Much has been written about the performance of THE FLASH. It’s been called a disaster, a flop, an epic misfire. Think pieces have been written about what went wrong, what this means for the state of theatrical, for Warner Bros., for Ezra Miller.
It’s hard to argue that it performed softer than many would have liked, even in the context of stand-alone superhero movies. That makes this an opportune time to pause and acknowledge that the domestic theatrical business is actually quite healthy. And, if anything, it could be argued that we’ve been blinded by the enormous openings from last summer.
Let’s not sugarcoat it. The $55M opening for THE FLASH wasn’t great, especially when many felt that the film should have reached $100M. The problem is that the film was a long shot to open that high, and frankly, we shouldn’t have expected it to. We have come to believe that every tentpole should open to $100M; if it doesn’t, something must have gone wrong.
It’s not hard to see why. In most summer seasons, two to four films will open above the century mark. But last year, we had five. That broke the record of four set in the summer of 2016.
What happened last year was remarkable, especially considering theatrical was still in mid-stage recovery mode. On top of that, there were only 23 wide releases last summer, roughly half the number from the summer of 2019. Therein lies the rub. One could say that the 2022 releases flourished due to the lack of competition. There’s undoubtedly some truth to that. But the common complaint last year was that there were not enough films to play in theaters, and we can all agree that none of us want to revert to that situation.
Still, the massive success of those five titles, combined with $100M+ openings for non-summer films like THE BATMAN, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA, and THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE has trained us to think in binary terms. $100M is a hit; anything less is not.
So far this summer, we’ve had two films that opened above $100M (though, with a $96M launch, THE LITTLE MERMAID was almost a third), which feels like a disappointment. But, in reality, it’s in line with historicals.
We can see that when we expand the view and look at the number of summer movies to open above $50M (including $100M+ titles). So far, we’re up to six, with at least half a dozen more that have a shot of doing the same. INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE and BARBIE look poised to bring the total to nine. That would be on the high side of historicals. And if BLUE BEETLE, OPPENHEIMER, or TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM overperform, that number could swell to 12. That would be something to celebrate.
Yes, we had a rough weekend where both THE FLASH and ELEMENTAL had soft openings, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the summer box office is healthy and thriving.