2022 in Review: The Biggest Stories, Surprises, and Disappointments for Theatrical Exhibition

Images courtesy Paramount Pictures, Sarigama Pictures, and A24

Listen to the full conversation on The Boxoffice Podcast


The Biggest Stories of the Year

The Domestic Box Office Falls Short of Expectations in 2022

Shawn Robbins: 2022 came in below where we were expecting to be at this time last year. A big part of that is due to one or two movies that were delayed, in some cases pushed into 2023, but also one or two movies that underperformed. Movies like Lightyear this summer fell very short of expectations. That accounts for a huge chunk. This time a year ago, we were talking about hopes of hitting $8 billion domestically. To get fairly close to that figure, under the circumstances, is more of a positive than a negative. But there are still some kinks that need to be worked out as we go into 2023.

Cineworld Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

Daniel Loria: The Cineworld bankruptcy wasn’t completely unexpected, but it’s something that remains unresolved as we enter 2023. The circuit is operational but there are still a lot of factors and questions to settle in the new year. There is a lot at stake when you talk about the fate of the world’s second-largest cinema chain.

Studio M&A: Amazon-MGM and Warner Bros. Discovery

Rebecca Pahle: Shawn was talking about how there we still have questions about the domestic box office that we hope are finally answered next year. I feel like nearly all of the year’s top stories for exhibition are topics that we still need to wait and see how things shake out in 2023. From Amazon’s acquisition of MGM and Discovery taking the reins over at Warner Bros.

Russ Fischer: Warner Bros. Discovery is a big question. The next big thing to come out of that merger is going to be the launch of their new unified streaming service. Basically, they’re mashing together HBO Max and Discovery Plus into one service. Nobody, including probably 98 percent of people inside the company right now, know what that’s going to look like at this point. It’s a huge priority, but nobody knows anything. [Warner Bros. Discovery CEO] David Zaslav has stated a commitment to theatrical exhibition, but precisely what that means is uncertain. We’ve seen a real slash-and-burn approach to cost-cutting over there. We’re seeing titles planned for streaming get axed, Batgirl is the most obvious. Of course, streaming is not our primary concern here, but when you talk about a company like Warner Bros. Discovery, it has to be in the mix because it’s a big part of their overall bottom line.

Now that said, there are titles that were originally going to be exclusive to streaming that have been pushed to theatrical. Titles like House Party and the new Evil Dead movie… [Elsewhere in their theatrical division] there’s still a lot of uncertainty. What are they going to do with a Fantastic Beasts series, a marquee franchise that nobody seems to care about at this point? You talk about movies failing to move the needle and Fantastic Beasts is way up toward the top of that list, whereas a movie like Elvis did spectacularly well. How is that going to affect how they plan movies going into the next five years? The DC Studios question is a big one, with the hiring of James Gunn on the creative side and Peter Safran on the business side to run it. In the short term, that means a lot of shakeups because those guys seem like they’re planning a Marvel-style slate, which is to say they’re planning 5 to 10 years of movies.

The Return of Bob Iger

Russ Fischer: We don’t even now how long this new Bob Iger era is even going to last. The announcement of him coming back to replace Bob Chapek as Disney CEO didn’t imply it was a permanent move. He’s basically back to oversee a transition, which I assume is a different transition than the transition to Chapek that he previously oversaw, which everyone has mutually agreed did not work out very well. The new Iger era is a big question mark from the jump, we don’t know if he’s going to be around for one or two years just to pass the job off to somebody else. I think the $1.5 billion one loss from Disney+ is really interesting, especially when you talk about Star Wars, Disney Animation, and Pixar.

The Surprises

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Top Gun: Maverick

Shawn Robbins: We knew it was going to be big, but I don’t know if anybody could have ever seen a $700 million run coming for Top Gun: Maverick. We weren’t anywhere near that. I think the best way to describe Tom Cruise right now is as the “Patron Saint of Cinemas.” Frankly, he brought back an entire generation of moviegoers—a generation we didn’t know would ever come back after the pandemic. They came back from Top Gun: Maverick. At the very least they came back for that movie.

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Rebecca Pahle: It’s definitely in my top four, five films of the year. A lot of the appeal for a movie like Top Gun: Maverick was in the draw of premium formats. That’s something cuts out a lot of cinemas out of the equation, theaters that aren’t built to be set up that way. Everything Everywhere All At Once was the saving grace for a lot of art house cinemas in 2022.

Shawn Robbins: It was great to see it succeed, especially because we’ve had so much bad news on how prestige and art house films performed at the end of the year, with so many Oscar candidates not crossing over with audiences. I’m going to point back to Everything Everywhere All At Once as an example of why the [platform release model] can still work.

RRR —and Variance Films

Daniel Loria: RRR is probably one of the most surprising moviegoing experiences of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been talked down to, as a viewer, that much by a movie. I can’t think of a more condescending film, in the way it treats its audience, and I was surprised to find myself having so much fun being talked down to as much as I was by the movie. What an amazing experience.

