Let's start with the good news for AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC -4.67%) and its shareholders. Smile rang up $17.6 million in domestic ticket sales over the weekend. After a respectable debut with $22.6 million a week earlier -- a notable achievement for a brand new horror franchise with limited star power -- it was just a 22% decline between its premiere and the subsequent weekend. This is the strongest audience retention between a film's first two weekends that theater owners have seen in 2022. 

It's October. Scary movies thrive this time of year. A sleeper hit early in the Halloween season bodes well for the balance of the month.

Now let's turn to the bad news. Smile was the top draw at the box office. The two big debutantes this weekend -- the star-studded Amsterdam and the family-friendly animated Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile -- failed to overtake the older Smile in ticket sales at your local multiplex. The end result is another lackluster weekend for the industry. Sometimes a warm Smile isn't enough.

A couple hold hands during a scary movie.

Image source: Getty Images.

Take a picture, it'll last longer

It's now been nine straight weekends in which the 10 top films failed to top $70 million in combined ticket sales. It's been 11 weeks since total domestic ticket sales exceeded $100 million, the longest lull since the summer of last year when studios were hesitant on put out their biggest flicks. Framing this in yet another way, Spider-Man: No Way Home alone opened to more than $260 million in stateside box office receipts when it premiered 10 months ago. 

Amsterdam had the celebrity fire power, but it didn't wow the critics. Just a third of the film reviewers tracked by Rotten Tomatoes are recommending the movie. Lyle, Lyle Crocodile is faring substantially better when it comes to reviews, with 70% of the critics and 94% of the audiences digging the film. It somehow still managed to open poorly, a big surprise when you consider the titular singing crocodile is voiced by pop star Shawn Mendes. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul -- the songwriting duo behind the singsong magic of La La Land, The Greatest Showman, and Dear Evan Hansen -- filled the full-length animated feature with infectious tunes. The film is also based on a popular Bernard Waber children's book. Despite the seemingly well-stocked pond, this crocodile failed to take a bite out of audiences over the weekend.

How bad was this weekend? Total domestic ticket sales of $58.8 million were 58% below where they were for the second October weekend of 2019, the last pre-pandemic comparable mile marker. U.S. box office receipts in 2022 are 34% behind from the money multiplex operators were seeing by this point in 2019.   

This weekend should've been so much better for AMC and its smaller rivals. Thankfully this isn't the only lever at the industry's disposal these days. Food and beverage sales per patron are much higher at AMC than they were in 2019. Exhibitors have also gained traction with their premium loyalty plans, smoothening out the lulls with recurring subscription revenue. 

Things also could've been worse. Paramount Global had originally slotted Smile as a Paramount+ exclusive release. Strong test audience screenings prompted the studio to give it a theatrical run first.

Things should also get better. Halloween Ends opens next weekend as a much larger franchise than Smile. It will find its audience, but it may be held back since the movie will also debut on Peacock Premium at the same time. If the return of Michael Myers doesn't do the trick this weekend, the premiere of Black Adam the following week will put an end to the drought of nine-figure weekends. It's not an easy time for movie theater stocks, but help is on the way. October should end strong, and even bigger releases will bring audiences back in November and December.