jones" fan. I grew up seeing the "Mission Impossible" movies when they first started coming out. I'm a huge Nolan fan. So really to me, there's like a four-week window in late June and early July when all three of those movies come out. For me, that's like the time on the calendar I think I'm most excited about this year.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: Wait, Shawn, "Barbie" or "Oppenheimer"? That's a real-- that's a real question for me.

SHAWN ROBBINS: At the box office, I don't know. It's a coin flip. I think that's going to be such a fascinating weekend to watch. I think they both could do really well.

AKIKO FUJITA: That's a diplomatic answer. It's Shawn Robbins, good to talk to you today. I appreciate the time. And, of course, our thanks to Allie Canal.