February is poised to maintain the healthy box-office pace with the impending release of the first Marvel title in more than three months. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (Disney) begins shows on February 16, and its initial performance could represent nearly half of the month’s gross.
January’s U.S./Canada box office was up by just under 50 percent from 2022. That’s impressive. If we could maintain that course, the 2023 box-office total would be $11 million — less than a half-million off the pre-pandemic 2019 total (when ticket prices were at least 20 percent lower). With 2023 projections closer to $9 million, this initial boost suggests that that goal will be met.
Muting this upside is that January’s gross represented two thirds of 2020, the last pre-Covid January. In terms of actual ticket sales, against current ticket prices, that drops our January 2023 gross to 55 percent of 2020.
Two Christmas releases dominated January with “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Disney) and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (Universal), which together represented over half of the $580 million total. Throw in “M3GAN” (Universal), the biggest new release in the month, and it accounts for nearly two thirds.
That is a normal January result. During most years, holiday holdovers (“1917,” “American Sniper,” “Revenant”) amass an even higher share of the revenue. This year had only two standout films, with “The Man from Otto” (Sony) the sole decent expansion.
The third “Ant-Man” installment has a chance to make the month exceed February’s expectations of $530 million-$550 million for a shorter month. Early tracking projections suggest $120 million for its initial weekend. If so, $240 million through February 28 could be possible.
The month is handicapped by the Super Bowl falling on Valentines Day weekend, although the box office will counter-program with the female-oriented “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” (Warner Bros. Discovery) and the “Titanic” reissue (Paramount). With “Quantumania” over Presidents Day the following week, that discourages competing titles from debuting on what normally is a strong release weekend.
Another hopeful note: This looks like the last month of reduced titles for a while. If maintaining 50 percent improvement over 2022 continues this month, even with a smaller release calendar, that bodes well for the rest of the year.
Five of the six major distributors (Sony the exception) have new wide releases this month: “Knock at the Cabin” (Universal), “80 for Brady” (Paramount) this week, “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” (Warner Bros. Discovery) and a “Titanic” reissue (Paramount), then “Quantumania” the following week, with “Cocaine Bear” (Universal), “Jesus Revolution” (Lionsgate), and “Mummies” (WBD) wrapping up the month. Combined, they should gross around $140 million during the month.
With the ongoing strength of “The Way of Water” and “Puss in Boots” leading the way (they remained the #1 and #2 films last weekend), we can add in another $140 million from pre-February releases. Other releases during the month could record another $30 million-$40 million in gross.
Beyond those two, Oscar-nominated titles won’t generate much interest. In 2020, Best Picture and Acting-nominated titles took in over $90 million. Still, the trajectory is in the right direction and in at least one way we’re back to normal: A Marvel film will make the difference between good and very good results.