New York CNN Business  — 

After the pandemic pummeled its business, the movie industry is counting on a comeback. The good news for theaters is they couldn’t ask for a better film to kick off the summer.

Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” hits theaters this weekend. It’s one of the most anticipated films of the year from Hollywood’s most reliable brand.

The film, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch, debuts in more than 4,000 theaters and is expected to make $170 million to $185 million in North America. Some industry analysts believe the film could break the $200 million opening barrier, which would make it the ninth film ever to do so.

The film made $90 million on Friday, its opening day, which included Thursday previews. That’s the 7th biggest opening day ever, and already tops the entire opening weekend of the original “Doctor Strange” film in 2016. The film has already made $229 million globally, per Disney (DIS).

Such a strong start could create some momentum at a time when theaters are finding themselves in a stronger position than they’ve been since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of this summer”

The summer of 2020 was a catastrophe for Hollywood.

Films were scarce (and nonexistent), as theaters struggled to turn on their marquees and the US box office brought in only $176 million, according to Comscore (SCOR).

That’s $176 million total for the entire summer, or $4.1 billion less than the summer of 2019, less than what “Doctor Strange” alone could make this weekend. The movie business rebounded last summer, bringing in $1.7 million domestically, but it still lagged behind pre-pandemic numbers.

The box office so far this year is catching up, and it’s showing signs of recovery with hits like February’s “Uncharted,” March’s “The Batman” and April’s “Sonic The Hedgehog 2” leading the way.

The summer slate of films could boost the good box office vibes even more.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of this summer for the movie industry,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, told CNN Business. “We’ve seen clear demand for a return to big movies in theaters, but this summer presents the best test so far.”

Robbins believes that the top earners of this summer may “approach or perhaps exceed pre-pandemic standards.”

Beyond blockbuster Marvel films, which include “Doctor Strange” and July’s “Thor: Love and Thunder,” the summer is full of all types of films that could find success.

They start with “Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel to the beloved 1986 action film starring Tom Cruise. “Jurassic World: Dominion,” is the latest entry in the dinosaur saga, and “Elvis,” a biopic about The King starring Tom Hanks as Col. Tom Parker. Notable family films include “Lightyear” from Pixar and “Minions: The Rise of Gru.” Then there’s “Nope,” Jordan Peele’s latest horror film.

It’s not just about money

“We’re moving further away from a point when the pandemic alone can be blamed for under-performances,” Robbins said. “This summer may demonstrate how much balance there can be as the industry adapts and improves.”

That’s important not just for this summer’s box office, but for the rest of the year.

“Summer has always been vitally important for theaters, and the success of these all-important 18 weeks sets the tone for the entire year’s performance,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told CNN Business.

He noted that summer is “traditionally responsible for 40% on average of the annual box-office.”

This year the summer isn’t just about money, it’s about symbolism.

The pandemic is still ongoing and theaters have a long way to go before they truly bounce back. But analysts believe there’s reason for optimism.

“The success the industry has seen so far this year is great news for theaters that have spent the past two years methodically and patiently creating building blocks of normalcy,” Dergarabedian said. “All of it was to get to something approaching a normal summer movie marketplace at the multiplex, and we may be finally getting there.”