Attendance is slumping for multiplex operators, and it's not the only thing dragging. Shares of AMC Entertainment (AMC -1.93%), Regal parent Cineworld (CNWGY) (CNNW.F), and Cinemark (CNK -0.79%) have also been on the decline. The last three weekends of box office receipts are also the worst three weekends in more than three months. You have to go back to January to find a worse weekend showing in terms of ticket sales than the industry experienced this past weekend. 

The industry is trying. All three of the leading chains are selling tickets to all screenings -- even for premium formats -- for just $3 a head on Saturday. With a lack of compelling releases in recent weeks and a dud in terms of debutantes this weekend, the last hope for a decent Labor Day holiday falls on a pair of iconic rereleases. 

Jaws and Spider-Man: No Way Home are making their way back to your local multiplex this weekend. Movies don't generally fare well when they come back for an encore run, but it could be different this time. Jaws will be made available on Imax (IMAX -1.04%) and 3D for the first time. We're also talking about an extended cut for the Spider-Man sequel, adding 11 minutes to last year's top box office draw. 

Two people clutch hands at a movie theater.

Image source: Getty Images.

The stocks can use a lobby break

The stock slumps are real. AMC -- when you add back the AMC Preferred (APE) dividend to get a sum of its parts -- is down a brutal 46% over the last three weeks. Cineworld is teetering on collapse as an exhibitor, and the shares are down a mind-numbing 81% in that time. Cinemark is holding up considerably better, but it's still down 20% since Aug. 12 -- nearly three times worse than the market's drop in that time.

With the September slate of theatrical releases looking pretty dry, you can't blame studios and multiplex operators for cracking open a time capsule in the pursuit of magnetic content. The success rate of the strategy is historically weak. Did you know that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has been back in theaters for the past three weeks? It's been more "ouch" than "phone home" as the film has sold just $2 million worth of tickets in that time. The per-screen averages have been abysmal. Roughly 200,000 people have seen the film in its U.S. rerelease. 

This weekend's two retreads should fare considerably better than the first-run flicks. Jaws won't have a lot of competition for a theater's Imax screen, and the shark classic has become a cult favorite after its strong initial box office run. The prospects are even brighter for Spider-Man: No Way Home. The idea of an extended cut on a film that topped $800 million in domestic ticket sales since its premiere last December is going to find its audience. 

It won't be a good look on the surface -- a film that is nine months old as the top draw at the box office? However, after three horrendous weekends, it's the break that movie-theater stocks need. The pipeline will get better come October when new horror movies spur date nights, and then we're back to potential blockbusters in November and December. A vengeful shark and a photographer that can shoot more than just pictures are an unlikely pair to breathe new life into the local multiplex, but exhibitors need something to click.