Watch out—we are about to enter the Disney era.
Sony and Paramount have led the box office recovery, but the post-pandemic baton is about to be passed to Disney. First, a look back.
THE SONY ERA
It would be hard to overstate Sony’s success during the five-month stretch from last October through February. Keep in mind that the theatrical recovery looked much more tenuous last fall. There were a handful of hits (NO TIME TO DIE, SHANG-CHI), but studios were still playing with day-and-date (HALLOWEEN KILLS), and some big budget swings missed completely (WEST SIDE STORY, THE LAST DUEL).
Sony released four films that represented 45% of the box office through that period. It began on October 1stwith VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE, a landmark film in box office recovery. It was the first pandemic-era sequel to open bigger than its predecessor. CARNAGE opened to $90M, while VENOM debuted to $80M in 2018.
That was followed by GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE right before Thanksgiving. With a $44M opening, it breathed new life into a franchise that was desperately in need of support.
But for Sony, the best was yet to come. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME made the achievements of CARNAGE look quaint. On December 17th, SPIDER-MAN had the 2nd largest opening of all time. What’s more remarkable is that it debuted to $260M in the face of quickly growing Omicron cases and on the heels of WEST SIDE STORY, which had everyone questioning the viability of theatrical. It is now the 3rd highest grossing film of all time.
It was UNCHARTED in February that gilded the lily. On the heels of three enormous hits, Sony put Tom Holland front and center and delivered a rarity—an enormously successful film based on a video game. UNCHARTED opened to $51M and currently sits at $143M.
MORBIUS ended the Sony era with a whimper, and, unfortunately, the studio doesn’t have any sure things until SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE PART 1 arrives in October.
THE PARAMOUNT ERA
If Sony added stability to the box office, Paramount expanded the audience. Paramount took the reins with JACKASS FOREVER in February as the Sony era was winding down. With a $23M opening on a $10M budget, JACKASS showed that low brow can still pack a box office punch.
Let’s not forget that JACKASS began as a TV show, so it’s somewhat ironic that it found theatrical success at a time when studios were redirecting content away from theaters to their streaming services.
Yes, JACKASS was a big win, but all eyes were on THE LOST CITY in late March. Older women have shown the greatest reluctance to return to theaters, and if any film was going to draw them back, it was this one. That’s precisely what it did. With a $30M opening, CITY gave us all hope that the box office was growing beyond just men.
Two weeks later, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 pulled a CARNAGE and opened to $14M more than its pre-pandemic predecessor. Just a few weeks earlier, Disney released TURNING RED on Disney+ mostly because there was little confidence that families would return to the theaters. With a $72M opening, SONIC 2 proved Disney wrong.
And, the Paramount Era looks to wrap up on Memorial Day with TOP GUN: MAVERICK, which is looking very strong. It is already among the top 5 in awareness on The Quorum. Things quiet down for the studio after MAVERICK until BABYLON arrives at the end of the year.
THE DISNEY ERA
Disney may have missed an opportunity with TURNING RED, but the studio may be setting up to have the last laugh.
Except for the Fox title DEATH ON THE NILE, Disney has yet to put out a theatrical release this year. That’s about to change with a trio of sure things arriving a month apart. Things kick off with DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS in May, LIGHTYEAR lands in June, and THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER arrives in July.
As if that weren’t enough, Disney anchors the year with BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER around Thanksgiving and AVATAR 2 for Christmas. All five of these films may be among the ten highest grossing films at the end of the year.
But wait a minute. What about Universal?
Universal has a no-brainer with JURASSIC PARK: DOMINION opening in June. After that, they have several big swings but few sure things. MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU may not pull in LIGHTYEAR numbers, but it could certainly do some damage in July.
From there, Universal leans into horror. In June, the studio gives us the buzzy film THE BLACK PHONE, which many think could launch a horror franchise. And Jordan Peele’s NOPE arrives in July. On the heels of GET OUT and US, I wouldn’t bet against Peele, even if the early tracking numbers are soft. Despite a splashy Super Bowl campaign, awareness for the film has stayed stubbornly low.
Universal rounds out the year with HALLOWEEN ENDS and Steven Spielberg’s THE FABELMONS at Thanksgiving.
It’s possible that all these films will work, but side-by-side, the smart money is on Disney. If Sony added stability and Paramount expanded the audience, what are we looking for from Disney?
The hope is that the Disney era – specifically the summer films – will eventize the box office. The summer box office barely chugged along last year. This year, we look to the Disney films (and JURASSIC WORLD) to remind audiences that the summer is the home for spectacle – that water-cooler moments begin in the theater. That will go a long way towards arriving at a box office that resembles 2019.