Is it Possible That No Live-Action Hollywood Movie Will Gross A Billion Dollars This Year? (Considering the Numbers)
The pandemic dealt filmgoing a serious blow, but it has been recovering for quite a while now, with Spider-Man: No Way Home’s near $2 billion gross (achieved without even a release in China) showing that a movie that excited the public could be as big a hit as ever. Of course, in spite of that film’s success the market as a whole did not recover. Production and release schedules do not “turn on a dime,” and where likely blockbusters are concerned 2022 was thinner than most pre-pandemic years. (The summer season had just four really big action movies instead of the usual eight.) Still, Top Gun 2 and Avatar 2 (which took in over $4 billion worldwide between them) affirmed yet again that a big movie could be as big a hit as ever, while the animated Super Mario Bros. film did it again this year, with a take of over $1 billion and counting.
The result is that it would seem quite natural if 2023 had multiple billion-dollar grosses, with the list of course containing plenty of live-action movies. After all, 2019 had nine such films, of which six were of the live-action type (discounting the “talking” animals of The Lion King remake).
Still, consider the situation, starting with the superhero films. The MCU is not what it used to be, as we were reminded by Ant-Man 3’s particularly painful underperformance, while Guardians of the Galaxy 3 has come out to lowered expectations, and even optimists do not seem to think The Marvels’ gross will match its billion-dollar-grossing predecessor in current dollar, let alone real, terms. (My prediction is that each will make about $700 million — though with the qualifier that The Marvels could more easily fall below this mark.) Aquaman 2 is another follow-up to a billion-dollar hit, but expectations are again low for it, while if the prospects of The Flash are looking up I am doubtful that they are looking so far up as to approach the billion-dollar mark. And of course the Blue Beetle and Kraven the Hunter movies are more modest projects with more modest prospects.
Meanwhile, the Fast and Furious franchise, which for many years could be counted on for a billion-dollar take, has seen the erosion of its earnings since its peak (way back with #7), while the other non-superhero film most likely to hit the billion-dollar mark, Indiana Jones 5, if not to be written off (my own prediction is in the vicinity of a billion dollar mark), could easily fall short of it (the “margin of error” significant, and my guess that its gross could more easily go low than high). The performance of the Transformers franchise in recent years has not inspired great confidence (with American filmgoers losing interest after the third one, and #5 a particular disappointment). Meanwhile the Mission: Impossible and Meg movies (to say nothing of Dune, or The Expendables) seem unlikely to improve on their past performances so much as to make the billion-dollar mark — while I have very real doubts about the public’s appetite for a Hunger Games prequel (the more in as that franchise was already “fading” before its conclusion way back in 2015, and the world has moved on from the YA dystopia fad).
If I prove right about all this it will be a disappointing “comeback” year for a Hollywood that may be even more reliant on the super-profits of a handful of franchise hits, and worrisome for the long term, given the already shaken condition of the industry, and what it would suggest for so many of those franchises. With the MCU, and Indiana Jones, and Fast and Furious, and the Transformers not going “above and beyond” — on top of the sad state of the Star Wars franchise and the exhaustion of Jurassic Park and the question marks surrounding 007 — just how much is left? The crisis of blockbuster filmmaking will only deepen, with, again, no relief in sight, and the vulgarians running the studios keeping every door and window through which relief might possible come nailed shut.