Summer Movie Season Fizzles Out, With Few Blockbusters to Count On This Fall

Summer Movie Season Fizzles Out, With Few Blockbusters to Count On This Fall


This summer’s movie season started with a bang, but ended with a whimper, running out of hit movies well before its traditional Labor Day conclusion.

Hollywood movies earned $3.43 billion at theaters in North America this summer, defined as the period between the first Friday in May and Labor Day Monday, according to box-office tracker Comscore.

That haul was 21% lower than the summer season in 2019, the last year untainted by the coronavirus pandemic and 19% lower than the average summer gross between 2005 and 2019. It was the lowest haul since 2001, when summer movies earned $3.34 billion at domestic theaters. The summer season typically accounts for about 40% of annual box-office receipts, Comscore says.

The reason, Comscore said, is there simply weren’t enough movies. The film industry is still suffering from a hangover caused by the pandemic, which delayed hundreds of productions and forced distributors to reshuffle their release schedules, say movie studios, theater owners and analysts. Studios only gave wide release—defined by Comscore as those that show on at least 2,000 screens—to 22 movies this summer, compared with 42 in the summer of 2019.

This summer, domestic box office grosses

were nearly 80% of prepandemic, 2019 levels…

…despite there being about half as many movies

released to theaters

Number of summer wide releases

This summer, domestic box office grosses

were nearly 80% of prepandemic, 2019 levels…

…despite there being about half as many movies

released to theaters

Number of summer wide releases

This summer, domestic box office grosses

were nearly 80% of prepandemic, 2019 levels…

…despite there being about half as many

movies released to theaters

Number of summer wide releases

This summer, domestic box office grosses were

nearly 80% of prepandemic, 2019 levels…

…despite there being about half as many movies

released to theaters

Number of summer wide releases

This summer, domestic box office grosses

were nearly 80% of prepandemic, 2019 levels…

…despite there being about half as many movies

released to theaters

Number of summer wide releases

“If there’s just not enough supply, if there aren’t appealing movies coming out one after the next, the industry loses momentum, and movies are momentum business,” said

Paul Dergarabedian,

senior media analyst for Comscore.

This year’s summer movie season started strong with the release of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” a superhero blockbuster produced by

Walt Disney Co.

’s Marvel Studios that eventually grossed $411 million domestically and $952 million across the globe. But the summer season seemed to end earlier than in most years, Mr. Dergarabedian said.

“Bullet Train,” a

Brad Pitt

vehicle that came out Aug. 5 and was distributed by

Sony Group Corp.’s

Columbia Pictures, was the last high-performing picture of the summer, earning $89.3 million so far, Sony said. August saw some of the lowest-grossing movies of the summer.

“The theatrical market is not the theatrical market it was back prepandemic,” said

Christine McCarthy,

Disney’s chief financial officer, at an investor conference Wednesday, adding that popular franchises like the Marvel superhero brand continue to get people into theaters.

Summer domestic box-office sales for wide-release films

Captain America:

Civil War

Guardians of

the Galaxy Vol. 2

Doctor Strange in the

Multiverse of Madness

Note: Includes movies released during each summer period, which covers the first Friday in May through Labor Day Monday,

in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Box Office Mojo defines wide releases as those in at least 600 theaters.

Not adjusted for inflation.

Photos: From top: Disney/Marvel/AP (3); Pixar/Disney/AP (3); Warner Bros. Entertainment/AP; Paramount Pictures;

Disney/Marvel/Everett Collection

Source: Box Office Mojo

Nate Rattner/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Captain America:

Civil War

Guardians of

the Galaxy Vol. 2

Doctor Strange in the

Multiverse of Madness

Note: Includes movies released during each summer period, which covers the first Friday in May through Labor

Day Monday, in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Box Office Mojo defines wide releases as those in at least

600 theaters. Not adjusted for inflation.

Photos: From top: Disney/Marvel/AP (3); Pixar/Disney/AP (3); Warner Bros. Entertainment/AP;

Paramount Pictures; Disney/Marvel/Everett Collection

Source: Box Office Mojo

Nate Rattner/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Captain America:

Civil War

Guardians of

the Galaxy Vol. 2

Doctor Strange in the

Multiverse of Madness

Note: Includes movies released during each summer period, which covers the first Friday in May

through Labor Day Monday, in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Box Office Mojo defines wide

releases as those in at least 600 theaters. Not adjusted for inflation.

