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July Box Office Was a Record, but August Looks Like a Buzzsaw

"Bullet Train" could beat expectations, but films like "Easter Sunday" and "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" also need to carry the month.

Brad Pitt stars in Bullet Train.

“Bullet Train”

Scott Garfield

July 2022 generated $1.133 billion in domestic gross — the best month’s gross in the Covid era, and it represents 88 percent of the take in July 2019. The majority came from two $300 million+ grossing releases with “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (Universal) edging out “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Disney) as the biggest film. “Minions” opened a week earlier,  but it should edge out the Marvel film that many believed could be the summer’s biggest grosser.

At best, “Thor” will end #4 for the season, with a respectable but not-sensational $340 million domestic, and a little more international. That’s down from “Doctor Strange in the Multi-verse of Madness” (Disney) at $411 million domestic, $543 million foreign (#2 summer domestic gross with “Minions” taking third).

Shoring up July was “Top Gun: Maverick” adding $112 million to the $541 million it already amassed. The month also showed some strength for original films with Jordan Poole’s “Nope” (Universal) and “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony) joining “Elvis” as lesser-grossing but likely profitable non-franchise entries.

The total gross for 2022 through July reached 69 percent compared to the first seven months of 2019 — again, its highest relative showing to date. Of note: These are revenue comparisons, not attendance. Distributor sources say that the average ticket price has increased around 20 percent in three years.

The month’s results are worth celebrating, but they also reinforce the impending disappointment of August. It’s not often a strong month — almost always down from July, by about a third. On those terms the August projection would be $750 million, but the total is more likely to be closer to $550 million. Anything more than that will come from a combination of three factors.

  • Bullet Train” (Sony), opening this week, has the only shot at $100 million for the month — its $4.6 million Thursday gross is a sign that it could break out and lift August
(from left) Tito Manny (Joey Guila), Regina (Elena Juatco), Eugene (Eugene Cordero), Joe Valencia (Jo Koy), Tita Teresa (Tia Carrere), Tita Yvonne (Melody Butiu) and Susan (Lydia Gaston) in Easter Sunday, directed by Jay Chandrasekhar.

“Easter Sunday”

Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures

  • Surprises among other theater-exclusive wide releases. Between “Easter Sunday”(Universal), “Fall” (Lionsgate),  “Beast” (Universal), “The Invitation” (Sony) and “Three Thousand Years of  Longing” (MGM/Amazon), they might total $75 million or less for the month. Also in play are Bleecker Street’s Sundance-premiered “Summering,” with A24 rolling out horror comedy “Bodies Bodies Bodies” after a limited opening this week. There’s also an independent title that could challenge the studio titles with “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero” (Crunchyroll), a Japanese martial arts animated film.
  • Strong holdovers. A normal holdover gross from July titles would hit $250 million. The problem with getting much higher is that several of the films including”Thor,” “Nope,” and “Elvis” will hit home viewing soon.

The optics of a weak August aren’t good, but anything above $500 million should be viewed as good news. That’s enough to represent a building audience interest, even if  studios aren’t releasing the kinds of films that normally bolster this month. Last year August had “Free Guy,” 2019 was “Hobbs and Shaw,” 2018 was “The Meg,” and “Crazy Rich Asians” — all grossed $100 million or more during the month.

Theatergoing is still far from normal levels, even in a stellar month, but it’s additionally burdened by the combined impact of reduced release schedules. Some of this stems from Covid-era production issues; there’s also a downward shift in the volume of theatrical releases, and it remains to be seen if that’s a blip or a trend.

The hope for the industry: The benefits of this summer will pay off later.

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