The upcoming long holiday weekend signals the final weeks of what is expected to an historic year, financially, for the U.S. movie industry.
Last month was reportedly the worst box-office performance for Hollywood movies in 15 years, due in part to poor reviews for several major, movie star-driven features. But according to Brent Lang, senior film and media reporter for the entertainment trade magazine Variety, 2015 is on track to have the largest box-office figures ever for the American film industry, reaching $11 billion domestically.
And those numbers should get a boost from Thanksgiving, one of the busiest movie-going periods of the year. "It's eclipsed by Christmas, but not by much," Lang said. "You have a lot of children off, and you basically have five days of what Hollywood hopes is going to be some big-box office" numbers.
One possibility is Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur." The animated feature from Walt Disney (DIS), which opens nationwide on Wednesday, is expected to bring in $60 million during the five-day Thanksgiving period. Meanwhile, "Creed," the seventh movie in the "Rocky" boxing series, has been getting good pre-release reviews, which are expected to help it haul in well above $30 million over Thanksgiving.
And that's not even the biggest news. The latest entry in the "Star Wars" franchise isn't scheduled to open until Dec. 18, but advance sales for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" are already at a record $50 million.
This all sounds like good news for Tinsel Town, but there are worried rumblings in paradise. Several years ago, famed movie director Steven Spielberg warned that Hollywood's current reliance on big-budget blockbusters was financially unsustainable.
Lang also notes that the high price of admission has helped Hollywood's bottom line, while masking the reality that movie attendance has been flat or dropping for years.
Given those fading numbers at home, Hollywood is tailoring its blockbusters for an overseas audience, which make up anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of the box-office receipts for those films. China's domestic movie audience, for example, is expected to overtake the U.S. and become the world's largest by 2017.
"That's sort of changed the dynamic and it's also changed what kinds of movies do well," Lang said. "Movies that do well in places like Russia and China tend to not be particularly adult dramas or dialogue-driven films. They're big action spectacles that don't get lost in translation."
Hollywood is also facing the return of a threat it first had to grapple with more than 60 years ago: the small screen. But now that small screen goes beyond television to include computers, smartphones and a wider variety of entertainment choices that include video streaming and on-demand movies.
"There are lots of entertainment options that you can stream, that you can access with a click of the cursor," Lang said.
And the American consumer has become more fickle. "People move on faster. The cultural metabolism has accelerated in recent years," he said, while noting that the growing number of video productions geared specifically for cable and online consumers is further challenging the U.S. movie industry's position in the entertainment sector.