2023 broke every rule in the box office playbook – so how healthy is the industry looking going into 2024? We have a few thoughts…
It’s always tempting to focus on the negative when it comes to the state of the cinema industry. For one thing, it means we can say “I told you so” when something inevitably goes wrong.
I like saying “I told you so.” It makes me feel all big and clever.
In my defence, too, we’ve got plenty of reasons to feel pessimistic heading into 2024. Though 2023’s box office has continued the post-pandemic trend of increasing year on year, in the US analysts are predicting 2024’s domestic sales will come in a hefty $1bn below last year’s total. With strike-induced delays to several big movies and few predictable box office juggernauts lined up, if I ran a cinema right now, I’d be a little nervous.
It’s also true that 2024 doesn’t have the advantage of a huge 2023 holiday release to keep the January blues at bay. Where the last couple of years have seen Spider-Man: No Way Home and Avatar: The Way Of Water earn the bulk of their money back post-Christmas, this year doesn’t have the same “event” movie pedigree to keep the wolves from the door.
But then again, it’s not like 2023 inspired much well-deserved optimism at the start of the year. Who would have thought that, come the year’s end, the global box office top ten would have just two superhero movies in it (Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 and Across The Spider-Verse)? Or that the top three highest-grossing flicks would be original films – a feat without precedent since 2001?
With few exceptions, the huge titles expected to bring in the billions at the start of 2023 (The Flash, Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny, Ant Man And The Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels) turned out to be some of the year’s biggest box office disappointments. At the risk of impersonating a stuck insert-modern-music-streaming-service-here, every rule of the box office has been turned on its head.
Read more: The top 35 must-see films of 2024
There are signs, too, that movie-going habits are starting to change (aside from the Barbenheimer-shaped elephant in the room). Christmas 2023 might have lacked an obvious blockbuster stand-out to bring in the new year, but in the US a variety of decently performing releases hints that variety, not visual effects budget, might just be the life raft for a struggling industry.
Paul King’s Wonka, after strong word of mouth and a cornering of the young family market, has been chugging along healthily since its December release. It’s currently the fourth highest grossing 2023 release in the UK, and has seen very little drop week-on-week since its debut at the start of December. Though the transition back into school term time will likely see the family film’s sales plumet, by the end of its run it likely won’t be a million miles away from The Super Mario Bros. Movie
The Color Purple is also currently flying above expectations in the US following a Christmas Day release, and while the new Aquaman film might be performing below expectations for a superhero flick, its $255m taking would make any accountant happy had it not cost $205m to make.
Looking ahead, too, there are plenty of mid-budget films with the potential to keep ticket-printing machines in business. The apparent success of two movie musicals will put the studios in charge of Mean Girls and Wicked in high spirits. Long thought to be box office poison, 2024 is looking like an accidental return to form from the theatre industry’s long-term cash cow genre.
On the indie-thriller side, A24’s Civil War and Love Lies Bleeding both have the potential to double their budgets if the studio plays its marketing cards right. Bong Joon-ho’s Mickey17, meanwhile, could capitalise on the reputational success Parasite has continued to garner since 2019 to best the director’s last $262m outing.
And while 2024 might have just a smattering of superhero flicks in store (Kraven The Hunter, Madame Web and Venom 3 from Sony, Deadpool 3 from Marvel Studios and Joker: Folie à Deux from DC), new Ghostbusters, Paddington and Planet Of The Apes movies, alongside Disney’s Inside Out 2 and Snow White, prove that Hollywood hasn’t quite got around to abandoning a tried-and-tested franchise model yet.
The coming year, then, still has plenty of potential to surprise the naysayers. If one thing might vindicate them, however, it’s in cinema’s lack of new movies, not in their quality. In the US, Deadline is reporting the upcoming year currently has 107 titles scheduled for a wide cinema release compared to 2023’s 124. The first half of the year in particular is still looking a little bare – with most hopes resting on Dune: Part Two to deliver the box office goods Warner Bros. day-and-date Stateside release denied its first instalment in 2021.
But if 2023 has proved anything, its that audiences are hungry for new films and new ideas – and that’s a healthy place for the industry to start from, whatever the current box office takings might have to say about it. It’s increasingly looking like Hollywood is going through a transitional period as the power of existing IP and caped crusaders winds down. Whether 2024 will solidify the teachings of 2023 or lay them bare as a freak of economics remains to be seen.