The Summer 2022 Box Office: A Hopefully Not-Too-Early Assessment
With August upon us the summer film season is fast drawing to a close — the more in as the last really big release, Thor: Love and Thunder, is already a month behind us, making it not too early to make some assessment of how the season has gone that will look better than premature and wildly off the mark come the “official” end of summer on Labor Day Weekend.
A bit of simple math indicates that in the months of May, June and July the North American box office took in some $2.9 billion. How does that stack up against prior years? Simply adjusting the Boxofficemojo numbers for inflation as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics one gets an average of about $4.2 billion for the May-July period in 2015–2019 — with the figure arguably conservative because of how simply bumping the first summer release back into early April, as an ever more aggressive Disney-Marvel did with Avengers 3 and 4 in 2018 and 2019, takes a big chunk out of the summer’s earnings. ( Avengers: Endgame picked up $427 million in the last five days of April 2019, which if added to the year’s total would have raised it by about an eighth — from $3.35 to $3.8 billion before the adjustment for today’s higher ticket prices — and of course 2022 saw nothing of the kind.)
The result is that this year the box office did about two-thirds as well as the average for those years. It might be added that July did a better than that — its $1.13 billion take about three-quarters of the July average for 2015–2019 (of $1.46 billion). That is far superior to how it did back in 2021, when you had MCU movies, F9 and the rest making at best half their expected earnings (and the whole three month period barely equaled the July earnings, with just under $1.2 billion in current dollars). But to claim that the situation has returned to the pre-pandemic norm would still be exaggerating things a good deal.
Of course, in considering that fact one has to admit that the release slate was not quite the same as in those prior years. Where 2015–2019, on average, had eight really big, brand name, live-action action-adventure films playing in theaters in the relevant period (DC/Marvel superhero stuff, spy-fi stuff of the Mission: Impossible/Jason Bourne/Fast and Furious franchises, etc.), 2022 had only four by my count (Dr. Strange 2, Top Gun 2, Jurassic World: Dominion, Thor 4), and of these only Top Gun 2 went “above and beyond” expectations (while Dr. Strange was merely respectable, Jurassic World 3 the weakest earner in the trilogy, and Thor arguably an underperformer). And it seems to me that there is at least an argument to be made that the comparative weakness of the summer slate reflects justifiable caution on the part of the studios as much as it does a cause of the summer’s lackluster grosses by pre-pandemic standards.