The theatrical release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is upon us, and the gut reaction, aside from the giddy excitement of many fans, is that Ryan Coogler’s MCU sequel is the film that will kick-start the box office. This is both true and false. It is an accurate assessment to the extent that, given Black Adamdue to relative underperformance, it will be the first major release of the summer season to open well over $100 million at the domestic box office. Estimates are that it will rake in at least $175 million in its first three days (four including Thursday, Nov. 10th). But it is also false, at least in one respect. At Tilt Magazine, we like to take a positive approach.
Of course, it should be noted that there are a plethora of variables that can be addressed when engaging in a serious, detail-oriented discussion of box office earnings. Some movies play on IMAX, some don’t. Some movies cost $200 million to create while others $20 million. Then there’s the percentage split on the price of a movie ticket between movie theater chains and studios. That split changes over time, with the studio taking more money for the first few weeks, even the first month or more until the fee is equal. Eventually, when a movie isn’t making that much because it’s nearing the end of its run, the theater takes in most of the ticket price (which is why popcorn and soda are so expensive. The more you know).
This discussion will simplify things for brevity. We’ll try not to oversimplify them, but that’s a risk you take.
Domestic earnings continue to rise
In late 2021, outlets happily posted that overall domestic earnings were up from a dismal 2020. It was also always going to be a relatively easy hurdle to overcome, given how bad 2020 has been historically for obvious reasons. Total movie ticket dollars spent nationwide were $4.4 billion, a 91 percent increase from a year earlier. Even with the caveat of a crippled 2020 box office, a 91% increase sounds very nice.
It wasn’t just applause and praise. The reality was that the $4.4 billion was down 61% from a record-breaking 2019 that saw people in the US and Canada spending a whopping $11.39 billion on movie tickets. Thanks, Avengers: Endgame and Lion King remake.
To prepare this article, the total figures (as of Monday, November 7th, 2022) of all the films released domestically have been based on The Numbers. When pasted into a rudimentary Excel spreadsheet, the tally stands at $5.6 billion. That’s already $1.2 billion higher than in 2021, and the latter’s total has been a sigh of relief for the industry. Consider that, at the time of writing (November 8, 2022), neither Wakanda forever neither Avatar: The Way of Water they have opened. Thanks, Top Gun: Maverick.
Interestingly, movies that sold at least $100 million in box office tickets totaled $3.6 billion, or 83 percent of all 2021 earnings. That’s not all that bad, realistically speaking, especially considering the two aforementioned heavyweights still waiting in the wings. There’s little reason to suspect that the major earnings ($100M+) alone won’t surpass the entire 2021 tally. At worst, it will be a close race.
Smaller movies keep the cash flowing
One comment that came up while reading outlets and listening to entertainment business podcasts and YouTube channels is that the fall season has been a weak one for movies. Deadline’s Anthony D’Allessandro is a box office guru who tracks all kinds of domestic numbers, from box office receipts, movie scores, social media hits and weekend box office numbers. Anyone really interested in the subject should read his Friday and Saturday articles. Excellent stuff.
Even in its weekly updates, there’s been the occasional mention that things aren’t what they used to be. In his defense of him, she is not entirely wrong. September to October of this year have not been as strong as the barometer of 2019. The elephant in the room is obviously Black Adam, which theaters and industry pundits hoped would be a saving grace in a season that had cooled off after a scorching summer. It opened well for a Dwayne Johnson film, grossing $67 million. But given the herculean effort its star put into the hype machine and considering how the other comic book movies fared opening weekend, one would be forgiven for thinking the $67 million was just good but not great.
The true story of the fall 2022 season is like smaller films, which had smaller budgets than Black Adam, kept the industry afloat. This despite the fact that it seemed that things were not going well.
No, the topic does not include Siblings. Even considering his modest production budget (where did the $22 million go?), his $14 million global earnings were meager. This is where the point calls for some nuance. Domestic earnings have been discussed so far. As mentioned above, he has simplified things. For this part, global earnings will be included. How come? Because the figures will show that there are more people, both locally and internationally, who have shown interest in more modest images.
They weren’t all big hits, of course. The King Woman, produced for $50 million, earned $91 million globally. That’s nearly double the budget, but those figures don’t include marketing. For whatever reason, and this is not the time or place to get into that, it hasn’t been released in as many countries around the world as one might have thought. Ironically, it’s barely played in Africa. At least the data for those markets has not been disclosed.
Ticket to heaven, the romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney, made $137.5 million on a reported $60 million budget. It only suffered a 14% drop from its 2na weekend at its 3rd. That kind of staying power is not seen very often.
Even Don’t worry honey, which has been in the spotlight of controversy for all sorts of reasons, hasn’t been the disaster some had predicted, having earned $86 million globally (a reported $35 million budget). Not great, but it’s not like everyone decided to skip it.
Who should come to the rescue if not horror films? They’re traditionally cheaper to make, and when they sound good, they do it to the delight of the studios that backed them. Let’s start.
Barbarian It was reportedly stitched together for the paltry sum of $4.5 million and grossed $43.5 million globally.
Halloween ends, another film mired in controversy though for what’s in the actual film, it still made its way to over $100 million worldwide on a reported $30 million budget. Evil never dies, it seems.
As has been on everyone’s lips lately, at least for those paying attention to the numbers, the rousing hit of autumn 2022 is Smile. Made for a reasonable $17 million, the “little movie that could” has grossed over $20 million globally. Yes, $200 million.
And not to be overlooked, for heaven knows his fans are passionate, Terrified 2, which apparently cost only $250,000, scared moviegoers to the tune of $10 million. Most of that is actually domestic, however.
The good, the bad and hope
It’s no use pretending that everything is rosy. Also with Wakanda forever And Avatar: The Way of Water, it would be quite a feat for the 2022 total to surpass that of 2019. When the dust settles, 2022 can be seen as a year of transition. A transition to what? This is the billion dollar question.
Will it mark a transition to future calendar years that more closely reflect pre-pandemic successes? Perhaps. Streaming and high-quality content across multiple services might have something to say about it, but the fact of the matter is that the industry is on a strong upswing.
Is 2022 perhaps a transition to a new middle ground between the pre-pandemic era and the “good but not great” figures of 2021? Clearly, people want to go to the movies. Otherwise, the numbers would be down rather than up. Similarly, there has been no shortage of high-profile films released in theaters and it doesn’t look like 2022 will catch up with 2019. Perhaps the remaining two months hold surprises, but that would be an incredible sprint to the finish line.
The boring answer is: we will know in 2023. One thing is certain. Going to the cinema is not dead. Not yet anyway. Long live the cinemas.