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Los Angeles theaters open but new films are just trickling out

Family movies from earlier this year are still taking the top spots at the US box office, with 'Raya and the Last Dragon' the biggest earner

Moviegoers wait for 'Raya and the Last Dragon' on the reopening day of El Capitan theatre in Los Angeles. Photo via Reuters

The popcorn is popped and the doors have reopened at theaters in Los Angeles for the first weekend in a year, giving Hollywood some confidence that movie-going is bouncing back.

Major studios are still waiting to see just how eager people are to return to cinemas. The top movie this weekend is still Walt Disney Co.’s Raya and the Last Dragon, an animated film that was released two weeks ago and is also available to at-home audiences for $30 on the Disney+ streaming service.

Still, a year after a near-total shutdown of the business, the industry is looking like it’s closer to a strong return. After Los Angeles theaters were allowed to open on 15 March, every major market in the U.S. is now back in business, and so far studios are sticking to their 2021 release dates. That will bring a major backlog of potential new blockbusters later in the year.

“With more movie theaters open and vaccinations helping to rebuild consumer confidence, studios have also shown signs of their renewed confidence,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at Comscore Inc.

Theaters that have opened are limiting how many people they seat. In New York and Los Angeles, auditoriums are only allowed to reach 25% capacity. Some chains have yet to fully reopen, with the lack of new films and seating limits making it too expensive to operate some locations. Regal Theatres, the second-largest chain in the U.S., is still temporarily closed.

Studios, meanwhile, remain wary of putting out big films without including a streaming option. The only new wide release this weekend is “The Courier,” a Cold War spy drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch from Roadside Attractions and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. The movie came in at No. 3, generating $2 million sales that exceeded Boxoffice Pro’s estimate of $1.85 million.

Family movies from earlier this year are still taking the top two spots. Raya made a higher-than-expected $5.15 million in domestic sales over the weekend, while the Warner Bros. classic cartoon-based film Tom & Jerry brought in $3.84 million, also beating Boxoffice Pro’s estimate.

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