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Blockbusters return: Box office numbers return to nearly pre-COVID levels

Box office nearly back at pre-COVID levels
Box office nearly back at pre-COVID levels 02:34

MINNEAPOLIS -- With all the blockbuster movies released so far this summer, have you been back to the movie theatre yet? Odds are good you likely have been. More people are not only going, but they're also spending more money.

The numbers are showing that ticket sales are up, and moviegoers are not afraid to spend more buying premium tickets, reserved seats and even more boxes of popcorn.

Theatres say that box office sales have almost reached the same numbers as the summer before the pandemic. It's just a 12% difference now.

"Thor: Love and Thunder," the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, made an estimated $143 million domestically for its opening this weekend, according to Disney.

That number is on par with industry expectations, which had the film making around $150 million in North America. Despite it not being a record-shattering debut, or even the biggest opening for Marvel this year — which belongs to May's "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" — it marks another strong premiere for Hollywood's most reliable blockbuster franchise.

The film, which has Chris Hemsworth's Thor team up with Natalie Portman's The Mighty Thor to fight off an evil force that is killing gods, has made $302 million worldwide so far.

That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that "Love and Thunder" has garnered mixed reviews from audiences and critics alike.

The film holds a 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earned a "B+" CinemaScore from audiences. Now, a "B+" from ticket buyers is typically not the end of the world, but it's concerning for Marvel since these movies are specifically built as crowd pleasers.

If the fanbase that sees a Marvel movie on opening weekend is not insanely into what they're watching, that doesn't leave a lot of hope for long-term box office growth.

In short, if you've failed to energize the opening weekend audience — which would likely enjoy a Marvel film of Thor reading a phone book for two hours — there's not a lot of places to go from there in terms of box office success in the weeks to come.

For example, May's "Multiverse of Madness" made $187 million its opening weekend and also had a "B+" audience score. Box office returns dropped 67% in its second weekend and the film was eventually eclipsed by Paramount's "Top Gun: Maverick," which has made roughly $600 million domestically thanks in large part to overwhelmingly positive word of mouth.

The lukewarm reactions are also becoming a bit of a trend for the superhero brand recently, with three of its last four films earning a CinemaScore below "A."

So what's going on with Marvel? For starters, the brand may be getting a bit diluted due to a surplus of Disney+ Marvel shows.

"Commercial success, however, doesn't always directly correlate with quality," Brian Lowry, CNN's media critic, wrote on Friday. "A downward drift for the Disney-owned unit raises legitimate questions about whether Marvel's efforts to feed the parent studio's streaming service, Disney+, have contributed to diluting its output."

Also, the movies following the record-breaking success of 2019's "Avengers: Endgame" have felt a little aimless due to a lack of overarching storylines.

Does this mean Marvel is in trouble? Hardly.

Marvel is still the biggest blockbuster brand in Hollywood with over $25 billion in box office returns worldwide, according to Comscore. The studio has the highly anticipated "Black Panther" sequel ("Black Panther: Wakanda Forever") set for November and will eventually lay down a one-two punch with the introductions of two of the comic book world's most notable superhero groups: the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.

Either way, theaters and Hollywood are more than happy to see a big weekend like this as the industry attempts to return to pre-pandemic normalcy at the box office.

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