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The worry wasn’t for naught.
After a summer boom, domestic box office revenue for September 2022 plummeted to a projected $328.7 million, the worst showing for the month in a quarter of century, according to Comscore. The last time it was that low — excluding 2020, during the heart of the COVID-19 crisis — was in September of 1996 ($326.7 million).
September 2021 ticket sales even managed to clock in at $367 million, thanks to Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
The September 2022 downturn was due to a dearth of high-profile, all-audience event titles. Like other industries, Hollywood studios are grappling with supply chain issues because of the pandemic, both in terms of production and post-production delays.
There was a flush backlog of product to stack the deck during the March-July corridor. Moviegoing surged in a much-needed vote of confidence for the theatrical experience. Top Gun: Maverick, released over Memorial Day weekend, led the revival in grossing an astonishing $1.47 billion worldwide. Jurassic World Dominion, Doctor Strange the Multiverse of Madness and also Minions: The Rise of Gru basked in the revival, resulting in July box office revenue crossing the $1 billion mark for the first time in any given month since COVID-19 struck.
“It’s the drought after the feast,” says Comscore chief box office analyst Paul Dergarbedian. “The good news is that September 2022 marks more of an anomaly than a trend, with September 2023 boasting The Equalizer 3, The Nun 2 and, of course, [in 2024] the next blockbuster installment of Deadpool.”
For decades, September was a relatively sleepy month at the box office. Studios assumed that consumers had other priorities post-summer, including returning to school or college. But as the overall calendar became more crowded, the landscape changed. A pivotal turning point was the release of New Line’s It in September 2017, when overall revenue for the month ascended to a record $702.9 million, per Comscore.
That was followed by $670.8 million in 2018 and $698.2 million in 2019. Revenue fell to $79.9 million in September 2020 as many theaters were still struggling to reopen. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, September revenue hadn’t fallen below $500 million or so since 2005.
That’s not to say that September 2022 has been bereft of notable titles. The difference is that they haven’t transformed into crossover hits. The female Black-led The Woman King is the month’s top earner as of Sept. 29 with a domestic cume of nearly $40 million, while Don’t Worry Darling has earned $24.4 million in it first five or so days in release.
The marquee will grow more crowded by mid-October. DC and Warner Bros. open Black Adam, starring Dwayne Johnson, on Oct. 21 in North America, opposite Universal’s romantic-comedy Ticket to Paradise, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts. A week earlier, Universal and Blumhouse opens Halloween Ends in cinemas (it is debuting simultaneously on Peacock).
After enduring the worst of the pandemic, most cinema operators are in acceptance mode that the box office recovery is far from over. They are counting on another major rebound over the year-end holidays, which brings such releases as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Nov. 11) and Avatar: The Way of Water (Dec. 16).
Mega exhibitor Cineworld, however, has had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S., where it operates Regal Cinemas.
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