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‘Top Gun’ attendance ‘overwhelmed us,’ National Assoc. of Theater Owners CEO says

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National Association of Theater Owners CEO and President John Fithian joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss 'Top Gun: Maverick' breaking Memorial Day box office records, the return of moviegoers, the slate of summer blockbusters, and the outlook for theaters.

Video Transcript

- All right, a soon to be your old 60-year-old man and a sequel, 36 years in the making, is now the King of the box office again. Ain't life grand? Tom Cruise and Maverick shooting down the all-time Memorial Day record. With a domestic haul of $156 million, according to Paramount. That blows away Tom Cruise's all-time opening weekend, as well. Are we no longer saying she's lost it. Hopefully, you know that line from the original, about the movie's original.

Joining us now is the National Association of theater owners CEO and President, John Pythian, and our own Allie Canal. John, good to see you, my friend. Your reactions to these numbers, the Highmark was supposed to be around 100 million. What's your reaction and what surprised you about this four-day performance?

JOHN FITHIAN: Well, we're ecstatic about the performance of Top Gun Maverick. I mean, we knew Tom Cruise was kind of a guaranteed box office hit. But the movie surprised people, at how good it was. It an A+ cinemascore. But the attendees really overwhelmed us.

And some of the demographic data is huge. People said that older people wouldn't come back to the movies ever after the pandemic. And yet, we saw that 38% of the attendees this weekend were over the age of 45. And another 18% were over the age of 55.

So I think we're back in business, with a strong summer coming up. People are streaming back to the cinemas. They've missed it after two years of sitting on their couches.

ALLIE CANAL: And John, we've talked a lot about premium or elevated ticketing when it comes to the movies. I believe, Top Gun, Maverick costs the consumer about $1 to $2 more in certain theatrical circuits. Do you anticipate that to be the norm, moving forward? And is there any concern that certain theater chains could potentially price themselves out of the market? How much flexibility is there when it comes to pricing?

JOHN FITHIAN: Well, pricing is an individual company decision, of course. And so each of the companies set their own prices. But what we advocate for and what we're seeing is a range of choices at the box office. In other words, choices in price, choices in experience.

If you want to go to a premium large format or an IMAX, a big-screen experience, with all the best technologies. That's going to cost a little bit more. If you're more of a cost-conscious consumer and want to go to a more standard auditorium. You can get it for a lower price. And then, of course, there are matinee pricing, and all other kinds of discounts.

So the key here is to offer choice to consumers. So that they find the experience or the price point that they want.

- Your point about the demographics. That was really a shocker to me, that older people did go to the theaters. I still have not been to a movie since pre-pandemic. But you're getting a Tom Cruise who's 59, I mentioned turning 60 next month. Is there anything about the movies coming this summer that make you feel good about the industry as a whole, beyond this one-off, once in a generation actor.

JOHN FITHIAN: Well, absolutely. I mean, we've had big one-offs during the pandemic. We had Spider-Man in December of last year, which was the third biggest movie of all time in the United States. But then we didn't have very many movies in January and February because so many movies got moved for fear of the pandemic. And so people fell out of the habit of going to the movies.

What we're seeing now is the resurgence of regular movie-going in all demographics. When Sonic the Hedgehog 2 came out in April, we saw that families could come back in large numbers. But now a Top Gun Maverick and with Downton Abbey, and other movies, we're seeing the older audiences can come back in strong numbers. And those are the two audience demographics that people were most worried about during the pandemic.

But this summer, finally, after two years of pandemic holes in the box office schedule, we've got a consistent slate of movies to appeal to everyone. Guaranteed blockbusters like Jurassic World, like Lightyear, the Buzz Lightyear story, like minions. We've also got some movies that are really going to surprise people. Jordan Peele's Nope is scary as all Get Out. And that's really going to do some gang-up business.

August could sometimes be a fallow month. We've got Brad Pitt in a movie called Bullet Train. But we also got some smaller movies too, that can break out and really run all the way down to documentaries, like a documentary about Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. So we are excited about the summer slate. Because there's something for everyone to see at the movies this summer.

ALLIE CANAL: Now, John, certainly, a lot of positives, but there's still some headwinds. We have severe labor shortages, supply chain issues. In fact, there was a Wall Street Journal article out today about a potential popcorn shortage, a struggle to get some of those concession stand products. What have you been hearing on that front from theater owners?

JOHN FITHIAN: Yeah, labor is a challenge to anybody in the service industry right now. And supply chain challenges are affecting everyone. But what we focus on are that people like to come out to the movies during difficult economic times. Because it's affordable, and it's not the expense of a big vacation or a Hollywood-- sorry, a Broadway play.

Movies theaters do better during recessions than almost any other form of entertainment outside the home. So these are all economic challenges that everyone is facing. The difference is that movie theaters thrive during economic challenges.

ALLIE CANAL: And John, I want to get your take on this as well. There's talk that Netflix could eventually partner with theaters to show some originals on the big screen. Do you anticipate a partnership like that, box office and streaming, ever coming to fruition? And if so, how do you think theaters could take advantage of that?

JOHN FITHIAN: Well, Netflix has played some movies theatrically. Not as wide as we might like. Or not with the kind of exclusive period or windows, as we call them, that we might like. So does Apple. So does Amazon. But where the doors open to Netflix to play more movies, with the right kind of exclusive windows, with a broader reach. They've got some great movies. And Ted Sarandos knows his content. And we'd love to play more of them wider in theaters if we could.

- You mentioned some of the movies coming, John. When I look at the last two years, here are the only movies that have been a true success, Spider-Man, Shang-chi and the Ten Rings, another Marvel movie. Venom, a big one. Black Widow, a Marvel movie. Batman, Doctor Strange. And now. Top Gun. It feels like only the big Marvel-type blockbusters have a chance of survival in the theaters. Is there a genre that is gone for all time?

JOHN FITHIAN: No, don't think so. I know those movies do the biggest business and get the most attention. But look at a little film from A24 called Everything Everywhere All At Once. This is a movie that started with a very small platform release. by that, I mean just a few screens in a couple of cities. And then grew and grew and grew over a period of weeks. It's up above $50 million now. And it's nowhere near stopping its run. And we're predicting that movie will be the biggest platform release since La La Land in 2016.

So we're seeing that if movies are good, people will come out to see them. Based on Word of mouth, based on the advertising campaigns, based on who's in the movie, based on who directs it. On that last fact, for example. I talk about Baz Luhrmann's Elvis. I mean, here's a movie about a very well-known individual by a very well-known artistic director that doesn't make a whole lot of movies. But when he does, they are excellent.

And I think you'll see movies like Elvis really hold on and run and grow without being the typical blockbuster that comes out gigantic in the first weekend, and makes a ton of money in a couple of weeks. So we're very excited about the breadth of the slate. Not just the blockbusters at the top, but the breadth that appeals to all demographics, with all different types of genres.