Cineworld, owner of Regal Cinemas, has reportedly filed for bankruptcy in the United States, blaming the lack of theatrical releases this summer and for the next three months. The multiplex chain is not going to close its doors; that’s why it’s called “bankruptcy protection”. This is, however, a natural consequence when A) cinemas are closed for 1.5 years during a global pandemic even as other industries are allowed to open much earlier and B) distributors pass the 1.5 next few years to retain major theatrical releases. The outperformance of Top Gun: Maverick, running towards $700 million domestically, was the difference between an overall theatrical season down 28% from 2019 and one down closer to 45%. The critical factor is that 1/3 fewer films were released theatrically. Movie theaters are starving.
Even as restaurants and sporting events began to reopen in 2020, movie theaters remained closed in crucial markets like New York and Los Angeles. That was why Principle bombed in North America ($58 million) despite earning a substantial $305 million overseas. This is why the slew of post-Principle tent pegs (Black widow, no time to dieetc.) has been pushed back to 2021 or, as was the case with Wonder Woman 1984 and Soul, used as cannon fodder in the streaming war. Movie theaters were open across much of the country at the end of the summer, but Hollywood (understandably) held back big movies until conditions improved. Even when vaccines became available in late 2020/early 2021, the pattern became brief moments of feasting followed by distributor-induced starvation. We saw this from April 2021 to August 2022.
Godzilla vs. KongIndustry success was followed by six weeks without a tent pole. man’s anger still became one of Jason Statham’s biggest R-rated solo actors before A Quiet Place Part II and Cruel open Memorial Day weekend. The next mast was F9 June 25. Even after June, the summer was dominated mostly by horror films and relatively enduring franchise films. Black Widow opened last July in the summer so Disney+’s Hawk Eye (with Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova) could air on schedule. Comparatively speaking, Boss Baby 2 Snake-eyes Top Gun: Maverick and The Suicide Squad The Batman. However, as we saw in September with Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and its record-breaking $94 million Labor Day weekend, Tent Poles could still draw tent pole revenue.
Venom: let there be carnage opened bigger ($90 million vs. $80 million) and earned more domestically ($214 million vs. $213 million) than Venom. halloween kills (92 million domestic dollars) fell less as a percentage of Halloween ($159 million) than Halloween: Resurrection and Halloween 2 (1981) by Halloween: H20 and Halloween (1978). no time to die reported 88% of Spectrumtotal of $881 million. Spider-Man: No Coming Home scored the second-biggest opening weekend of all time ($260 million). Sing 2 grossed $161 million domestically (over The secret life of pets 2) while concurrently existing on PVOD for most of its theatrical run. However, without an Oscar season opener and Sony moving Morbius in early April, Paramount’s Scream was the only game in town for January 2022. Unexplored outperformed in February, while Death on the Nile bombarded.
March was supposed to be crowded. In place, turn red was sent to Disney+ and Operation Fortune was fired, leaving the Batman alone until The lost city opened March 25. The media feigned confusion as to why AMC would charge an extra dollar or two for The Batman. April 2022 (Sonic 2, Morbius, Fantastic Beasts 3, The Northman, Ambulance, etc.) was and remains the last “normal” month of exposure since last October. May, (Doctor Strange 2 and Top Gun 2), June (Jurassic World 3 and Light year) and July (Minions 2 and Thor 4) each had two biggies. We had studio programmers (Downton Abbey 2, Elvis, The Black Phone, No, Where the Crawdads Sing, DC League of Super Pets and High-speed train) mixed, but it’s the slate of summer.
So it was catastrophic when Light year and great pets both underperformed. It stung a little when High-speed train and Nope were only modest successes instead of blockbusters. Conversely, Top Gun: Maverick could have played like a non-above averageImpossible mission Tom Cruise vehicle ($125 million domestic and $400 million worldwide). Instead, it outperformed so much that it helped mask some differences for a summer season with 1/3 theatrical releases below normal. It was 4.5 months between Thor: Love and Thunder and black adam (21st of October) and four months between DC League of Super Pets and Walt Disney strange world (November 23). sony High-speed train is the last major theatrical release until Sony The female king September 16 or Warner Bros. Discovery’s don’t worry darling September 23.
Post-production delays caused by Covid-era traffic jams mean Black Adam, Salem’s Lot, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and Spider-Man: Through the Spider-Verse will open later than expected. It’s fine to release a fx-driven movie later rather than overextending CGI talent, but that doesn’t help theaters. Disney isn’t exactly in theaters, which means 20th Century Studio movies like Prey are the debut of Hulu. Ditto MGM now owned by Amazon. To be fair, Disney released Lightyear, Doctor Strange 2 and Thor 4 and will publish black panther 2 and Avatar 2. Add to general streaming > mindsets of theaters and studio programmers like The man from Toronto, Samaritan and shotgun wedding be sold to streaming platforms. You now have cinemas going bankrupt even in the midst of overly high box office results.
We know since May 2021, when A Quiet Place Part II opened during the Memorial Day holiday with $57 million (tied with its pre-Covid follow-up of $55 million), which audiences would turn up for pre-determined blockbusters. We have seen it again (no time to die) and even (The Batman) and even (Jurassic World Dominion). Top Gun: Maverickaimed at older, erratic moviegoers, broke records for a Memorial Day weekend opening ($160.5 million) and is set to pass Avengers: Age of Ultron globally. Minions: The Rise of Gru, aimed at kids and families, opened with a record $128 million Friday-Monday launch over Independence Day weekend Spider-Man: No Coming Home grossed $1.91 billion worldwide without a penny from China. These are not “Covid-era milestones”. These are all-time box office records being shattered.
And it’s not just the tent poles. Elvis earned $270 million worldwide to become the second-biggest musical biopic ever behind Bohemian Rhapsody ($905 million). As The Batman became the highest-grossing consecutive reboot ($370 million) in domestic revenue, Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum were pushing The lost city spent 100 million domestic dollars. Whereas sonic the hedgehog 2 and Unexplored surpassed $400 million worldwide, Everything, everywhere, all at once became A24’s first global grossing over $100 million. wonder‘s Thor: Love and Thunder exceeded Thor: Ragnarok in North America and (excluding China and Russia) abroad. Both Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in November and Avatar: The Way of the Water in december can join Top Gun: Maverick in the national club of more than 600 million dollars. And so on. The public has clearly returned. These are the films that lack action.
When Cineworld files for bankruptcy and pundits say theaters need to adapt, well, adapt to what? Theaters were closed for a year due to a global pandemic, and now they are still being denied regular theater-worthy releases. Meanwhile, the media and the investment class are openly cheering for their demise so they don’t have to admit they were wrong about streaming being a one-size-fits-all success story. However, the “big” movies on offer have always matched or even exceeded pre-Covid box office expectations, with years of evidence suggesting that strong theatrical earnings are driving PVOD and streaming potential. It can’t be one or the other. Killing in theater due to malnutrition can also send streaming, at least for movies, to its own grave. So again, live together or die alone.