There's no denying that folks are coming back to the local multiplex this summer. Box office receipts hit another post-pandemic record over the weekend, shattering the previous high-water mark set just the week before. AMC Entertainment (AMC 3.16%) and its smaller rivals have been thriving with a busy slate of big clicks, and the numbers are impressive.
Domestic theaters rang up $234.9 million in ticket sales over the weekend, the most since the debut of Star Wars: Episode IX -- The Rise of Skywalker helped drum up $243.2 million at the box office in the penultimate weekend of 2019. Go back to the summer of 2019 and there was just one weekend that was better than this past weekend. Audience are back, and now the trick is to keep folks coming. You have to like the industry's chances right now.
Disney's (DIS -0.12%) Thor: Love and Thunder was the big draw this time around, generating $143 million in stateside ticket sales. The debut itself isn't a post-pandemic record. There are actually three movies that have rolled out in recent months -- Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Jurassic World: Dominion -- with heartier opening weekends. The key difference now is that there are a lot of popular movies wooing filmgoers at the same time.
This is the ideal scenario for the industry. A movie with a big star isn't the same as one with a strong supporting cast, and that's where we find ourselves now. The breadth of successful films that have rolled out since Memorial Day weekend is giving different audiences a reason to rediscover the joys of enjoying a screening with a roomful of friends and strangers. Exhibitors are having the kind of summer they've been denied the two previous years.
But things could still be better. It's not as if 2019 was so hot. The actual number of domestic movie tickets sold peaked two decades ago. The trend has been problematic for some time. The big reason to get excited about AMC and its fellow multiplex operators is that they continue to improve their monetization. We're not just talking about seeing the price of admissions inch higher.
AMC didn't hunker down when the pandemic shut down Hollywood productions and delayed the premiere of major releases. It introduced reserved seating, private screen rentals, and mobile ordering across most of its locations. AMC got creative, and it has made the industry stronger now than where it was before the COVID-19 crisis. Folks are spending more at the concession stand, and the AMC brand has gotten so powerful that it announced over the weekend that it will start delivering its signature popcorn through Uber Eats in Chicago and its home turf of Kansas City.
This is the summer that should silence critics in terms of AMC's business model. It was already a leader among movie theater stocks, but now it's the indisputable top dog. The rest of this summer won't pack the same kind of blockbuster power as the first half, but we've finally normalized release slates. The industry is no longer waiting for a big film every couple of months to briefly drive traffic. Exhibitors are back, and eventually their stocks should follow.