Stills from "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part 1," "Barbie," "Oppenheimer"
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film Summer 2023 Box Office Will Hit $4 Billion, but What a Weird Way to Get There

Summer 2023 Box Office Will Hit $4 Billion, but What a Weird Way to Get There

Stills from "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part 1," "Barbie," "Oppenheimer"

Kudos to anyone who predicted that domestic box office would hit the $4 billion goal cited at April’s CinemaCon. More amazing would be if anyone predicted how we would get there.

Show of hands for those who predicted Angel Studios’ “Sound of Freedom” would outgross Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One” and Disney’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (Disney)?

Another show of hands for anyone who had even heard of “Sound of Freedom” before its July 4 release? That film’s too-weird-for-fiction success exemplifies the upheaval in audience response — and also represents why this $4B summer offers no easy blueprint.

Comscore, which can access films with unreported grosses and counts non-movie revenue from events like live performances, announced that theaters will reach $4 billion between the first Friday in May through Labor Day. Other sources suggest the number will fall within $25 million either way.

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The achievement is owed entirely to the July 21 debuts of “Barbie” (Warner Bros.) and “Oppenheimer” (Universal). Those two films will account for $900,000, or 22.5 percent, of the $4 billion. Without those grosses, which doubled their initial expectations, summer would be flat to the 2022 performance of $3.4 billion.

With that improvement, year-to-date totals project to a 27 percent or higher increase over 2022. If that holds — a very big if, with industry strikes already causing release delays and no actors to promote — the year would hit close to $9.5 billion. That would still be far below the $11 billion+ for 2018 and 2019 (which, at today’s ticket prices, represent over $13 billion).

SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE  PART ONE, from left: Spider-Man (voice: Shameik Moore), Spider-Gwen (voice: Hailee Steinfeld), 2023. © Sony Pictures Releasing / © Marvel Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Other box-office surprises included “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony), which doubled the gross of the 2018 original. That, along with the unexpected $180 million haul for “Sound of Freedom,” compensated for major shortfalls from several franchise sequels that failed to reach anticipated domestic returns of $200 million or more.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Disney) and “Mission: Impossible” were consensus picks for the summer films that had the best chance of reaching $400 million. “Guardians” fell short at $359 million (currently #3 for the season), but Tom Cruise didn’t even graze the success of “Top Gun: Maverick” ($718 million).

“Guardians” and “Mission: Impossible” both cost over $200 million before marketing. So did “Indiana Jones” and “The Flash” (Warner Bros.), “Fast X” (Universal), “Elemental” (Disney), and possibly “Transformers: Rise of the Beast” (Paramount). All will gross less than “Sound of Freedom.” Rising above the carnage, the similarly expensive “The Little Mermaid” (Disney) grossed just under $300 million.

Looking at the summer timeline, it’s easy to see where public interest didn’t lie. Sequels and franchises increasingly underperformed, starting with “Fast X.” Then there was “The Flash,” “Elemental” (with a modest rebound), “Indiana Jones,” and “Mission: Impossible.”

The turnaround of “Sound of Freedom,” “Barbie,” and “Oppenheimer” represented the new guard: varied, non-franchise originals that offered something very different. It suggests that templated moviemaking represents a sure path toward major investments with low ROI.

A scene from
“Talk to Me”Courtesy A24

That said: Those too-expensive franchise titles grossed around $1.5 billion, or more than 40 percent of the total. Any attempt to duplicate “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” seems deeply short-sighted, though it’s likely studios will try nonetheless. And if templates don’t work, then what does?

Beyond “Sound of Freedom,” the next-best originals were “Haunted Mansion” (Disney) and “No Hard Feelings” (Sony), both under $60 million. The lower-budgeted “The Boogeyman” (Disney) and “Talk to Me” both will do over $40 million.

Summer is not peak specialized season, but Focus grossed $28 million with “Asteroid City” and A24’s critically acclaimed “Past Lives” grossed over $10 million. By contrast, “Theater Camp” will reach $4 million at most despite a strong push from Searchlight. Hugely lauded titles like “Afire” (MUBI) and “Passages” (Janus) will struggle to even reach $500,000.

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