Russ Fischer: My proposal months ago, after seeing it, was that everybody who wants to compete for Oscars this year put someone on stage and everybody has to dance to “Naatu Naatu.” The last person standing wins Best Picture.

Daniel Loria: I feel we need to give a shout-out to Dylan Marchetti and Variance Films for RRR‘s success in the United States. This is a company that has put out “hard-to-market movies” theatrically—and done fantastically well with them. They helped put Drive My Car on the awards radar last year [along with Sideshow and Janus], in a campaign that ended up landing a three-hour Japanese-language drama a Best Picture nomination. They’re doing the same this year with EO, it’s really hard to take an art house movie about a donkey out of the festival circuit and into theaters. Variance was a huge reason why RRR was available to see in U.S. theaters, even grabbing a brief IMAX re-release.

National Cinema Day

Rebecca Pahle: I think it was a huge success. More than 30,000 screens participated and 8.1 million people came out…it showed a willingness to experiment from exhibitors, in this particular case with discounted pricing models.

Shawn Robbins: That day brought out over 8 million moviegoers. Okay, we’re talking about $3 per ticket, so obviously that’s factoring a lot into the numbers. But just for sheer analytics purposes, that would translate, at normal ticket price, to roughly $80 million. So you’re talking about the number of people who went to the theaters that day is virtually equivalent to the number of people that would go see a Marvel movie on opening day.

Horror

Daniel Loria: National Cinema Day really helped attendance on a weekend without any major releases. One of the few bright spots during the fall at the domestic box office was the performance of the horror genre. It has always been, historically, one of the most consistent and resilient genres for theatrical exhibition to get through downturns over the decades. And what a variety of titles. Apart from Halloween Ends, Blumhouse had a great year with studio films like The Black Phone and independent pick-ups like Soft & Quiet, the latter one of my favorite movies of the year. Original movies like Pearl and X, from Ti West, are also among my favorite of the year. Other original titles like Barbarian and Smile found an audience in theaters. Sequels like Scream (2022) and Terrifier 2 made important contributions to the market.

Russ Fischer: Barbarian is a really fantastic topic…nobody wanted to make this movie…20th Century Studios stepped in and helped get it made. They package it and somehow it worked. There’s some wild stuff in Barbarian, the sort of stuff that doesn’t typically get the major studio label at this point—especially when there are labels doing great work like IFC Midnight, A24, and Shudder. There’s a lot of great horror out right now, and there are more ways than ever to see horror movies and let them build at least a small audience.

The Disappointments

Exclusive to Streaming

Daniel Loria: Two of my biggest disappointments this year were not having the option to see movies like Prey and Hellraiser in a theater. Prey would have been among my list of the best movies of the year had it played in cinemas. I think both of those movies would have contributed to the box office in September or October, especially seeing how other horror titles played in theaters.

Shawn Robbins: I think the day that Turning Red was announced as going to streaming, it felt like a stab in the back for exhibition. Theatrical was heading into spring, there was all this optimism that families were going to come back and that [Turning Red] would be the kind of movie to do it with. That eventually turned out to be true later that spring with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I think the rationale for Turning Red was that it strongly appealed to mothers and daughters who were been perceived as the most hesitant group to come back to theaters at that point. But I do think it would have done really well. I also look at what they put on streaming that didn’t get a theatrical release: Hocus Pocus 2 could have done really well in the fall with a theatrical release, even if it was a shortened window.

Family Movies

Photo Credits: Disney & Pixar (“Lightyear”)

Shawn Robbins: What went wrong with family movies at the box office in 2022? The easiest, simplest way to look at it is that traditionally, every summer, there are two big animated movies that on average earn between $200 to 300, if not $400 million. That was the expectation for Lightyear… you’re talking a couple of hundred of million dollars just on the domestic side by that film underperforming.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Sequel

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Daniel Loria: I think everyone here was on the same page about the false promise of Netflix going theatrical with the Knives Out sequel. It wasn’t the silver bullet many hoped it would be. It didn’t pan out…saying Netflix gave it a paltry bit of support going to theaters would be overstating it. Four days in like 600 screens? I can’t imagine how much money Netflix left on the table.

Shawn Robbins: Just considering what it did across those four days in under 700 screens, there’s no question that could have been $100 million dollar domestic earner, probably much higher.

Russ Fischer: We’re talking about Netflix leaving money on the table. Should we reframe the question to how much money Lionsgate left on the table by letting these movies go to Netflix in the first place? Obviously, it happened because Netflix just poured buckets of cash onto Ram Bergman and Rian Johnson’s table…but talked about a missed opportunity.

Daniel Loria: And it’s a big transition period for Lionsgate, as it’s trying to figure out how to survive as a mid-major studio. What’s going to happen with its ownership of Starz, for instance, the premium cable channel that isn’t HBO or Showtime—it’s the other one.

