Beyond ‘Doctor Strange,’ Here’s What the Summer Box Office Needs to Succeed

Ten summer titles could gross over $100 million domestic box office; three could surpass $400 million. However, the massive drop in wide releases is something of a buzzkill.
"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness"
"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness"

It’s only the first week of April, but the summer 2022 box office could be off to a good start. Ticket service Fandango reported that “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” Marvel’s traditional early-May release, had the best first-day results since “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” open this week and next, both with upbeat expectations following the relative disappointment of last weekend’s “Morbius.”

This summer could bring as many as 10 titles with the potential to gross over $100 million in domestic box office. At least three could surpass the $400 million mark. From the top-10 perspective, it could place this summer on par to those of the pre-pandemic 2015-2019 — but there’s a lot fewer summer releases overall and that’s something of a buzzkill.

We’re going the wrong way. Fourth-quarter 2021 box office was 72 percent of 2019; the 2022 box office to date is 58 percent of the same period in 2019. If we’re to meet hoped-for 2022 projections, improvement is critical. Summer is the biggest season and this one needs to be a strong if we have any chance to reach $8 billion. Year to date is a bit over $1.4 billion.

Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: MaverickParamount

Our best hopes lie with top-tier Marvel titles “Doctor Strange” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” as well as Pixar’s “Lightyear,” all from Disney. Universal has the latest “Jurassic Park” sequel, a new “Minions” animated entry, and Jordan Peele’s “Nope.” “Top Gun: Maverick” finally arrives from Paramount, Warner Bros. has “Elvis” and the animated “D.C. League of Super-Pets.” The top prospect from Sony is “Bullet Train.”

“Strange,” “Jurassic,” and “Thor” have the best shot at over $400 million, a level achieved by only two films since 2019. However, of the three films to hit that mark in 2019, “Avengers: Endgame” grossed $858 million domestic. Combined with “The Lion King”  and “Toy Story 4,” they grossed over $1.8 billion. That’s a tall order.

The next tier includes “Lightyear” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru;” “Top Gun: Maverick” could also generate as much as $250 million. (Tom Cruise’s long-gestating sequel is far removed from its 1986 original; imagine a sequel to 1950’s “All About Eve” being released in 1986.)

“Nope” is next most likely to pass $100 million, then “Elvis” and “Bullet Train;” “D.C. League of Super-Pets” could have an outside shot. Presentations at the upcoming CinemaCon could raise prospects for less-heralded titles.

All told, the consensus range for these 10 titles comes to $2.5 billion-$3 billion. At the high end, that would equate to the top 10 of 2019 — but the 37 films that made up the rest of the 2019 summer lineup grossed $1.8 billion. Summer 2022 summer has no chance of that.

For one thing, there are only 20 wide-release films in the rest of this summer’s lineup. A proportionally reduced gross equivalent to 2019 would be $972 million; to achieve that, each of those 20 films would need to average about $50 million. A more practical, if optimistic, total estimate would be at the high end of $800 million. It’s unlikely, but it could happen.

Let’s say it does happen, and films come through at their likely maximum ($3 billion). The best possible scenario for this summer is $3.8 billion — 80 percent of 2019. If so, the 2022 total to date would rise to around 70 percent of the same period in 2019.

"Avatar 2"
“Avatar 2”Disney/20th Century Studios

That leaves it up to the rest of the year — which includes new “Black Panther” and “Avatar” sequels — to add about $2.2 billion more and reach $8 billion. It’s an optimistic scenario but within the range of possibility. It would place 2022 at 71 percent of 2019 and 67 percent of 2018 even though theaters are operating normally with top-flight releases — albeit significantly fewer, which ultimately undercuts the chance for returning to past levels.

Achieving $8 billion would make 2022 the worst non-Covid box-office year since 2001. Calculating by attendance, it would represent the fewest tickets sold in many decades — perhaps since silent days. However many billions this summer bring, that reality can’t be ignored.

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