A slow August at the domestic box office wasn’t an ideal way to end a summer that was otherwise a huge boon for theater owners and Hollywood studios as they collectively emerged from the COVID-19 crisis.
Revenue for August 2022 looks to clock in at estimated $475 million-$477 million, which — outside of the past two years, when the pandemic kept many consumers at home — is one of the lowest rankings in several decades and down more than 43 percent from August 2019, according to Comscore. (Since the pandemic shut down theaters in the U.S. in 2020, 2019 remains a favored standard of comparison.)
The good news: the box office recovery made huge gains the rest of the summer — led, of course, by the high-flying Top Gun: Maverick. The success of the Tom Cruise blockbuster and a diverse crop of other films proved that moviegoers across all demos are now returning to cinemas.
Summer doesn’t officially end until Labor Day, but revenue is projected to come in around $3.4 billion. That’s up notably from last year ($1.63 billion) and down a respectable 21 percent from 2019. Comscore will weigh in with final stats in the coming days.
So why did August go so awry and drag down the bottom line, even if it was up 13 percent or more over 2021’s $423.2 million?
Studios sources and box office analysts attribute the slowdown to a dearth of new releases as Hollywood grapples with supply-chain issues. A dozen movies opened nationwide in more than 2,000 theaters in August 2019, and nine in 2021 — including Free Guy, Jungle Cruise and The Suicide Squad. This year, there were only six.
In 2014, combined August ticket sales crossed $1 billion for the first time ever, led by Marvel and Disney’s bold move to open Guardians of the Galaxy on Aug. 1. Revenue for the month crossed $1 billion for a second time in 2016, thanks to titles including Warner Bros. and DC’s Suicide Squad (Aug. 5) and Sony’s Sausage Party (Aug. 12). And Universal had long buoyed the final month of summer with its Jason Bourne franchise, even if some installments first opened in late July.
In 2019, Universal’s Fast & Furious spinoff Hobbs & Shaw (Aug. 2) helped propel August revenue to $870 million.
The biggest movie of August 2022 so far is Sony’s Bullet Train, which has earned $78 million domestically. It has done more overseas, grossing $95.4 million to date for a global cume north of $174 million. While the Brad Pitt-led movie has done respectable business, it did not turn into a breakout hit.
Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian applauds Sony for moving the R-rated, edgy action pic from April of this year to August. “It gave the month at least a fighting chance at generating respectable numbers, but compared to the sweet spot summer months of May, June and July, August of 2022 will pale by comparison,” he says.
Dergarabedian says August has long been a launching pad for “great R-rated titles” including Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Straight Outta Compton, Superbad, Tropic Thunder and even Apocalypse Now, to mention a few.
“I call August the ‘punk rock month’ because it’s where studios can technically open a film in the summer season that are the less safe bets and on the more avant-garde side of the ledger and less about generating big dollars,” says Dergarabedian.
Along with Bullet Train, R-rated August releases this year include Universal’s genre adventure thriller Beast and MGM and United Artists’ specialty pic Three Thousand Years of Longing, each of which are doing modest business so far (both star Idris Elba).
Domestically, the next tentpole to arrive will be Warner Bros.’ Black Adam, which debuts Oct. 21 opposite the Julia Roberts-George Clooney rom-com A Ticket to Paradise, from Universal. A week earlier, Universal’s Halloween Ends opens day-and-date in cinemas and on Peacock.
There’s plenty of potential in the year-end holiday release calendar, between Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Nov. 11), Disney’s Thanksgiving animated offering Strange World (Nov. 23), 20th Century’s Avatar: The Way of Water (Dec. 16) and DreamWorks Animation’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (Dec. 21), and Paramount’s Babylon on Christmas Day.
Still, the sting from this month was sharp. Says one studio executive: “August was left out in the cold this year.”