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LOS ANGELES — The box office in 2023 is inching closer to pre-pandemic levels, but the inconsistent performance of blockbusters in the first six months of the year will put a lot of pressure on releases in the second half of the year.

While the domestic box office hit $4.46 billion as of June 30, up nearly 20% from the same period in 2022, it still lags behind the pre-pandemic benchmark of 2019, according to Comscore.

Ticket sales are down 21 percent from four years ago, but that’s not the only thing down. The same goes for the number of broad releases.

From January to June 30, 2019, 57 films were screened in more than 2,000 theaters. In 2023, only 45 releases will be released during the same period.

“It’s really not fair to compare in dollars alone,” said Mike Polydoros, chief executive of PaperAirplane Media.

Quantity matters. While blockbusters and franchise films can draw large audiences, a steady stream of low- and mid-budget films is also critical to the industry’s overall success. Diversity in content is also key, with audiences craving a wider range of genres, from horror and drama to romance and comedy.

Industry experts told CNBC that the more audiences go to movie theaters, the better.

take a chance

Of course, quality is also an important factor in a film’s box office success. It’s not enough to fill your annual list with products; the products have to be good.

So far this year, many blockbusters have missed expectations at the box office in anticipation of attracting audiences and boosting domestic box office.

Warner Bros.“Thunder Shazam!Wrath of the Titans and The Flash have notably underperformed, no less Disney’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantum Fever and Elements.

at the same time, generic The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse managed to capture audiences’ attention alongside a string of horror films, including paramount Scream VI and Universal’s M3gan.

Still from Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

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“While a few titles missed their respective rosy expectations, 2023 so far has been as healthy as expected at the box office,” said Shawn Robbins, principal analyst at BoxOffice.com.

Robbins said the main takeaway from the first half of the year was that comics and nostalgic movies “are not as novel as they used to be.” While older millennial audiences have been the driver of the box office recovery for much of the past two years, studios would do well if they could start catering to younger generations, he said.

“Movie audiences will be more choosy about the content they choose to spend their money on, especially as stagnant economic and wage growth in general remains a problem for most ordinary Americans,” Robbins said.

Is summer sizzle or sizzle?

This pullback has already begun with the summer 2023 movie season.

Beginning on the first Friday in May and running through Labor Day weekend, the summer movie season typically accounts for 40 percent of all movie ticket sales for the year.

As of July 2, the summer box office has reached 1.88 billion US dollars. That’s 1.7% below the same period in 2022, according to Comscore data.

In summer 2022, Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” a Paramount-Skydance co-production, will be a big hit at the box office. From its May 27 release through July 2 last year, the film grossed $555.4 million, making it the highest-grossing movie of the period, according to Comscore.

By comparison, this summer’s top-grossing film so far is “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which opened on May 5 and has earned $354.9 million as of July 2.

“While 2022 is a long way off, the summer numbers are currently trying to beat last year,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, noting that 2022 will also see the release of “Crazy Diverse.” Doctor Strange in the universe and Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World: Dominion.

So far this summer, there has been no runaway box office. While the third “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie and Sony’s animated “Spider-Man” sequel are doing well, other recent releases like Disney’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Dial of Fate,” Universal Pictures’ “Ruby Gilman, Siren, or Paramount’s Ruby, remains to be seen. “Transformers: Rise of the Beast” will add significantly to the domestic box office.

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“More movie releases have boosted year-to-date profits, while some underperforming summer titles have put enormous pressure on films waiting to open in theaters to deliver on their pedigree and marketing promises,” he said.

These include the highly anticipated Warner Bros. film Barbie, Universal Pictures’ Oppenheimer, Disney’s The Haunted Mansion and Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, all released on Labor Day. before the release.

“It’s important to remember that the compressed ecosystem of the 18-week summer movie season has more pronounced ups and downs than any given full year, and it’s too early to make any big claims about the ultimate success or failure of the movies. Early. Period,” Dergarabedian said. “The good news is that some of summer’s hottest movies are still coming out this month, and as a secret weapon, August is full of high-profile movies that can give summer a back-end turbo boost.”

second half

Projected second-half blockbusters include: Sony will bring Spider-Man villain Kraven to the big screen in October; Universal has The Exorcist: The Believer and Trolls; Warner Bros. has Dune : Part Two”, “Wonka” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”.

Disney will release “Marvel” and “Wish,” and Lionsgate will release “The Hunger Games: Song of the Songbirds and the Snake.”

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“The second half of summer looks very strong, much better than last year,” Polidoros said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2023 box office total is closer to $10 billion.”

That would bring the full-year 2023 box office down about 12% compared to 2019. Of course, Polidoros warned that the current strike by the Writers Guild of America could hurt box office sales this year and next if production shutdowns continue and release dates are pushed back.

BoxOffice.com’s Robbins also touched on labor issues in Hollywood, noting that the ongoing writers’ strike and the threat of an actor’s strike could undermine the gains made at the domestic box office over the past two years.

For Robbins, hitting 2019 levels in 2023 “was never a realistic goal.” What matters is continued year-over-year growth, he said; this year’s domestic box office should aim to surpass last year’s $7.5 billion.

“Given all of this, I think there’s still plenty of reason to be optimistic about the industry’s long-term status quo, but there are always hurdles to overcome,” he said. audiences express their willingness to go to the cinema on a regular basis.”

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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