“These results are very telling, especially considering that the movie was available for free to HBO Max subscribers at the same time as the theatrical release,” Wold said in his report. He added that the film’s box-office success is a “clear indication that consumers want to return to theaters even with the onslaught of streaming options reaching homes.”

The way forward for theaters

Theater companies and their supporters had been concerned that WarnerMedia’s controversial strategy to release its films on HBO Max at the same time as in theaters would destroy those films’ box-office prospects. Godzilla vs. Kong suggests a movie can still thrive in theaters despite a simultaneous streaming release—at least, as long as consumers are hungry to get out of the house. It remains to be seen if the film’s success can be repeated by other films later this year or in future years after the pandemic has receded.

Wold has been more bullish about the theater industry than some of his peers. In December, he told Quartz that China’s box-office resurgence—even with capacity restrictions—proved that the US market could do the same once the country got a hold on the coronavirus. Other analysts have maintained a “sell” rating on AMC, arguing that even as consumers emerge from the pandemic, streaming still poses a long-term existential threat to the theatrical business model.

In response to that threat, most major theater chains, including AMC, have made agreements with Hollywood studios to shorten the amount of time films play exclusively in theaters before they’re available on digital platforms. Godzilla vs. Kong provides hope that some consumers may always opt for the theatrical experience—even when a movie is available instantly at home too. Some things, like giant apes punching huge atomic lizards, are simply better watched on the big screen.

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