'Avatar,' Spider-Man and Star Wars return to the big screen as summer box office winds down

Key Points
  • Disney and Sony are rereleasing "Rogue One," "Spider-Man: No Way Home" and "Avatar" in domestic theaters in the coming weeks.
  • The rereleases come as the box office ticket sales are down 30% compared to 2019 and there is 30% less product in movie theaters.
  • Not only is there space on the calendar for Disney and Sony to place these films in cinemas, but their appearances are part of a wider strategy to promote upcoming projects.
Tom Holland stars as Peter Parker in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

Spider-Man, the Na'vi and a ragtag group of galactic rebels are making their way back to theaters at the end of the summer.

Disney is releasing Star Wars prequel "Rogue One" and "Avatar" in domestic theaters in the coming weeks, while Sony will release a souped-up version of "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

Rereleases are nothing new in the industry, especially when it comes to major anniversary milestones for popular and iconic features, but 90% of those showings are scheduled through Fathom Events, not by the studios themselves, according to data from Comscore. Fathom is a joint venture between AMC, Regal and Cinemark that brings legacy titles back to cinemas for limited engagements.

The timing of Disney and Sony's rereleases comes as the box office ticket sales are down 30% compared to 2019, and there have been 30% fewer movies released in theaters. There are few prominent film releases over the coming weeks until Universal and Blumhouse's "Halloween Ends" on Oct. 14 and Warner Bros.' "Black Adam" on Oct. 21.

Not only is there space on the calendar for Disney and Sony to place these films in cinemas, but their appearances are part of a wider strategy, especially for Disney, to promote upcoming theatrical and streaming debuts.

"Rogue One," a Star Wars solo film first released in 2016, arrives in theaters once again on Aug. 26, one month before its spin-off series "Andor" debuts on Disney+. The film will be accompanied by an exclusive look at the new series, and is exclusively available in IMAX.

"Spider-Man: No Way Home – The More Fun Stuff," a production collaboration between Sony and Disney's Marvel Studios, arrives Sept. 2 just in time to celebrate 60 years of the Spider-Man comic and 20 years of Spider-Man films. The updated version features added and extended scenes.

Then, on Sept. 23, "Avatar" returns to domestic theaters, three months before its sequel "Avatar: The Way of Water" debuts and 13 years after its first theatrical run.

"For studios, a re-release of a specific title can serve ostensibly as a two-hour infomercial to remind audiences of the upcoming latest installment of a particular movie franchise, or TV series," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.  "And for theaters these special releases can provide much needed filmed content within a slower corridor on the release calendar."

Source: Walt Disney Studios

"Avatar," in particular, "is the most significant" of the upcoming releases, said Shawn Robbins, chief media analyst at BoxOffice.com. "It could give us an early indication as to where anticipation stands for 'The Way of Water.'"

Also notable is the focus on IMAX, Robbins said. Movie theater operators have indicated throughout the year that guests have been opting for premium formats far more than before the pandemic. This includes IMAX, Dolby, 3D and other experiences that offer immersive seating or panoramic screens.

"Those formats continue to represent an important part of exhibition's present and future, and there is truly no way to ever experience movies in those formats again once they leave theaters," Robbins said. 

Not to mention, once audiences are in theaters, operators have seen them spending much more on food and drinks, as well.

"It's a  win-win for studios and movie theaters," Dergarabedian said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. Universal is the distributor of "Halloween Ends."