New York(CNN Business) Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Hollywood has kept a close eye on any movie that could give some insights into the film industry's potential renaissance or demise after the pandemic has abated.
Warner Bros.' "Godzilla vs. Kong" hits domestic theaters on Wednesday. The film, which will also stream on HBO Max, is expected to make north of $20 million over the holiday weekend. (Warner Bros., like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia.)
That would be a pretty lackluster result in regular times but it's enough to make the movie a potential monster hit, with one of the the biggest box office openings of the pandemic.
And with the pace of vaccinations ramping up, more big films returning to studios' schedules and in-person attendance at movie theaters growing, the film could be a harbinger of better times for the beleaguered theater industry.
"'Godzilla vs. Kong' is important both financially and symbolically for a movie theater industry that has been shaken to its core by the pandemic," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told CNN Business. "This weekend's debut provides a real-time opportunity to gauge consumer enthusiasm for a film that truly warrants a big-screen experience, while also being available at home just a click and a subscription away."
For Warner Bros., "Godzilla vs. Kong" already looks like a success.
The film opened last week in China, the top movie market in the world, and had a powerful debut there earning roughly $70 million.
It already has made more than $120 million at the global box office, a strong showing considering that the last film in Warner Bros.' "MonsterVerse" series was "Godzilla: King of the Monsters," which made $394 million worldwide in 2019, according to Comscore (. )
And that was before the pandemic.
The film's strong start in China can be seen as great news for theater owners in the US, who have struggled to find audiences to fill seats for more than a year.
Films like "Tenet," "The Croods: A New Age" and "Tom & Jerry" were notable releases over the last year, but have brought in mixed results at a box office disrupted by the pandemic.
"Godzilla vs. Kong" is arriving just as the tide seems to be turning for movie attendance. "Hollywood needs more popcorn flicks in theaters if it wants to cultivate a revival," according to Jeff Bock, senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations.
"The return-to-form is a Catch-22 for the industry, as none of the big-budget releases thus far have met studio expectations in terms of overall grosses," Bock said. "To resonate with general audiences, the film industry needs blockbuster content. Pure and simple."
Warner Bros. is in a "unique situation" since it's releasing films theatrically and on streaming, he added, because it helps "not only theater exhibition, but their own streaming growth." The company announced in December that all of its 2021 films would be released in theaters and to HBO Max simultaneously.
"The monstrous opening [in China] last weekend certainly helped engage prospective audiences and helped continue to build buzz in North America where theaters have been open but struggling," Bock added. "With another large opening weekend, it will be a clear signal to studios that audiences not only feel safe returning to theaters but will support blockbuster-sized offerings this summer."
And this summer, even more so than most summers, is essential to Hollywood.
Blockbusters like Disney ( and Marvel's "Black Widow," Universal's "F9" and Warner Bros.' "The Suicide Squad" are all set to open this summer. If the box office totals of those films, and others like them, are even somewhat sizable, it'll be a signal to Hollywood that moviegoing is moving in the right direction. )
And it also would demonstrate that theaters and streaming can co-exist since some films this summer, such as "Black Widow" and "The Suicide Squad," will be available on both platforms simultaneously.
It's still way too early to tell what the future will look like for an industry that just had one of its worst years ever. But if "Godzilla vs. Kong" can follow up its strong debut in China with a solid theatrical roll out in the US, it may prove to Hollywood that there's some roar left at the cineplex.
"The summer movie season, for obvious reasons, was virtually non-existent in 2020, and though the summer of 2021 may get off to a late start there is cause for optimism," Dergarabedian said. He noted, however, that vaccinations are key to the restoration of both consumer and studio confidence.
"This summer movie season may turn out to be a positive beacon for the industry heading into the fall/holiday season, 2022 and even beyond," he said.