People walk past a Cineworld in Leicester’s Square, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain, October 4, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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Jan 14 (Reuters) – UK’s Cineworld (CINE.L) said on Friday its box office sales recovered in December to nearly 90% of pre-pandemic levels, helped by the success of Marvel (DIS.N) 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. Some movie delays hurt footfall in November and global curbs to contain the Omicron coronavirus variant kicking in later also hit viewers coming out for the movies.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” became the sixth-highest grossing movie ever at the U.S. box office, raking in $668 million so far and surpassing “Titanic”. The film was the first one in the pandemic-era to smash $1 billion sales globally.

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The sales update brings is likely to bring some relief for Cineworld after it was ordered last month to pay C$1.23 billion ($985 million) in damages to rival Cineplex (CGX.TO) for abandoning a planned takeover, though Cineworld has appealed the decision. read more

Cinema operators have been battered by the pandemic, but the company has seen a steady recovery since April.

London-listed Cineworld, which also operates U.S.-based Regal Cinemas, acknowledged the challenges ahead due to the pandemic but said a strong slate of 2022 releases, including “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Top Gun: Maverick” gave it confidence.

($1 = 1.2488 Canadian dollars)

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Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Rashmi Aich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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