Any signs of recovery in the Domestic market have seemingly been receding into the distance in recent weeks. Thankfully Thanksgiving brought a ray of light despite further theater closures.

The rarity of a new studio release brought audiences back to open movie theaters in the Domestic market and elsewhere this week. Universal’s release of DreamWorks Animation’s THE CROODS: A NEW AGE topped global business with $35 million from 8 markets. The animated sequel delivered a $9.6 million 3-day (and $14.0m 5-day) Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the Domestic market.

This was biggest post-lockdown 3-day opening for any film to date. The overall Domestic market grossed $14.7 million over the 3-day weekend, more than doubling the box office of the previous weekend ($7.2m). The 5-day Thanksgiving period delivered $20.8 million.

There is no denying this pales against past Thanksgiving hauls. Nor is it the biggest Domestic market weekend post-lockdown – that honor belongs to the Sept. 4-6 when TENET’s US opening led a $19.45 million weekend. Both the Aug. 28-30 weekend ($17.0m), when THE NEW MUTANTS opened across the market and TENET hit Canada, and the Sept. 11-13 weekend ($14.9m), also delivered a stronger 3-day.

But all of those weekends saw a far greater footprint of open theaters. The Sept. 4-6 had 56% of theaters open by market share. A week later this had reached 59% – only just shy of the post-lockdown high. Even just between AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Canada’s Cineplex there were over 1,100 locations operating for the Sept. 4-6 weekend. Last weekend the four companies had only just over 700 sites open between them – a 38% reduction.

At the end of September, the footprint of open movie theaters across the Domestic market (as measured by 2018-2019 market share) had surpassed 60%. In October, some theaters in New York were allowed to re-open. But with Cineworld Group closing most Regal sites in early October, following the move of NO TIME TO DIE, and remaining locations in New York and California in mid-November, the situation was already looking bleak before rising virus cases brought further lockdowns across a number of US states and Canadian provinces.

Since mid-November nearly 700 US and 100 Canadian theaters have re-closed their doors. Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, as well as the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec, have seen complete (or close to) re-closer of indoor venues in the second half of November. California, New York and Ontario have all suffered significant scale-back in the same period. The market share of open theaters across the Domestic market had sunk to just 41% for the Thanksgiving weekend. It had stood at 55% at the start of November, having hit 61% at the end of September.

In this context, THE CROODS’ sequel’s Domestic results seem all the more impressive. The box office bump it brought (see black line on the graph) might be small in the big picture, but it came at a time when the exhibition footprint was significantly retracting (orange line), compared to the expansion around the time of TENET’s release. This shows that when attractive mass-audience titles are on offer, even for a limited window (A NEW AGE will be available to rent digitally in the Domestic market by Christmas), there remains an audience appetite. This is a good sign for the future.