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Most U.S. movie theaters will sell $3 tickets for one day this summer

This coming Saturday will mark the inaugural “National Cinema Day.” (iStock)

Moviegoers across the country will have the chance to see a film for $3 at their local theater next weekend in an inaugural event dubbed “National Cinema Day” as the industry attempts to climb back to its pre-pandemic success.

No matter the time of day or the film format, on Sept. 3 people will pay just $3 (not including taxes or fees) to see a movie on the silver screen. That is according to an announcement Sunday from the Cinema Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the National Association of Theatre Owners.

More than 3,000 theaters with over 30,000 screens are expected to participate in the event, including major chains such as AMC and Regal. There were about 41,000 screens at about 5,800 sites in 2020, according to the most recent data available from the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Jackie Brenneman, president of the Cinema Foundation, said in a news release that the event is a “thank you” to moviegoers who helped make this summer a relative success, and motivation for those who have not returned to theaters. The news release did not specify how or whether studios and movie theaters would be compensated for the discount.

As of this weekend, the estimated 2022 domestic box office total is $5.3 billion, according to data from ComScore, a media measurement and analytics company. That is up 161 percent from this time last year.

The National Cinema Day offering comes after the pandemic shuttered many theaters while officials tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Even the once-reliable family-film genre saw dips at the box office last summer, when the delta variant swept through the nation.

Financial woes have continued to plague the industry even after vaccines and boosters became available. The Associated Press reported last week that the British company Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas, announced that it is considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States to contend with debt and empty seats.

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Yet there have been glimmers of hope for movie attendees and industry professionals recently. The subscription service MoviePass announced that it has been resurrected after it declared bankruptcy in 2020, and movie watchers have more options to visit their local theater compared with the past two years.

Ticket sales have increased since 2021, though they have yet to return to 2019 numbers, Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for ComScore, told The Washington Post. National Cinema Day is a fitting celebration for “an incredible summer movie season,” he said.

“It’s a great way to bring an industry together,” he said, noting that 2021 was below traditional box office levels. “This summer, with ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ ‘Doctor Strange’ and ‘Jurassic World Dominion,’ the film industry is able to prove to the world that movie experience is here to stay.”

Amid theater closures and low turnout, Paramount Pictures bumped the release date for “Maverick” from November 2021 to this May, and Disney’s Marvel Studios delayed the debut of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” from last fall to March.

“We still are, the movie theater industry, making that big comeback. It’s taken many, many months,” Dergarabedian said. “We’ll probably get back to a more normalized marketplace next summer.”

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This summer had about 30 percent fewer major blockbuster movies on the schedule compared with pre-pandemic times, according to David Gross, who runs Franchise Entertainment Research, a box office analyst and film marketing consultancy.

Gross noted that “Maverick,” “Elvis” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” provided some of the strongest stretches of bankable movies since the pandemic began. He estimated that total domestic box office numbers in August and September will finish 45 percent lower than the same stretch in 2019.

The National Cinema Day deal comes at a time when there is a lull in movie attendance along with a weak movie schedule, according to Gross, whose LinkedIn profile lists a stint as a Twentieth Century Fox marketing executive in the early 1990s.

“Doing some kind of special offer to bring people in is not going to revolutionize the business or change the bigger picture,” he said. But the $3 deal is a good way to get more people in movie seats and buying concession stand items, Gross said.

The rebound of moviegoing and box office success will depend on movie schedules, which look promising for the months ahead, and time will need to be counted in years, not months, according to Gross.

Steven Zeitchik contributed to this report.

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