‘Spider-Man’ May Head to $850 Million This Month, but January Box Office Is Grim

There's no stopping the MCU, and "Scream" holds promise, but this month reflects a feast-or-famine future for theaters.
"Spider-Man: No Way Home"
"Spider-Man: No Way Home" was shot at Trilith Studios in Fayetteville, Georgia.

For theaters, January 2022 is becoming a cruel month. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” exceeded all expectations when it grossed about $627 million in its first 19 days of North American release, but there is almost no chance that its momentum will carry over. Even as “Spider-Man” will provide (by far) the highest gross for the month, box office will be less than half of January 2020. Only “Scream” stands a chance of making $100 million by the end of its run.

Two years ago, total ticket sales came to just under $900 million. That was lower than four of the five prior Januarys, but “Bad Boys for Life,” “The Rise of Skywalker,” and “1917” each took in over $100 million during the month. This January, only “Spider-Man” is likely to make over $100 million. The total for all titles will likely to be under $450 million.

The absence of competition will lift the latest “Spider-Man” to greater heights, with the potential to reach $850 million (though more likely closer to $800 million). If it hits the high end, it would reach #3 on all-time, unadjusted box-office charts. (In terms of actual tickets sold, it would be #18.)

The MCU title generated $55 million in the first four days of this month; the rest of January should see an additional $180 million-$200 million. That will likely account for nearly half of January sales.

The surge in Covid cases is a factor, although the slate was already weak. The biggest impact was Sony’s decision to delay “Morbius” from January 28 until April.

Sing 2 Planet Joy
“Sing 2”Universal

With $97 million in its first two weeks, “Sing 2” is the only other Christmas release that still holds potential. But in an aggressive move, Universal will release it on Premium VOD this Friday, 16 days after release. Its agreement with theaters is a minimum window of 17 days for films that open under $50 million. “Sing 2” qualifies with $40 million in its first five days, but this is the first time Universal started PVOD earlier than the third weekend — and on a Friday to boot.

The “Sing” sequel is grossing a little under half of the original animated film, which saw $95 million in January 2017. PVOD will hurt, but the absence of other similar titles should help compensate. Figure “Sing 2” will gross another $50 million this month.

It makes sense for Paramount to proceed with its January 14 release of its “Scream” reboot. The first new film in the franchise since 2011 is set for the usually lucrative four-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend. The studio faced similarly risky circumstances last May when it stuck to its plans for a Memorial Day debut for “A Quiet Place Part 2.” They were rewarded with what was then a pandemic-best $47 million opening ($57 million for four days).

Industry predictions for “Scream” are in the $35 million-$40 million range over four days. Its audience should be minimally impacted by omicron concerns: Although there are some closures in Canada, so far there have been no moves to limit U.S. theaters. “Scream” could result in $80 million or more by the month’s end.

Universal has the only other two studio wide releases this month with “The 355,” a spy thriller produced by Jessica Chastain and also starring Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz, and Diane Kruger, and the faith-based bestseller adaptation “Redeeming Love.” They could pull in less than $25 million combined by the month’s end.

Two years ago, January saw nine wide studio releases, including “1917” and “Just Mercy” expanding after initial platform dates. This year, we face the twin shortfalls of weak Christmas releases and the absence of specialized awards contenders — as well as their Oscar nominations, which won’t happen until February 8. Even we had its normal mid-January announcement, it would make little difference.

There’s still a lot of hope for 2022, starting with “The Batman” on March 4, but January reflects a feast-or-famine future for theaters. Exhibition will need a lot more of the former.

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