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Here's how summer blockbusters are expected to fare after last year's 'Barbenheimer' phenomenon

Customers buy popcorn at a Cineplex theatre in downtown Toronto on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (Christopher Katsarov / The Canadian Press) Customers buy popcorn at a Cineplex theatre in downtown Toronto on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (Christopher Katsarov / The Canadian Press)
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On the heels of last summer's "Barbenheimer" takeover, movie theatres are seeing a slow start to the summer blockbuster season.

Both Ryan Gosling's "The Fall Guy" and "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga", expected to be crowd pleasers, underperformed at the box office in May.

But Pixar's animated sequel "Inside Out 2" debuted in theatres last weekend with the biggest opening since "Barbie" last July, earning an estimated US$155 million in North American ticket sales.

Film critic Richard Crouse said this proves a couple points.

"It proves that if you give people movies that they want to see, they'll go to the movie theatres," he said.

"And it proves that people are still wanting to be entertained in kind of an old-fashioned way."

Summer success is vital for the health of movie theatres, which had been facing a 26 per cent deficit before the release of "Inside Out 2." The summer season typically runs from May through Labour Day, and accounts for about 40 per cent of annual box office sales.

People are not rushing back to theatres post-pandemic and as a result ticket sales are taking a hit, Crouse said. That doesn’t mean theatres will start dying off, but he said the industry may have to adapt.

Despite the drop in ticket sales, there are movie lovers who still prefer the big screen over streaming videos at home.

"There are some nuances that you can't really capture when you're watching a streaming service on your couch," said Sandra Nakata, who just finished watching "Civil War" at Regina's second-run theatre, Moonlight Movies.

Nakata and her partner Byron Peterson understand the convenience of watching movies at home, but try to go to the theatre as much as they can.

"It’s more of an event," Peterson said.

"It's not just a consumable commodity like movies. It's more of going out and getting popcorn."

People showed up in droves when "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" took the theatrical world by storm in last summer’s "Barbenheimer" phenomenon. Barbie's opening raked in US$162 million.

That type of movie success doesn’t happen very often, Crouse said, and there are no two movies that will likely hit that height this year.

"That was kind of a once, maybe not in a generation, but once every few years phenomenon," Crouse said.

"That was a real moment in pop culture that was organic. It grew up on the internet. All of a sudden, people put these two very different movies together and made it an event."

Following "Inside Out 2", Crouse expects success at the theatres to continue when "Deadpool & Wolverine" and "Twisters" are released next month. Those three films will likely be the summer’s "tent pole" movies.

"They’re the ones that kind of prop up the rest of the year," Crouse said.

"They make a whole bunch of money and allow the studios to perhaps experiment with other kinds of films, and the movie theaters to make money off those and maybe absorb some of the losses that happen for other smaller films that maybe don't connect as well."

But Crouse said this year is a bit different due to the writers' and actors' strikes that impacted production last year. Some movies stopped mid-production and others were abandoned altogether, which means it will take time before more make it to theatres.

"We're not seeing as many films being released right now simply because they're not done," Crouse said.

There will likely be a noticeable increase in the number of films released this time next year, Crouse said.

But the few hits expected this summer will likely make up for the weekends when not many other movies are playing.

"By the time we end up on the flip side of this summer, as the weather starts to cool off a little bit, we'll look back and say it was a slow start, but we ended up doing pretty well," Crouse said. 

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