Diversity at the Multiplex Matters
Plus: A July 4 classic assigned!
The big news at the box office last weekend was that Elvis surprised wags by beating Top Gun: Maverick for the top spot on the charts. The first weekend gross was healthy at $31 million, but the composition of the audience was even more intriguing: nearly half of those who went to see Elvis were over the age of 45, a demo that has been largely absent from the movies since the start of the pandemic.
Also heartening: the R-rated horror picture The Black Phone nabbing $23.6 million during its opening frame. With its good-for-horror CinemaScore of B-plus, there’s a chance The Black Phone avoids the box office fate of most horror pictures and has a decent hold in its second weekend. And that’s good, because movie theaters really need more mid-range box office wins if they’re going to get back to normal in the coming months.
Here’s the thing: the big-budget blockbuster earning outsized grosses is more or less fully back. In the three years before the pandemic, an average of eight movies per year grossed more than $300 million domestic. We’re halfway to that number so far in 2022 and Thor: Love and Thunder will almost certainly exceed $300 million by mid-July. Toss in another couple titles (Avatar 2 will get there; Black Adam or Shazam 2 or Minions: The Rise of Gru might as well) and things are, more or less, back to normal on that side of things.
What movie theaters are missing out on are the fillers, the programmers, the $100-$250 million grossers that keep the shoeboxes closer to full as the weeks drag on. In the three years before the pandemic, we averaged about 24 such pictures per year.
So far in 2022? There have been three.
That number will increase, of course; Lightyear will limp past it this weekend and Rise of Gru will likely pass it next weekend. (If not this weekend; see the first day’s box office below.) But the softness in the middle part of the market remains worrisome.
This is why diversity at the multiplex matters: you need a wide array of offerings that attract all sorts of audiences in order to ease them back into the habit of going to movies a couple of times a month. You need the blockbusters and the kids movies and the horror flicks and the date night romcoms and the biopics and the sequels. You need Nope to make $175 million (just as Get Out and Us made right about $175 million) in addition to Thor 4 making $400 million. Otherwise the theatrical experience writ large is at risk.
And theaters remain the best form of native advertising we have. Exit polls show that the biggest reason audiences showed up to Elvis was the trailer, which played in front of Top Gun: Maverick, another film that appealed to an older audience. Success begets success.
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I wrote a bit more about this topic at the Washington Post this week, specifically focused on why the failure of Lightyearshould be concerning to theater owners. Yes, it’s good that audiences are showing up for Maverick and Elvis. But losing a generation of theatergoers to streaming permanently would signal the end of theaters as we know them.
Minions: The Rise of Gru had a huge first day of “previews.” (I’m sorry, a day of movies in the summer that start showing at 2PM should not count as previews, that’s just the opening day.) I hope this movie is a success but even if it is, it doesn’t really negate my point about Lightyear and Disney given the share of the box office that Disney controls.
Speaking of Elvis … I kind of loved it? I did not expect to love it, given that I do not particularly care for Baz Luhrmann and have no special love for Elvis Presley. But I loved it. At least the first 90 minutes or so. It slows down a bit toward the end.
I missed this op-ed from a couple of weeks back, but Jason Blum of Blumhouse fame suggested Netflix should change how it pays creatives in order to help the company stay sustainable and encourage greater creativity: “If you give artists a lot of creative freedom and a little money upfront but a big stake in the movie’s or TV show’s commercial success, more often than not the result will be both commercial (the filmmakers are incentivized to make films that will resonate with audiences) and artistically interesting (creative freedom!).” This is, of course, the Blumhouse model. I don’t know how Netflix could make this work, given that they don’t have a simple, well-reported metric—that is, box office dollars—to judge a “success” by. But the streaming giant needs to try something to improve their offerings.
Also make sure to check out Blum’s podcast episode with Matthew Belloni.
Assigned Viewing: Independence Day (Prime Video)
Celebrate the Fourth of July by watching large portions of America get blown up! I unapologetically love this movie that features that greatest fictional Republican president ever. (Yes, yes, he’s never technically given a partisan label, but the fact that President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is a.) defended by Fred Barnes while also being criticized by Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group and b.) we learn that Vivica A. Fox’s character did not vote for him, there’s roughly a 100% chance dude was a Republican. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.)
I wish we got the kind of rational, compassionate, nice presidents irl that we get in movies. Or maybe we could have a My Fellow Americans buddy presidency.
thanks Sonny... I've been wondering if theaters can survive streaming. It will be very tough. If I owned theater chains, I'd have sold them by now. Even the restaurant theaters are having trouble surviving. We're all buying bigger and bigger Big Screens, and installing luxury seating to recreate the theater experience at home, right in our living rooms. And young people just watch their phones. IMAX maybe? We can't do that at home yet...