People walk past a Cineworld in Leicester's Square, in London, Britain, in this October 4 2020 file photo. REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS
People walk past a Cineworld in Leicester's Square, in London, Britain, in this October 4 2020 file photo. REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS

Cineworld has reported that its December box office sales recovered to nearly 90% of pre-pandemic levels helped by the Marvel superhero film “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, sending its shares 3% higher in early trade.

The world’s second-largest theatre operator said its cash flow turned positive in the fourth quarter after sales improved.

Movie delays hurt footfall in November, and global curbs to contain the Omicron coronavirus variant also hit demand.

Cinema operators have also been hurt by straight-to-streaming, but Cineworld has seen gradual recovery since April helped in part by Marvel films including “Black Widow” and “Eternals”.

The December sales update is likely to bring some relief for Cineworld after it was ordered last month to pay C$1.23bn ($985m) in damages to rival Cineplex for abandoning a planned takeover, though Cineworld has appealed the decision.

Many of the main markets for Cineworld have refrained from stringent lockdowns, while vaccinations have also helped. The company gets 90% of its revenue from vaccine-advanced nations such as the US, UK and Israel.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” became the sixth-highest grossing movie in history at the US box office, raking in $668m so far and surpassing 1998 Oscar-winner “Titanic”. The superhero adventure was the first pandemic-era film to top $1bn in global sales.

Group sales for Cineworld in December stood at 88% of pre-pandemic 2019 levels, up from 56% in November.

Larger rival AMC Entertainment Holdings said in December that nearly 1.1-million people watched the new “Spider-Man” film when it opened in its US theatres, setting a company record.

Britain’s Cineworld, which also operates US-based Regal Cinemas, acknowledged challenges remained due to the pandemic but said a strong slate of 2022 releases, including “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Top Gun: Maverick”, gave it confidence.

Reuters

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