The Quorum

Paramount looks to expand the theatrical audience with THE LOST CITY and SONIC 2

We are about to enter an important three-week stretch for theatrical, and all eyes will be on two Paramount titles. The performances of THE LOST CITY (3/25) and SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 (4/08) will go a long way towards revealing if older women and families are returning to theaters in numbers resembling the pre-pandemic box office.

The popular narrative holds that theatrical is strictly the domain of men and superheroes. Women don’t go anymore, and the only films that succeed require tights. It may be a cliché at this point, but the data bears that out.

When we field our surveys, there are specific demographic quotas in place. In each of our fieldings, we need a certain number of frequent filmgoers – people who see a movie in a theater at least once a month. And, among that group, we need a cross-section of men, women, young and old.

While it’s pretty easy to find enough men who are frequent filmgoers, it’s a little harder to find women. More specifically, it’s the older women that are the most elusive.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean that women over 35 aren’t going to the movies. It just means they’re not going all that often. This group is more likely to say they go to the theater “a few times a year” rather than every month.

Older women showed up for SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME and THE BATMAN, but we have yet to see them show up for smaller budget films. The good news is that THE LOST CITY may be the one to do it.

The chart below shows the interest scores for men and women, under and over 35 years old, for LOST and the three highest-grossing films of 2022. Among women over 35 (dark blue), LOST has an interest score of 6.5.  

Below that, you can see that older women showed strong interest in THE BATMAN (6.3), but they had very little interest in UNCHARTED (4.0) and SCREAM (4.4).

Our optimism stems from the fact that the interest score in this demo is higher for LOST than BATMAN.

While LOST looks to be a litmus test for older women, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 will provide insights into the family audience.

It’s easy to forget exactly how huge the family box office was back in the old times. In 2019 alone, there were eight G or PG titles that opened above $40M. Three of them debuted above $100M. Just before theaters shut down in March 2020, the first SONIC THE HEDGEHOG grossed $58M in its first frame.  

While we’ve seen superhero movies reach and surpass pre-pandemic levels, the same can’t be said for family films. Since the pandemic, not a single G/PG film has opened to $40M.

At the moment, SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY is tops with a $31M opening. Neither ENCANTO nor SING 2 opened above $30M.

As we noted last week, it feels like Disney missed an opportunity to go theatrical with TURNING RED. Thankfully, Paramount is charging forward with SONIC 2.

Can SONIC 2 be the first pandemic-era family film to crack $40M? Will it match or beat the $58M opening for the first SONIC?

There’s reason to be optimistic. At 57%, awareness for SONIC 2 is the same as SPACE JAM on its day of release. With another two weeks to go, SONIC 2 has a great chance of ending its run above 60%.

There’s another reason to feel optimistic about SONIC 2. At the moment, 58% of people say they would prefer to watch the film in a theater instead of at home. That’s well above the 47% for SPACE JAM and SING 2.

That might be the strongest indication yet that audiences are ready to return to the big screen in larger numbers. With LIGHTYEAR tracking well in advance of its June release, I’m sure all eyes are on SONIC 2 to see if the theatrical audience is there.

As of now, there is reason to be optimistic about these two films and, in turn, the return of two reluctant audiences. Let’s hope that THE LOST CITY and SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 will demonstrate that the theatrical audience is growing more diverse.

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