The 2022 box office reflects more than a revenue problem; it has a butts-in-seats problem.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” (Disney) was a magnificent way to end the year, and to begin a new one. Since its December 18, 2022 release it’s grossed $465 million in U.S./Canada. It could overtake “Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount) as the top 2022 domestic release, which grossed $719 million. It’s certain to become the biggest worldwide grosser since Covid began decimating the theatrical business nearly three years ago.
But “The Way of Water” doesn’t change the current reality any more than “Maverick” did, which is this: In the last four years, theatrical attendance has declined by about 50 percent.
Box office for 2022 ended a little under $7.4 billion domestic, with $26 billion worldwide. That fell far short of the year’s weakest projections, a consensus first stated in December 2021 by financial analyst Gower Street and repeated widely in the media: $9.2 billion domestic and $33.2 billion worldwide. Last March during a quarterly financial call, AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron said “We are quite bullish that for the full calendar year of 2022 the industry box office could be nearly double that of 2021″ — that is, about $8.8 billion domestic. On those bases, we have shortfall of somewhere between 20 and 25 percent.
As for calculating that attendance drop: The last full pre-Covid year of 2019 generated a domestic box-office total of $11.3 billion, down from $11.9 billion in 2018. Those numbers came at lower ticket prices, by approximately 20 percent or more. (Exhibitor trade association NATO still declines to announce a current average ticket price, which it has not updated since 2019.)
Image Credit: ©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection