Starting with early May’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Disney will release a new Marvel title in theaters every quarter through the end of year. The title is hoping for a box office boost following its protagonist’s prominent role in Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. The year’s second Marvel title, Thor: Love and Thunder, is scheduled to open during a busy blockbuster period in July. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will be the second of four superhero titles to hit theaters in Q4 and should pack theaters in North America through the Thanksgiving holiday.
The big question closing out the year will come with James Cameron’s Avatar 2, currently scheduled to open on December 21. The film is much less of a guaranteed hit after being in development for over a decade. The original Avatar untapped the potential of digital cinema projection and launched digital 3D as a premium experience for theaters around the world. Digital 3D occupies a fraction of the box office it once had during its height in the 2010s, but other premium cinema formats have continued to grow and expand their footprint worldwide. Avatar 2’s success could very well come down to how the film markets the moviegoing experience at Premium Large Format (PLF) auditoriums, which have found increased prominence during the pandemic.
Disney curtailed its 2021 potential at the box office by prioritizing the growth of its streaming service, Disney+, over theatrical exhibition. Pixar title Luca skipped a theatrical release entirely to instead become the latest in an anonymous string of straight-to-video movies, while Peter Jackson’s documentary The Beatles: Get Back had its theatrical runtime re-edited to become a multi-episode documentary series. A number of prominent theatrical titles received day-and-date Premium Video on Demand (PVOD) releases, with only one of them—Marvel’s Black Widow—ranking among the year’s ten highest-grossing films.
The studio’s focus returned to theatrical exclusivity in Q3. Disney’s biggest hit of 2021 came with Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Marvel title to be released exclusively to theaters during the pandemic. Though the film’s $75 million opening weekend came in below Black Widow’s ($80M). Its theatrical run exceeded Black Widow’s by more than $40 million, making it Disney’s only title of 2021 to cross $200 million at the domestic box office.
Theatrical exclusivity wasn’t a magic formula for the studio’s other Q4 titles. Its 20th Century Studios division, a remnant of the studio’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, was only able to claim one hit from its slate (Free Guy) in a year marked by several high-profile letdowns at the box office. Adult-skewing titles like The Last Duel and West Side Story garnered strong reviews but were unable to connect with moviegoers.
On the specialty side, Searchlight Pictures kicked off the year with the Academy Award-winning release of Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. The specialty market came to life with the opening of theaters in New York and Los Angeles in the Spring, leading to an increase of titles in the second half of the year. Among them, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch proved to be the year’s top specialty performer with a $16 million haul as of the year’s end.
2022 Theatrical Slate
Death on the Nile (20th Century Studios) | February 11
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Marvel) | May 6
Bob’s Burgers (20th Century Studios) | May 27
Lightyear (Pixar) | June 17
Thor: Love and Thunder (Marvel) | July 8
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Marvel) | November 11
Strange World | November 23
Avatar 2 (20th Century Studios) | December 21
2021 Domestic Box Office Performance
Domestic Box Office Total: $1.17 Billion (First Place)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
September 3 | $224.5M Domestic
July 9 | $183.7M Domestic
November 5| $164.4M Domestic
August 13 | $121.6M Domestic
August 30 | $117M Domestic
November 24 | $90.6M Domestic
May 28 | $86.1M Domestic
Raya and the Last Dragon
March 5 | $54.7M Domestic
West Side Story
December 10 | $28.2M Domestic
Ron’s Gone Wrong
October 22 | $23M Domestic
The King’s Man
December 22 | $16.3M Domestic
The French Dispatch
October 22 | $15.9M Domestic
The Last Duel
October 15 | $10.8M Domestic
October 29 | $10.6M Domestic
The Night House
August 20 | $7.1M Domestic
December 17 | $6.8M Domestic
February 11 | $3.7M Domestic (*Total Theatrical Run)
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
September 17 | $2.4M Domestic
Summer of Soul
June 25 | $2.3M Domestic