After the last two years of the dismal pandemic, Hollywood is praying for a box office comeback. Both 2020 and 2021 were box office poison, with people reluctant to crowd in public spaces thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak . We saw numbers severely drop, with the only hope coming in late December, with the record release of Spider-Man: No Way Home , which easily became the highest-grossing movie of the year.
So how can 2022 improve on last year?
Well, people need to go to the movies and see things theatrically. A lot of that depends on the waning pandemic finally being over. But a lot also depends on what Hollywood delivers.
Over the last two years, titles were pulled because of the virus. Now, we're getting a bevy of new releases that fall under the "blockbuster" category: Avatar 2, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love & Thunder, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ; Sonic the Hedgehog 2 ; Top Gun: Maverick ; The Batman, Fantastic Beasts: the Secrets of Dumbledore, and many other titles.
A studio executive told Deadline , “You have to remember we’re still in the middle of the war. Because of that, we will continue the same strategy that we’ve had for the last two years: Total flexibility.”
This means titles could disappear if the pandemic worsens.
Last year, we saw Warner Bros. put titles in theaters and online at the same time . While that no doubt affected their box office, it bolstered streaming. We don't want to see that happen again if we care about the box office.
Another big worry is the smaller movies that were slated to come out. If 2022 doesn't kick off with some higher numbers in the spring, then it would be interesting to see if companies pull those smaller titles and sell them to streamers or attempt to put them on their own apps.
The thing that we have to remember is that these studios are publicly traded companies that have shareholders to think about. Even Disney stock was down last year. With all these places looking to bounce back, they're going to try to front-load 2022 with as many popular titles as possible. Look for The Batman to be a litmus test for other studios. Will people turn up? And what age groups will go? Older demographics tend to have more worry about the pandemic and therefore aren't going out as much. Movies made for those adults over 40 may hit streaming.
Aside from that, they'll also backload the year with popular titles, hoping the pandemic is gone enough for there to be a boom in the fall and winter of moviegoers, much like there was in 2021, before Omicron.
“Studios are looking to go back to the theatrical window,” Eric Handler, managing director and senior research analyst at MKM Partners, told Deadline . “There’s sort of a balancing act there; they want to take multiple bites of the apple, which is what occurs when you have the windowing effect. But at the same point in time, their corporate parents are trying to build out their streaming services.”
So where is the good news?
As I mentioned at the top, so many movies were pushed into 2022 that we have an embarrassment of riches. If the pandemic goes away or lessens to a point without danger, you can expect droves of people coming back to theaters. But time will tell.
Let us know your predictions in the comments.