If three’s a trend, March will do the trick. With four promising sequels, each projected to open to $25 million or more, March will continue the 2023 path of each month improving on the previous year’s. But beware the Ides of March when it comes to maintaining that pace.
March should provide the best gross of 2023 so far. By the start of Q2, we could be 28 percent ahead than last year and on pace for $9.3 billion. (2019 was $11.4 billion, 2018 $11.9 billion, with ticket prices 25-30 percent lower than presently). From here, calculations become more problematic.
February box office totaled about $490 million, 34 percent better than last year, for a year-to-date gross that is 42 percent ahead of 2022. Still, the improvement fell short of what we saw in January (50 percent) as well as optimistic projections of a $530 million-$550 million total. This March could see grosses of $650 million or more, but that would be only about 10 percent ahead of 2022.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (Disney) saw the biggest shortfall from pre-opening expectations, especially with its 70 percent second-weekend plunge. “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” (Warner Bros. Discovery) and the most recent weeks of “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Disney) also fell below projections.
If 10 percent is a more accurate expectation of the year’s monthly improvements, that suggests the 2023 total would be closer to $8.5 billion. We have a number of strong titles with the potential to equal their 2022 predecessors — but strong enough to boost better than 10 percent?
That’s the context for why an overperformance by four key titles in March might set up a too-rosy outlook starting with “Creed III” (MGM) this Friday, followed by “Scream VI” (Paramount), “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” (WBD), and “John Wick: Chapter 4” (Lionsgate). Those franchises should account for at least half of March’s gross. At least three (“Scream” the least likely) have a shot at opening weekends of $40 million or more, with “Wick” the consensus for topping the month.
As usual, most of the most highly anticipated titles come from franchises and sequels. The weaker-than-expected performance for “Quantumania” is scary, since Marvel titles are the biggest deal in movie grosses: No one wants to see any sign of sequel fatigue. A truism among exhibitors is all theaters need is more movies, but analysts will look for signs of cannibalization.
This year has benefited from original titles led by “M3GAN” (Universal) and “A Man Called Otto” (Sony), buttressed this past weekend by a strong opening from “Cocaine Bear” (Universal) and “Jesus Revolution” (Lionsgate). The likeliest biggest March wide-release original will be “65” (Sony), a space exploration story with Adam Driver directed by the writing team behind “A Quiet Place” — Best-case scenario is a $50 million gross.
Getty Images for CinemaCon
In this week’s AMC earnings call, CEO Adam Aron pushed his company’s expanded retailing of popcorn as its headline. Inside the fine print was his pushing back any level of parity (in gross; attendance because of higher prices potentially never returning) to as late as 2025, five years after theaters shut down. This month’s results, despite improvements, may help justify that pessimism.
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