Clark Duke, Kailey Crawford and Cloris Leachman speak for Thunk, Sandy and Gran in "The Croods: A New Age".
Thanksgiving week is usually a tough time at the box office, but this year the coronavirus pandemic has crippled the film industry and left little doubt that the November vacation will suffer the same fate.
Even if new content hits theaters, the Thanksgiving box office will see the worst transport in decades, according to Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
"The pandemic has negatively impacted every traditionally important box office break from Memorial Weekend through July 4th, and even overrode the almighty summer movie season, so it's no surprise that Thanksgiving will be affected as well," Dergarabedian said.
Over the past decade, the five-day Thanksgiving spread – consisting of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through Sunday – has resulted in ticket sales of more than $ 250 million a year. The only two years that didn't reach this threshold were 2011 and 2014, but the cash balance still topped $ 230 million each.
"Usually it's a time frame where family and friends get together, and historically it's been a big weekend," Dergarabedian said. "This year it will literally be a turkey."
Typically, Thanksgiving hosts a handful of major movie releases, as well as titles that were released only a few weeks earlier. Families with young children flocked to the theaters for the animated feature films, and others looked for blockbuster films that are suitable for all ages.
A 77% drop at the box office
Last year, "Frozen 2," "Knives Out," and "Ford Vs. Ferrari" were top box office titles, resulting in a five-day shipment of $ 263.4 million. If we only look at Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this weekend to eliminate the extra days associated with the holiday, the total was $ 181.4 million.
This year, Dreamworks "The Croods: A New Age" is the only big title to hit theaters. The film is expected to attract some viewers as it is a new title but does not have a huge financial impact on the 2020 box office. The reviews weren't good enough to offset health concerns some consumers might have when they go to the theater.
The annual box office is already a fraction of last year, falling more than 77% to $ 2.18 billion. Since major theater chains reopened in August through November 22, the box office has raised just $ 279 million. During the same period last year, the box office raised $ 2.86 billion.
In the past few weeks, the number of coronavirus cases has hit historic highs and the number of public theaters has shrunk. The national seven-day average of daily new cases is 174,225, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday. With cases on the rise, there is a fear that despite investments by cinema owners to increase security in auditoriums, people will shy away from public entertainment.
Two weeks ago, 2,800 theaters were open in the United States. Around 2,100 theaters were open last weekend. It's unclear how many theaters will be open for Thanksgiving weekend, but as that number starts to decrease, so does the potential box office.
The road to $ 10 million
At best, "The Croods: A New Age" could reach between $ 10 million and $ 15 million in the first five days, said Doug Stone, president of Box Office Analyst, citing discussions with other industry analysts.
It's unclear how accurate that number is considering the market has been so diverse this year. Traditional attendance and ticket sales prediction methods do not apply.
Tenet made just $ 9.3 million on its Labor Day weekend debut, excluding Monday's ticket sales, and had more public theaters. This was the highest opening weekend for a new movie in the US since the pandemic began.
"It should do more business than 'Tenet' in fewer theaters," Dergarabedian said.
It's not an impossible feat, but since theaters reopened in August, the highest box-office record has been between September 4th and 6th, when Tenet was released and sales hit $ 16.2 million. Last weekend, the domestic box office sold just $ 5.4 million in tickets. Even with two extra days of ticket sales over Thanksgiving weekend and the debut of the sequel to "The Croods," it's unclear whether the box office will get close to the highest-earning weekend in September.
Regardless, that Thanksgiving box office won't top the $ 46.8 million raised during the 1984 five-day vacation period. That would make it the worst Thanksgiving box office in decades.
The expectation is that once a vaccine becomes widespread and blockbuster movies become more regular, these trends will reverse.
"I think that in the future, Thanksgiving will indeed become one of the most important holidays again, both symbolically and financially for cinemas," said Dergarabedian.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Dreamworks Animation.