AT&T's (NYSE:T) decision to release all of its films direct to video on the same day as their theatrical debut in 2021 sounded a potential death knell for cinema if other studios followed suit.

Yet the strong performance at the box office of the Warner Bros. big-budget sequel Wonder Woman 1984 shows there remains latent demand for big-screen pictures, and suggests AMC Entertainment (NYSE:AMC), Cinemark (NYSE:CNK), and Regal theaters parent Cineworld (OTC:CNNW.F) won't have the curtain brought down on them just yet.

Theater goers cheering

Image source: Getty Images.

Where recovery begins

The follow-up to 2018's surprise hit Wonder Woman was simultaneously released on Christmas Day to theaters and HBO Max, the streaming service basket in which AT&T is putting most of its eggs, and according to Variety, the theaters held their own.

In the 2,100 cinemas where it was shown, Wonder Woman 1984 generated $16.7 million. While that would be considered a flop of Waterworld proportions in any other year, for an industry still wracked by the coronavirus pandemic, this was a smashing success. In contrast, the original superhero film grossed over $100 million in 4,100 theaters over its opening weekend.

Cinema today, though, is limited to seating that's just 30% to 50% of capacity and only 35% of theaters nationwide are open, so turning in a box office performance like this when people could have just as easily stayed home to watch it on TV ought to indicate to studios they shouldn't abandon movie theaters just yet.

Even so, theaters need to be allowed to reopen if they're going to survive, and the premier of COVID-19 vaccines could be the start of that happening.

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