“Revvin' up Tom’s engine
Listen to him howlin' roar
Movies under tension
Beggin' you to pay and go
Highway to the Danger Zone
Ride into the Danger Zone
Headin' to Jurassic
Spreadin' out Thor’s wigs tonight
Minions jumpin' off the deck
Elvis into Lightyear drive
Highway to the Danger Zone
I'll Nope you right into the Danger Zone”
This newsletter was inspired by a bunch of over-70 people I hang out with on Friday mornings. We used to be called “The Mazursky Table,” but Mazursky did us the great disservice of dying almost 8 years ago.
This morning, 4 different older people said, “So that Top Gun… gonna be big, eh?”
My first answer, before each one of the frequent moviegoers told me they were in no rush to go, was that it was going make a good amount of money, but that it was being overstated and it will likely be #3 or #4 for the summer.
But my longer, more boring answer - which I saved for you - was that Top Gun Maverick is the clearest example of a major problem with the industry moving forward.
The audience/exhibition seems to be at about 85% - 90% repaired post-COVID at this point.
We’ve had two $350m domestic grossers. We’ve had surprise hits like Dog and Uncharted. A24 has had their biggest domestic grosser ever. You can stop polling the issue now. It’s boring and really, a non-issue.
I’m glad that writers who write about box office - very few of whom know much of anything - have finally come around to mentioning what I started writing about last November (last few paragraphs), the dearth of movies coming to theaters. Wrote about it again in December. By March, I stopped being gentle - Starving The Box Office - and sometime in April, mostly after CinemaCon, writers started mentioning the issue. Some were even smart enough to puck on the $100m domestic weekend mark as the measure of health that was coming and going like the wind.
I explained that day-n-date was dying off last October. And I’ll stop tooting my own horn after this, but I have been explaining everything that finally came to pass with Netflix’s valuation for years now… while most others kept fantasizing about the billion household world by 2025.
But for the most part, writers and apparently, much of the industry still doesn’t understand what is actually going on. They are still caught up somewhere in their lingering streaming OCD and the giant industry lie that theatrical was in trouble before COVID.
And now, Top Gun Maverick is the poster child for box office being back to normal… AND for the distribution of movies being deep into a super-serious, don’t-wait-for-the-bleeding problem.
A bunch of people over 45 are nostalgic for Top Gun. Good for them. Some like to say they never liked Top Gun, but this one is different. Those people using cinematic mushrooms to convince themselves of an untruth. But good for them too. I am not here to tell anyone not to love TGM to within an inch of its height… uh… life.
But Tom Cruise and his onanistic movie (sorry… just my opinion… too harsh… maybe…) isn’t the savior of cinema. It’s just another big, expensive movie. Love it all you like. But understand what is means to this business.
The most generous view of this month of May is that we will gross $400 million less domestically from in-month releases than 2019. And that doesn’t include Avengers: Endgame, as it opened in April.
And yet, the average May release has grossed - up until this weekend, with TGM about to improve the stat for 2022 - a little more than in 2019.
The key stat: 83 releases in May 2019. 34 this month.
This is your Top 10 for May releases going into this weekend…
They give us eyes… can we not see?
It’s not funny. And it’s not a side issue. And if we brush it under the Tom Cruise rug, this is going to go from a problem to a funeral.
You know what people who don’t really care about Top Gun have to see at the movie theaters this holiday weekend? Downton Abbey. I’m sure it’s lovely. But how is this servicing the base of customers… which is only really 10% of Americans… but that’s over 25 million people who have a wide range of tastes.
Q: Is Top Gun Maverick going to do $550m worldwide, $650m, $750m or (oy) a billion?
A: It doesn’t frickin’ matter!
This is the thing… when you are pushing an agenda, even when you can see the problem down the road, you end up rooting for your agenda. So of course the studios are giddy about releasing big movies that succeed. Of course distributors are going to promote the idea that everything is back to normal at the cinema.
But next weekend… with no new wide releases, there is a legitimate threat of the overall domestic box office dropping back under $100 million again. It probably won’t… but just barely. TGM could easily drop to $70m and the rest of the market could easily be under $30m next weekend. The rest of the market will probably be a little more resilient than that… but don’t bet the house.
Binging and purging is not healthy for any ecosystem.
Does this look healthy to you?
That last upswing is an estimate of this weekend of $175 million.
Wanna see the chart with all my projections for all the big movies the rest of the summer?
The split is where it goes from what has happened to what I am projecting.
Looks pretty good… nice hold up there, huh?
But here is the problem… it’s still a summer of under $3.9 billion.
That’s still about 10% behind 2019… with a pretty positive projection. But that number is only achieved by cutting off about $500 million of Avengers: Endgame that was earned in April 2019. Include that and it’s 20% behind 2019.
From August 15, it is 11 weeks before another blockbuster (Black Panther 2) is on the charts. Yes, we get the final Halloween movie of this cycle, The Rock as Black Adam, and Bros at the end of September.
But even last year, with COVID unsettled, we had Shang-Chi, Bond, Venom 2, Halloween 2, Dune and a week of Eternals in that same window.
In 2019, we had Good Boys, It 2, Hustlers, the first Downton Abbey, Joker, Malificent 2, animated Addams Family, Zombieland 2, and Teminator Dark Fate.
Shall I chart that too?
This is also a pretty generous chart. But it still shows the2nd half of August and September and the first half October all under the $100m “Mendoza line” of domestic theatrical. And for the record, that would put us at $4.8 million at the domestic box office going into the holiday season, where we do have Black Panther and Avatar 2 and Shazam 2 coming.
So, depending on Avatar, $6.5 billion to $7.5 billion?
You know where there is at least another $1.5 billion? Probably more. In non-blockbusters that aren’t being released into theaters? Not enough money to excite you? It’s 20%. That is a significant amount. That is the difference between losses and profits.
Adam Aron said that theaters will be back to normal in 2023?
Well, theaters could be very close to normal right now. If distributors did what they need to in order to keep theaters open for their hits, mega and minor.
Aron is counting on distribution doing this in 2023. Because if they don’t, it won’t matter how many giant movies you have… you won’t get much closer to the pre-COVID norm and then theaters will start closing and then the giant movies will be diminshed at the box office and more theaters will close… and on down into the sewer.
And distributors can’t decide to do this is the winter… because it takes over a year to get most movies from script into a movie theater. “Oh… we’ll do it in 2024.” Yeah. Check is in the mail.
So… enjoy Top Gun Maverick. Enjoy the hits of mid-June through July. Embrace the magic.
But don’t lose perspective and expect a short white man (no beard… can’t run in sandals) to come save you in his very fast plane with his need for speed.
I won’t even start on the slowdown in production (again, the inevitability of which was predicted by me for 18 months) for streaming and how streaming won’t be profitable for years to come and will end up finding its sea legs with legacy television ideas from the 1990s… because no one likes crying… not in baseball… not in the industry. Except Nicole Kidman. (I truly love Nicole… but enough!)
Excellent analysis, as always. What movies released directly to streaming this month do you think would have made decent box office money?