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Thanksgiving box office: Vaccines for kids ‘will play a major role’ in family movie attendance, analyst says

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Shawn Robbins, Box Office Pro Chief Analyst, joins Yahoo Finance’s Akiko Fujita and Allie Canal to break down the outlook for movie theater attendance ahead of the holidays, as ‘Encanto’ and ‘House of Gucci’ premiere Thanksgiving weekend.

Video transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Some big films are making their debuts this Thanksgiving weekend, led by Lady Gaga's "House of Gucci," Disney's "Encanto," and the return of the "Ghostbusters," although this time we're talking about the afterlife. Let's bring in Shawn Robbins, Box Office Pro Chief Analyst. We've also got Yahoo Finance's Allie Canal joining in on the conversation. Shawn, talk to me about how things set up for this weekend, especially as theaters continue to-- you know, they are getting the numbers up, but it's still nowhere near Thanksgiving numbers that they saw pre-pandemic.

SHAWN ROBBINS: Yeah, this is certainly quite a turnaround from a year ago when very little was coming out and very few people were going to theaters. But we're also not quite back to the level of two years ago. But I think we're going to see a major shift this weekend.

I think with "Encanto," especially, this being an exclusive movie for families and kids in theaters and vaccines now being available for ages 5 to 12, I think that's going to play a major role in parents' decisions to take kids out to movies. And I expect that to still take time. I don't think it's everybody coming back at once. But this is part of the transition process as part of this whole recovery. And I think we'll see the next big turning point over the holiday.

ALLIE CANAL: And Shawn, I want to talk about "House of Gucci" next because I've seen so many commercials for this. Lady Gaga, she's been getting Oscar buzz. But the film has received some mixed reviews. So I'm curious, in your view, how important are reviews for a film's theatrical kick off, especially during this time when consumers have so many choices? Over-35 crowd has been a bit hesitant to get back to the theater. Could this possibly deter people from seeing the film over the holiday weekend?

SHAWN ROBBINS: I do think reviews are important. I also think star power is important. It's a little bit-- it's a lot different than it used to be 20 years ago, to be sure. But when you have Lady Gaga and Adam Driver and Jared Leto and Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons directed by Ridley Scott, these are names that still sell. And I think Lady Gaga, in particular, is going to be really important to bringing out kind of the 18-to-35-age audience, but especially women around that age and maybe even over 35.

She broke out in a really big way with "A Star is Born" a few years ago. And her fan base is pretty large at this point. And I the fact that she's kind of, you know, crossing over into these not just acting, but acting really well and getting a lot of recognition for it and a lot of awards season consideration, I think that's a big role in probably attracting that audience out over this holiday weekend. Especially, it's, you know, kind of I think the first big adult-driven marketed movie that's opened in a little while with actual potential to succeed during the pandemic.

ALLIE CANAL: Yeah. I definitely want to see that. I'm very excited about it. But you did bring up "Encanto." And usually during the Thanksgiving holiday we see these more family friendly movies do really well. I remember 2019, "Frozen 2" came out and did so well at the box office. But what are some potential risks that "Encanto" could see there?

SHAWN ROBBINS: I think the biggest risk is still the fact that even though kids can start getting vaccines and parents are factoring that in, it will take a few weeks before they're considered fully inoculated. This is based on the advice of medical experts. So I tend to expect that parents will think about that and look down the calendar and see that, OK, they just got their shots.

But it's still going to be early December before some of them are considered, you know, in the clear, for lack of a better phrase. But I think it's really-- that's been part of the challenge of predicting movies at the box office during this whole era because there are a lot of opinions, and there are a lot of choices that people are making. But what we're seeing. So far with "Encanto," probably the biggest and most important element outside of the vaccines is the fact that it's only in theaters. And it's a Disney movie.

And Disney has had such a great track record opening movies in theaters over Thanksgiving and the holidays in years before the pandemic. I think that's a habit that audiences and parents are ready to get back into, again, not at 100% this year, but certainly a major step forward. So again, though, the risk is still the fact that the pandemic isn't over. There's a lot of pandemic fatigue. But there are still some realities of risks related to that.

