The summer box office started with a bang, but as the season shifts into fall, ticket sales have fizzled.
Paramount and Skydance’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” alongside Disney and Marvel Studio’s “Doctor Strange in the Mulitverse of Madness,” reignited the movie theater business, driving million to theaters and racking up hundreds of million in ticket sales. The two films kicked off the summer movie season, which runs from May through August, and are the two top-grossing movies released domestically this year.
However, with only a handful of major releases during the summer season, ticket sales dwindled in late July and fell throughout August. In fact, the box office generated less than $100 million in each of the last five weeks of the summer period, according to data from Comscore.
“It definitely ended on a whimper,” said Shawn Robbins, chief media analyst at BoxOffice.com.
Big franchises including Universal’s “Jurassic World: Dominion,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and Disney’s “Thor: Love and Thunder” lifted the box office, but without smaller and mid-tier budgeted films to fill the gaps, the summer box office failed to capitalize on its momentum.
While audiences have returned to cinemas, and are spending more on premium tickets and popcorn, there are still lingering pandemic issues. Those issues include production shutdowns that delayed film shoots and pressure on visual effects houses to complete projects on shortened deadlines.
This means that the movie calendar, while filling back up, is far from running on all cylinders. Over the summer, just 22 films were launched in theaters, down 47.6% compared to 2019, Comscore data shows. And this is a trend that’s been seen all year long. From January to end of August in 2019, Hollywood released 75 films in cinemas. In 2022, so far, it’s only released 46.
There will be more month-to-month consistency next year, Robbins said.
Despite nearly 50% fewer film releases during this four-month period, the domestic box still tallied $3.34 billion in ticket sales, down just 21% from 2019 levels.
“The results are impressive,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “Summer movies like ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ ‘Doctor Strange 2,’ ‘Jurassic World: Dominion,’ and others, punched above their weight in May, June, and July, boosting not only sales, but confidence in the industry after moving in fits and starts over the course of 2020 and 2021.”
“However, a fall slowdown has given the industry a bit of a post-summer hangover with worries that only a handful of apparent blockbusters wait in the wings to bolster the fortunes of the third quarter box office,” he said.
As it stands, there are currently only four would-be blockbuster releases coming to theaters before the end of December, including Warner Bros.’ “Black Adam” in October, Disney’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Strange World” in November, and Disney’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” in December.
For comparison, in 2019, there were nearly two dozen blockbuster-style films slated on the calendar for the last four months of the year, including “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” “Jumanji: The Next Level” and “Frozen II.”
The domestic box office has generated around $5.3 billion since January, down around 31% compared to 2019, but remains on pace to deliver around $7.5 billion in total ticket sales by the end of the year, Dergarabedian said.
“That’s frankly a great outcome for an industry that saw 2020 levels at a mere $2.3 billion and a 2021 that wound up at $4.6 billion,” he said.
Next year looks stronger. Already the calendar has significantly more titles, as well as a more diverse collection of genres and budgets, including Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “Dungeons & Dragons” and “John Wick 4.”
“2023 gets things rolling on a much better foot,” Robbins said.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.