Box Office Dispatch: How Real Is the Boom and Will It Last?
For the first time since the pandemic began, revenue at the domestic box office almost crossed $1 billion in June as some semblance of normalcy returned to the multiplex. Hollywood studios released a small army of event titles that found their audiences, but executives remain anxious about a gap in the calendar once the summer crush is over.
The last time combined ticket sales hit $1 billion in any given month was December 2019, when revenue climbed to $1.16 billion. Final figures show June 2022 revenue coming in at nearly $986 million, according to Comscore. That number received a last-minute boost thanks to Minions: The Rise of Gru, which pulled in a huge $10.8 million in Thursday afternoon previews on the last day of the month before opening to record-breaking numbers over the July 4rh weekend.
In all, June was up a staggering 141 percent from June 2021’s $409.2 million, but down 11.6 percent from June 2019’s $1.114 billion.
“It’s still a massive achievement. And figuratively, if the month lands just a few pennies short of the $1 billion milestone, it’s no less impressive,” box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Still, June gloom is lingering for some box office observers.
“Publicly, there is a lot of celebration about the box office recovery,” one stop studio executive tells THR. “Privately, there is a lot of concern about an upcoming lack of product.”
Adds another Hollywood executive: “We are still in a pandemic recovery mode and not back to pre-pandemic grosses and attendance, but the box office results this summer are significantly better than we expected.”
The boom was led by Paramount and Skydance’s Top Gun: Maverick, which has transformed into an unstoppable hit, grossing north of $1.11 billion globally since its Memorial Day release and still going strong a month later. The only other title to cross the $1 billion milestone in the pandemic era was December 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home (it rests at nearly $1.9 billion). The Top Gun sequel is significant because it attracted all audiences, and not just superhero-obsessed fanboys. Also, both titles achieved the feat without China, where fewer and fewer Hollywood tentpoles are being released.
Among the movies fueling the rally, Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, released in early May, has crossed $950 million worldwide, while June’s Jurassic World Dominion stomped past $800 million globally over the July 4th holiday weekend.
Warner Bros.’ Elvis — Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic — also danced its way to a major win when opening to a better than expected $51 million over the June 24-26 weekend, thanks to older moviegoers (nearly 30 percent of the opening weekend audience was over the age of 55).
Families have been another challenged demo during the pandemic, but that narrative is changing in a dramatic way with the debut of Illumination and Universal’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, which opened to a record-shattering $129 (or more, once final tallies are in) over the long July 4th weekend to secure one of the top starts of all time for an animated film, pandemic or no pandemic. Minions 2 helped ease the arm bells that went off last month when June animated summer pic Lightyear, from Pixar and Disney, opened to a tepid $51 million domestically. And while Lightyear has now cleared the $200 million mark globally, including $100 million domestically, it is still considered a major disappointment.
Minions: The Rise of Gru completes the circle in terms of indicating that all segments of the audience are willing to consider resuming their pre-pandemic moviegoing habits, provided there is a variety of offerings.
“I think things are getting better. The biggest issue for the box office is content. When there is depth of product, people seem to be showing up,” says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners. “We’re going to be in a typical summer deluge. Then there really isn’t very much to be had for a bit.”
While the July marquee has plenty of intriguing titles — including Thor: Love and Thunder (July 8), Nope (July 22) and DC League of Super-Pets (July 29) — the release calendar then becomes a huge question mark for several months in terms of event fare. One potential August breakout is Sony’s Bullet Train, starring Brad Pitt.
The next big superhero pic to arrive will then be Warner Bros.’ Black Adam, which debuts Oct. 21 opposite the Julia Roberts-George Clooney rom-com A Ticket to Paradise, from Universal . A week earlier, Universal’s Halloween Ends opens in cinemas (the latter pic has plenty of potential, but is still a genre title).
Analysts are counting on the Thanksgiving and Christmas box office to resume the momentum that recent weeks have enjoyed.
In terms of year-end tentpoles, some of the high-profile titles include Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Nov. 11), Disney’s Thanksgiving animated offering Strange World (Nov. 23), 20th Century’s Avatar: The Way of Water (Dec. 16), New Line’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods and DreamWorks Animation’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (both open Dec. 21), and Paramount’s Babylon on Christmas Day.
“Original films and low-to-mid tier releases before November will probably translate to a short ‘cool off’ period before movie going ramps up again for the holidays going into a more fully formed 2023 release calendar,” says Shawn Robbins, a box office analyst with Boxoffice Pro.
Dergarabedian and Robbins are among numerous analysts who believe domestic revenue for 2022 can hit $7.5 billion to $8 billion, which would be about 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels. (In 2019, the North American box office recorded $11.4 billion in sales.)
Through July 4th, 2022 domestic revenue clocked in at an estimated $3.9 billion, according to Comscore. That’s up nearly 250 percent from 2021, but down 32 percent from 2019. Summer revenue clocked in at $1.96 billion through July 4th, up nearly 200 percent from the same period in 2021 and down 15 percent from 2019.
Says Robbins: “That’s a remarkable turnaround from where things stood one and two years ago. While I hesitate to say all audiences have returned, the trend line is moving closer to the point where most are willing.”