- And Shawn, you mentioned "Encanto" available only in theaters. I think that's key. Are we seeing a return to normalcy here when it comes to kind of doing away with these simultaneous releases in theaters and also on some streaming service like Disney Plus or HBO Max?

SHAWN ROBBINS: It's a great question. And it's still developing. I think we are seeing a normalization kind of a centering around this-- this-- this new normal. The old three-month exclusive windows are probably never coming back. They weren't really ever that useful, to be honest, though. Theaters were generating most of their money on these biggest movies in half that time or less.

And I think it's that-- that-- that 45-day window that we're going to see become the new normal. "Encanto" has a 30-day window, essentially, or very close to it. It'll be on Disney Plus toward Christmas. So still a little bit of a shortness there, but a major step from what Disney has been doing earlier in this year when there were doing-- when they were releasing hybrid and at the same time on streaming. So we're kind of walking slower and slower into what's going to be that-- that-- that new normal. As much as we're all tired of hearing that phrase, I think that's what the movie industry can kind of look toward now with "Encanto." But there is that event appeal of seeing these kinds of movies in theaters that I think will always make them strong attractions in those early weeks of release.

AKIKO FUJITA: From a financial perspective, what do you think is the calculation for these studios? I mean, you could argue that, look, if you can get somebody to sign up for a streaming service for a movie and they stick around for several months, in many ways, that's kind of more sustainable growth, isn't it? As opposed to trying to get them through the theaters, the doors there, for just one showing. I mean, do you think-- do you think that kind of calculation has shifted for studios too?

SHAWN ROBBINS: I think it's certainly become a complicated calculation. I think it's important that-- and studios are starting to look at it this way-- that movies are an out-of-home type of entertainment, in a setting that is communal. It's not about sitting on the couch. And I think that's one reason that series, episodic events, kind of become better drivers for streaming platforms rather than a one-off movie that somebody might pay $10, $15 a month just to watch one movie.

I think more people are inclined to watch a new series each week based on, you know, the fact that they're releasing in kind of that pattern. But that's not to say that movies can't be a draws on streaming as well. And I think that's-- that's the reality that the entire industry now has to look at and really decide. The biggest and the best movies probably still need to be in theaters. That's-- that's how they generate the bulk of their money.

But there is competition to consider. There's the market. At some point, it just kind of becomes too crowded. And there are some movies that may not have as much commercial potential. And I think we'll see more of those go on to the streaming platform. And it's not to-- you know, it's not to criticize them in any way. It's just-- it's just I think the nature of where the business is going. And there's going to have to be a balancing act.

ALLIE CANAL: And finally, Shawn, Ridley Scott, who did direct "House of Gucci," he made some comments recently blaming Millennials and their cell phones for why "The Last Duel" failed. What are your thoughts on that? I mean, he's not wrong. Millennials do seem to be the age group driving the theatrical comeback. But I want to get your take on his comments there.

SHAWN ROBBINS: Yeah. You know, first of all, the movie has a very tough subject matter. I think that would have been a hard sell in any time, especially in a pandemic when it's taking a lot to consider-- or not consider but to convince adults over a certain age to come back to movie theaters. That was a factor as well. But he's also right about the Millennial point that that's what we've seen. The young audiences are driving attendance in movie theaters, which is, in some ways, the opposite of what many have theorized for years before the pandemic.

The movies were kind of seen as an older product that was being driven by adults. That's not the case anymore. If anything, the future and longevity of movie theaters not only hinges on the younger audiences, but they're showing why that's the case. And they're showing why they will continue to be the drivers.

But yeah "The Last Duel" was a tough example in a lot of ways. It also wasn't really marketed to-- to the level that we would have seen for that type of film before the pandemic. So just really kind of an unfortunate situation for a movie that ended up being really well reviewed.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, Shawn, I feel like you're being really kind there with your words. Some would argue, look, maybe it just wasn't a very attractive film for a younger audience. But we'll continue to watch the numbers, especially during the holiday weekend. Shawn Robbins, Box Office Pro Chief Analyst. And our thanks to Allie Canal, as always, for joining in on the conversation.

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