Russ Fischer: I would argue that it’s been a transition period for Lionsgate for like the last ten years…

Apple

Daniel Loria: We have to talk about Apple—coming off of a Best Picture Oscar with Coda, a movie they did everything they could so people wouldn’t see in theaters. How do they follow that up? I can name two Apple releases this year, something called Cha Cha Real Smooth, which they bought out of Sundance, a then Emancipation, with star-of-the-moment Will Smith. I don’t think too many moviegoers have any idea these movies exist.

Shawn Robbins: I will add a third movie, Spirited, with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, that was my favorite Christmas movie of the year.

Daniel Loria: Spirited was a movie? I thought it was a TV show. Like one of those Ted Lasso things.

Shawn Robbins: Spirited is the kind of movie that, again, would have done great with a theatrical window. I mean, how many times do we have to really say that for these movies?

Daniel Loria: It’s just crazy to talk about a company like Apple being so bad at something. They are terrible at releasing movies, even when it’s within their own streaming platform.

Our Favorite Movies and Moviegoing Moments of the Year

Russ Fischer: My best theatrical experience this year was Jackass Forever, because it was my first movie back since March 2020. It was a massively entertaining and emotional experience. My wife and I went and we both loved it. It’s great to go to the theater and laugh your ass off through a movie. And then to recounting your favorite moments from the Jackass in the car ride on the way home. It was a great time.

Chad Kennerk: This year, I celebrated three of Boxoffice’s 2022 Giants of Exhibition, with many visits to Metropolitan Theatres, Cinemark, and AMC Theatres, and enjoying premium large formats such as IMAX, Dolby Cinema, and MXL. It’s “impossible” to talk about the year’s moviegoing experience without talking Top Gun: Maverick. It certainly ranks among my top moments of the year, seeing the Tom Cruise stunner on a crystal clear screen and feeling every dimension of the pulse-pounding action in a Dolby Cinema. Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King delivered one of the year’s best overall films with epic action, stunning visuals, and tremendous heart.

On December 21st, a 76-year-old film became the sixth highest-grossing movie of the day. In keeping with the season, my wife and I were present at Cinemark that Wednesday for Frank Capra’s timeless 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Wonderfully presented on the big screen by TCM and Fathom Events, the film looks better than ever. There’s nothing quite like sharing a classic on the big screen, with an audience that laughs–and cries along. The audience even clapped at the end of our screening, which seems to be a rarity these days. As we left the theater, we discovered it was snowing and everything had been transformed into a winter wonderland. In the words of George Bailey, “Merry Christmas movie hooouse!

Daniel Loria: My favorite moviegoing memories of 2023 either elicited strong emotional reactions—or delivered the sort of spectacle you can only expect from watching a film for the first time with an audience at a cinema. On the spectacle side, movies like RRR and Top Gun: Maverick were incredible theatrical experiences. Then you have a movie like Triangle of Sadness, that delivers surprises best enjoyed in a full theater. The Northman delivered a similar experience—watching something you weren’t expecting to see on the big screen. And then there were the emotional moviegoing experiences, seeing movies like The Worst Person in the World and Aftersun in a darkened theater, giving them your undivided attention—and walking out of the auditorium wiping your own tears with popcorn napkins.

Rebecca Pahle: Seeing the RRR “Encorrre,” I was gobsmacked seeing it in theaters again, with my boyfriend and a crowd where you could tell by the reactions who had seen it before and who hadn’t. That was so special. Outside of that, seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey on 70 millimeter at Alamo Drafthouse. That movie is a big deal to me, and seeing it on a big screen with the soundtrack at full volume, is something I had never experienced before.

Jesse Rifkin: While I’ve seen both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in concert individually, I will never be able to see the Fab Four live as a fab four. That’s why my favorite moviegoing experience of 2022 was January’s one-day-only IMAX screening of the Beatles’ famed 1969 “rooftop concert,” the last live show they ever performed together. Released on January 30 for the concert’s exact anniversary, I went with a friend who’s an even bigger fan of The Beatles than I am. The cinema was packed, the visuals were huge, and the surround sound blared at the volume of an actual stadium rock show. It almost felt like seeing the Beatles concert I never got to attend live.

The footage was excerpted from Peter Jackson’s 2021 eight-hour Disney+ docuseries Get Back, originally announced as a roughly two-hour documentary for cinemas. I felt the concert film demonstrated how the project actually would have been better as an edited theatrical version, akin to Ron Howard’s entertaining 2016 Beatles documentary Eight Days a Week. The Beatles were larger than life. To viscerally feel that status, they can’t be seen on a television… not even a big-screen one.

Shawn Robbins: Seeing Top Gun: Maverick is really high up there for me, hearing grown men cry at the end. I may or may not have been one of them. If you’re asking for a favorite moviegoing moment, I look at Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, especially if you’re a Marvel fan. They usually roll that Marvel logo and sometimes it’s at the beginning of the movie. Sometimes it comes after an opening prologue or scene. It was the latter in Wakanda Forever, following a very emotional beginning to the film. There was total silence out of respect for Chadwick Boseman when the studio card came on, which I’d never heard in a theater for a Marvel movie that way before—there’s usually clapping or general enthusiasm from fans at that point. It was one of those moments in a theater that I won’t forget for a long time.

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