Photos: From top: Disney/Marvel/AP (3); Pixar/Disney/AP (3); Warner Bros.

Entertainment/AP; Paramount Pictures; Disney/Marvel/Everett Collection

Source: Box Office Mojo

Nate Rattner/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Captain America:

Civil War

Guardians of the

Galaxy Vol. 2

Doctor Strange in

the Multiverse

of Madness

Note: Includes movies released during each summer period,

which covers the first Friday in May through Labor Day

Monday, in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Box Office Mojo

defines wide releases as those in at least 600 theaters.

Not adjusted for inflation.

Photos: From top: Disney/AP (5); Warner Bros./AP;

Paramount Pictures; Everett Collection

Source: Box Office Mojo

Nate Rattner/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Captain America:

Civil War

Guardians of the

Galaxy Vol. 2

Doctor Strange in

the Multiverse

of Madness

Note: Includes movies released during each summer

period, which covers the first Friday in May through

Labor Day Monday, in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto

Rico. Box Office Mojo defines wide releases as those

in at least 600 theaters. Not adjusted for inflation.

Photos: From top: Disney/AP (5); Warner Bros./AP;

Paramount Pictures; Everett Collection

Source: Box Office Mojo

Nate Rattner/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

For exhibitors—who tried to weather the pandemic by cutting staff, closing or selling off theaters, arranging for emergency financing and tapping retail investors to raise cash—the year so far has been mixed.

Cineworld Group

PLC, the world’s second-largest theater chain, filed for bankruptcy protection in a U.S. court on Wednesday after a sluggish recovery in ticket sales failed to compensate for the company’s high level of debt.

Despite the drop-off in receipts, some theater owners and studios were heartened by the summer results because they indicated consumers’ appetite to go to movie theaters to see films. On average, major motion pictures individually earned about 50% more than they did in 2019. The 22 major releases this summer earned an average of $155.9 million domestically, compared with $103.5 million in 2019 for each of the 42 movies released that summer, according to Comscore.

A number of summer blockbusters exceeded expectations this year, including “Top Gun: Maverick,” which grossed $701 million domestically and more than $1.4 billion worldwide, becoming the fifth-highest grossing domestic release of all time, and dinosaur flick “Jurassic World: Dominion,” produced by

Comcast Corp.’s

NBCUniversal, which earned $375 million domestically and nearly $1 billion worldwide.

Top-performing movie as a share of total domestic summer box-office sales

“If anyone was expecting it to match against 2019—that’s not realistic,” said Jim Orr, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal Pictures. “Like any business, any industry, supply chain issues are real and they affect businesses in a variety of ways…We made a conscious decision to lean into the theatrical model.”

Mr. Orr said the next few months should see a “lull” in major theatrical releases, but “it doesn’t mean people aren’t going to come back.” Universal Pictures has seven more titles to be released this year, including “Halloween Ends,” the conclusion of the Jamie Lee Curtis-led horror franchise, which will bring the studio’s 2022 total to 24 pictures, making it the most prolific in Hollywood this year.

Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.’s

DC Entertainment superhero franchise has “Black Adam” scheduled for October, the next big title expected this year. After that, there are only three potential blockbusters left on the schedule for the remainder of 2022, according to Comscore, all of them made by Disney, including Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Strange World,” both set for November release, then 20th Century Studios’ “Avatar: The Way of Water,” in December.

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What movies have brought you to the theater lately? Join the conversation below.

Bob Bagby, chief executive of B&B Theatres in Kansas City, the fifth-largest theater chain in the U.S. by number of screens, said 2022 was a major turning point for the company. In late 2020, the company said that if the pandemic lockdowns lasted much longer, it might have to seek bankruptcy protection. Fast-forward to this summer, when June ended up being the best-attended June in the chain’s nearly 100-year history, led by “Top Gun.”

Mr. Bagby said this week he is optimistic about next year’s lineup, which includes new titles from

Paramount Global

in the “Transformers,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “Dungeons & Dragons,” franchises, movies featuring Marvel superheroes Ant-Man and the Wasp, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Blade, and Warner Bros. Pictures’ Aquaman, plus big-event films from Universal including the World War II drama “Oppenheimer,” and a movie based on the “Super Mario Bros.” videogame franchise.

“We’ve just got to get more movies into the pipeline,” Mr. Bagby said. “I was so encouraged by the summer.”

Write to Robbie Whelan at robbie.whelan@wsj.com

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Author: Shirley