THB #205: The 10 Week Box Office Drought Begins
Lobsters in slowly boiling water.
The box office this weekend is not really a shock, but the horror of it is no less real.
The box office gross of the Top 10 on last Friday was $30.3 million. It still wasn’t good. The hope would be that Bullet Train would deliver at least one more $100 million overall box office weekend for theatrical. It didn’t crash, but the engine was little more than a nice caboose.
This week, the Top 10 Friday box office gross is just over $16 million.
Friday’s average percentage as part of the weekend hole is 32.1%, with a low of 23.3% and a high of 44.6%. (Not to confuse more, but in a way, low is high and high is low… 23% means that the full weekend gross is more than 4x Friday and 44.6% means the weekend gross is just over 2x Friday.)
This was only the 4th sub-$16.5m Friday of 2022 and the 1st since February 25.
As a result, expect a 3-day total domestic gross of well under $70 million and perhaps as low as $58 million. It will be the first such low weekend gross since the last weekend of April. The only other weekends this low this year were in January/February (6 of 8 ugly weekends).
But it’s only the beginning.
In each case when the overall weekend gross dipped under $100 million and a big film came and pulled us back above $100 million, the entire holdover box office during those revival weekends was between $30 million and $50 million.
After this weekend, it is fair to assume that the holdover will not be over $50 million on any weekend until bigger movies start landing on October 21, with Black Adam and the mature rom-com, Ticket to Paradise with Roberts & Clooney. There are other films that will make some splash before then: Halloween Ends, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, Bros, Don’t Worry Darling.
But the last edition of the most promising film in this group commercially, Halloween Ends, opened just under $50 million. The final Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween may become a phenom… so there is a shot there. But that’s not until October 14.
Bros could also be a phenom. But even if it does Trainwreck business, that’s still not enough to push any of its first 4 weekends to over $100 million.
Four movies over 9 weeks with none of them likely to open to over $30 million and 1 on Weekend 10 that should open to $50 million or more (then fall quickly) is not going to sustain the theatrical growth and strong plateauing we have seen since March.
Never forget… through July this year, there have been 603 domestic theatrical releases. In 2021, it was 518 and in 2020, 534. But in 2019, it was 1327… just through July.
Just counting wide releases, 1000+ screens, there were 150 new films released and 1 re-release through July 2019. This year, 48. Less than one-third.
Last September, the very beginning of the box office revival started with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which became a $200 million domestic grosser. There is no such movie on the schedule this year. Disney has Zemeckis’ Pinocchio, but has deemed it direct-to-streaming material.
As with its bungling of the theatrical of Encanto and its big missed opportunity with Turning Red, Disney shows that they really don’t understand how to include theatrical in the mix without a sledgehammer at this point. (I am a fan, weirdly, of Barbarian, a Fox title they will release September 9. The publicity department seems to be making a serious effort there on this A24-like title.)
In 2017-2019, pre-COVID, each September grossed $670 million+. Last September did $367,172,835, $200 million of which came from Shang-Chi alone. The #2 September release, Malignant, did only $13 million in September. So the rest of last year’s line up was not strong at all at the box office. Last September’s line up was a little stronger… but COVID and Project Popcorn.
The mid-level films in this September’s line up (Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul., Barbarian, Pearl, The Woman King, Don’t Worry Darling, and opening days for Smile and Bros) can likely keep up with the non-Marvel titles from last September… but they are going to be hard pressed to make up for the lack of Shang-Chi. Plus, the holdover business will likely be weaker than last year.
October of last year had four movies open to $49 million or more, really kicking off the revival we have been in since (with the exception on January and February). This year, only Halloween Ends, Ticket To Paradise and Black Adam really have any chance of opening over $50 million… and they are all in the 2nd half of the month.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has a legit chance, on November 11, of topping the original’s $202 million launch. It will be like breaking the surface of the water and getting oxygen just before completely drowning for many exhibitors.
So some, it may be too late.
And even with the likely heavy hitters of Avatar: The Way of Water and maybe/hopeful heavy hitters like Shazam 2 and Strange World, this holiday season is not gangbusters, in terms of box office. The first potentially big movie of 2023 is Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania on February 17. March looks great. April okay. Then summer starts with Guardians 3 with a strong line-up after that. There are basically, 1 drama (Oppenheimer) and 1 comedy (Barbie) of size all summer at this point.
Famine, Feed, Famine, Feed, Feast, Famine.
Do better, industry.