The Box Office Is Suffering Right Now And Hollywood Has Only Itself To Blame

The past couple of years have largely been about taking the good with the bad at the box office. Ever since movies like "Tenet" and "The New Mutants" tried (and failed) to get theaters back on their feet, it's been a bumpy ride with a few very big highs, like "Spider-Man: No Way Home," and pretty major lows, like this past weekend when "The Invitation" topped the charts with a mere $7 million. This, despite theaters being totally open and operational in North America. There is no good reason for things to be this bad right now, especially given that the industry is moving away from streaming being the be-all, end-all answer.

Despite having a straight-up robust summer led by blockbusters such as "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Jurassic World Dominion," as well as Marvel's usual hits like "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" and "Thor: Love and Thunder," Hollywood mysteriously decided to pretty much forget about August and September entirely. That's not to say that movies aren't coming out over the next couple of months. But big movies? We're pretty much in no man's land until "Black Adam" arrives in mid-October. Plain and simple, that isn't going to work and studios are, in some ways, leaving theaters out in the cold at a time when they need the most help.

Theaters spent nearly a year and a half on life support due to the pandemic and recovering from that kind of financial hit takes time. 2021 was very uneven at the box office and yes, 2022 has been much better. But one good summer doesn't make up for 18 months of rough waters. Hollywood needs to do a better job of supplying a steady stream of movies that can bring moviegoers out because, frankly, it's no longer an issue of willingness.

The 2022 box office in a nutshell

2021 had some big breakout hits, but most of them were superhero movies like "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" and "Venom: Let There Be Carnage." Heck, "Spider-Man: No Way Home" even made the vast majority of its money in 2022 since it came out in December of last year. :ast year had few unexpected hits while every single Warner Bros. movie went to HBO Max the same day it hit theaters. It was a step in the right direction, but far from a return to normal.

Meanwhile, 2022 has seen hits not connected to franchises: "The Lost City," "The Black Phone," "RRR," "Everything Everywhere All At Once," and "Elvis." But those movies weren't being counted on as the only games in town. At the same time, expected franchise hits like "The Batman," "Minions: The Rise of Gru," and "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" were doing their thing, along with the aforementioned hit blockbusters. "Maverick" has led the way with more than $1.4 billion globally, but it hasn't been operating alone.

Many of the other breakout hits that weren't franchise-based were kind of secondary to the steak and potatoes hits that were being supplied to theaters. Now? It's only side dishes like "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero." I think it's great that anime has found a foothold at the box office in North America, but movies like that alone can't carry theaters alone. Granted, it's not the fault of Sony that "Bullet Train" didn't break out as big as they hoped, nor is it Universal's fault that "Beast" wasn't a bigger hit. The relative disappointment of films like that, as well as "DC League of Super-Pets," has only served to further highlight the issue.

Gimmicks won't cut it

It is pretty clear that the major studios are at least somewhat aware of the issue at hand, and they're doing some things about it. But what they are doing isn't going to be nearly enough to fix the problem at hand. For one, National Cinema Day was recently announced for September 3, which will see $3 movie tickets available widely across the country for a wide variety of movies. That may well drive some people to theaters for a single day and help sell some popcorn. But that's one day. We're looking at a two-month period where theaters are going to struggle to fill auditoriums. It's a drop in the bucket when it comes to the larger picture.

Meanwhile, Sony is gearing up to re-release "Spider-Man: No Way Home" with an extended "More Fun Stuff" version that will include an extra 11 minutes of footage. Similarly, Disney is set to re-release "Avatar" in September to help prime audiences for the long-awaited sequel, "Avatar: The Way of Water," which arrives in December. Will those reissues bring out some moviegoers? Almost certainly. But again, this is going to be a limited solution to a larger problem. These are not movies that will draw in average moviegoers for several weeks. It will probably be a flash in the pan, then we're back to a dead zone, populated with only smaller horror releases like "Barbarian" and "Smile" or slightly uncertain originals such as "The Woman King" and "Don't Worry Darling."

With a lack of competition, it could mean something like "The Woman King" now has the chance to become a breakout hit. But the fact that the September box office almost entirely hinges on something like that happening? It's not great. It's bad, actually.

Studios and theaters need each other – badly

When theaters shut down in March of 2020 for months on end, the movie business was quick to double down on streaming efforts, viewing the Netflix model as the future. Yet 2022 has been quite unkind to Netflix and, as the box office has rebounded, the cracks have started to show in the streaming business model. Peacock is bleeding cash, HBO Max is in total flux as Warner Bros. Discovery shifts strategy under CEO David Zaslav, and studios like Sony are sitting out the streaming wars entirely in favor of supplying content to everyone else. It's kind of a mess.

Looking at the landscape as it exists, it's clear that streaming is only going to be a part of the equation moving forward — it can't be the entire equation. That being the case, studios absolutely need theaters just as bad as theaters need them. Heck, Regal's owner Cineworld is in the midst of bankruptcy and AMC has crippling debt, having narrowly avoided bankruptcy during the dog days of the pandemic. The theater chains that studios rely on to turn movies like "Top Gun: Maverick" or "The Batman" into hits are still desperately trying to climb out of a massive hole.

This is a symbiotic relationship that only works if both sides are on the same page. Right now, Hollywood is treating things like there is looming uncertainty when every indicator we have tells us that people are absolutely happy to go to theaters right now — they just need a reason to do so. The powers that be simply cannot afford to spread such a huge chunk of the calendar so thin. Period. It's on studios to do the right thing, or the consequences for theaters could be dire.