Next Year’s Box Office I’ll see you in 2025.
Even if Hollywood’s historic labor strikes are finished, the shaky post-pandemic recovery may still be in danger since a number of the theater calendar’s biggest films for the next year have been canceled.
If leading studio executives and theater owners in Hollywood aren’t feeling the holiday spirit this year, don’t be shocked. At the domestic box office, they are preparing for a wild ride in 2024 after many high-profile tentpoles were postponed until 2025 due to protracted writers’ and actors’ strikes.
Unexpectedly, domestic box office income in 2024 is now predicted to trail that of 2023, dealing a serious damage to the post-pandemic recovery effort. According to multiple studio executives who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter, if projections are accurate, the domestic box office in 2024 could reach a peak of $7.5 billion to $8 billion, as opposed to the $8.8 billion to $8.9 billion expected this year (a few are more bullish, thinking $8 billion to $8.5 billion is possible).
Specifically in the first three months of the year, a limited release schedule is the guilty party. When it comes to the first half of the year, one studio executive admits, “It’s a disaster.”
Combined, the 2024 films that were pushed back to 2025 could cost the global box office $2 billion or more. These films include the upcoming Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible movie, Captain America: Brave New World, a live-action Disney retelling of Snow White starring Rachel Zegler, and Sony’s upcoming Spider-Verse installment. Aside from Blade, Elio, Thunderbolts, and Dirty Dancing, other films that left for 2025 as the strikes started.
In actuality, the box office has changed from what it was a while ago. In the last three years, there have been two seismic shocks: the epidemic and the strikes. According to LightShed Ventures analyst Rich Greenfield, streaming “exploded at the same time.”
Right now, nobody knows whether or when the North American box office will reach $11 billion per year, the pre-pandemic levels. Complicating matters further, it is unlikely that sales in 2023 would surpass $9 billion, as was first projected following a gloomy November. According to Greenfield, “audiences are far more selective and consumer interest in going to the movies has been permanently altered.”
The biggest Hollywood studios are among the clients that the National Research Group has been presenting its projection for 2024 and its takeaways from 2023 to in recent days. A studio official attending one of the briefings stated that a key focus was the absence of event goods due to the strikes the following year. The amount of broad releases, which are defined as movies that play on 2,000 screens or more (including rereleases and niche films that release slowly), has decreased year over year, which is a stunning statistic.
Box Office Mojo’s database showed that as of Dec. 13, there were around 82 of these broad releases scheduled, down from a projected 97 to 99 in 2023. After the epidemic era box office returns, the number should already be above 2023 levels, not declining (there were 120 wide releases in 2019). Ray Subers, head of film at NRG, adds, “The calendar for next year is in rough shape, and studios need to be clear-eyed.”
With moviegoers beginning to return to theaters in large numbers, it appears that the slump couldn’t have arrived at a worse moment. The cultural phenomena referred to as Barbenheimer is the definitive source. Thanks largely to Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, summer revenue in 2023 will almost exactly equal pre-pandemic levels. Though it won’t reach $9 billion, domestic box office receipts in 2023 will still be up a healthy 19% from 2022.
We are unable to overlook our accomplishments. According to Subers, “We had a summer that was nearly normal.”
On the other hand, the box office in the fall and early winter is severely hurting. According to NRG, November’s income decreased by 43% from the five-year pre-pandemic average, which was the largest percentage decline for any month since the pandemic. The Kevin Feige-directed The Marvels, which debuted in November, is the most recent example of Marvel Studios’ superhero fatigue; it is expected to be the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to gross less than $100 million domestically. Disney Animation’s Wish, on the other hand, was a major failure for Bob Iger’s studio. Iger has admitted to investors that quantity may have trumped quality in the company’s content businesses’ struggles, so he isn’t attempting to downplay their issues.
“It was inevitable a few months ago that we would reach $9 billion to $9.2 billion this year,” says Paul Dergarabedian, chief box office analyst at Comscore, noting that domestic revenue is already at $8.5 billion. He points out that in the past, Hollywood’s year-end Christmas films would have little trouble making up the difference and bringing in over $500 million. The Christmas blockbuster Avatar: The Way of Water brought in $400 million of the $581 million that was made between December 12 and December 31 of last year.
There will be a number of titles on the Christmas marquee, including Warner Bros. films Wonka, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and The Color Purple; Neon titles Ferrari; and Amazon MGM titles The Boys in the Boat. In order to get through until March 1, when Warners’ Dune: Part Two, the first all-audience tentpole of the year, premieres, theater owners will have to rely more than usual on Christmas pictures. While none of Paramount’s films—the Mean Girls musical, which opens on January 2, nor the Valentine’s Day biography One Love: Bob Marley—is strictly a four-quadrant picture, the studio has elevated expectations for both.
Analysts at the box office are much more optimistic about the second half of 2024, especially after Marvel’s unnamed Deadpool 3 sequel, which debuts in July. Furthermore, a lot of people think that the summer release of Inside Out 2 and Despicable Me 4 will turn around the decline in the box office for animated films. Other summer releases that are aiming for event status are Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, If, and The Fall Guy. Among the noteworthy references toward the end of the year are Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Karate Kid, Mufasa: The Lion King, and Wicked.
With more films scheduled for general distribution in 2024 than any of the other five big studios combined—though that number does include films from Focus Features—Universal leads the pack. Next is Warner Bros.
Theater owners are panicking and pushing independent distributors and studios to pack the 2024 schedule as much as possible. They are making some progress. A24’s decision to release Alex Garland’s action war epic Civil War nationwide in March and Focus Features’ plan to release the Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black widely in early May are just two examples of the smaller or mid-range films that appear to be planting their flag in 2024 on a daily basis. Traditionally, specialty labels like A24, Focus, or Searchlight platform films rather than going all out from the start.
Moreover, Saw XI is slated for September 2024, while White Bird: A Wonder Story is scheduled for October by mini-major Lionsgate. Additionally, Disney intends to give theater circuits a little boost by releasing Soul, Turning Red, and Luca in theaters for the first time (all three of the animated films went straight to streaming during the pandemic era). Blumhouse and Universal have just announced that they will open Wolf Man in late October.
In an attempt to offset their combined shortfall, exhibitors are probably going to maintain the pressure. While Greenfield wonders if certain theaters can withstand another terrible year, a senior distribution executive states, “They are nervous, there is no doubt about it, and it’s certainly a huge topic of conversation.” The difference between this downturn and the pandemic, according to both, is that exhibitors were aware of it coming and had been raising funds or holding onto financial reserves. Speaking about the slate for next year, the executive remarks, “They had time to prepare, but still, this situation isn’t helpful for anyone.”
“It’s pretty obvious there is a correlation between volume and box office,” Dergarabedian continues. For the box office to return to normal, everyone needs to get out there and take significant pictures.