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The Biggest Box Office Takeaways Of 2022

The 2022 box office is set to clear $7 billion before the year is over and what an unsteady time it's been for studios, moviegoers, and film geeks alike. On the one hand, the 2022 domestic box office was fraught with rocky elements and there was rarely a moment where everything was going smoothly. Problems like a lack of major new releases from studios like Warner Bros. and Lionsgate or bungled release strategies undercut the box office potential of the year. While 2022's North American haul is set to be a little more than 50% ahead of the 2021 yearly box office gross in the same territory, the market is still drastically down from pre-pandemic levels.

Still, there were a lot of encouraging highs this year, including just how popular some of the biggest hits of 2022 became. "Top Gun: Maverick" turned into a pop culture phenomenon and the biggest box office hit in Tom Cruise's legendary career, while titles like "Elvis" and "Everything Everywhere All at Once" provided hope that a wide variety of films can still excel. The biggest takeaways from the 2022 domestic box office make the problems still plaguing theatrical movies apparent. However, they also signal the accomplishments of the year as well, with those feats being remarkable enough to inspire some confidence in the box office hauls of future years.

A24 soared to new box office heights

Among the biggest victors in the 2022 box office landscape was A24, an arthouse studio that soared to new box office heights this year thanks largely to its sci-fi action-comedy "Everything Everywhere All at Once." This project from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert was as strange as it was poignant, but it managed to resonate with the general public to a massive degree. Becoming not only the highest-grossing A24 movie in history but its first-ever title to crack $100 million globally, "Everything Everywhere All at Once" redefined the bar for success for A24 releases. However, the studio's box office glories this year were not just limited to that multiverse film.

The $118.5 million yearly total for A24 in 2022, its highest yearly box office haul ever in North America, was also bolstered by a pair of Ti West horror movies, "X" and "Pearl," both of which provided the foundation for one of the studio's first franchises. "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" also turned into a sleeper hit during the summer of 2022, excelling even when competing against superhero movie juggernauts, while "Aftersun" cleared $910,000 despite never playing in more than 97 locations. To top it all off, the studio's December title "The Whale" scored the best opening weekend per theater average in 2022 at the time of its release. Needless to say, it's been a year to remember for A24 and its wide array of box office smashes.

Animated Disney movies are struggling

Before March 2020, Disney's animated works were rocking and rolling at the global box office. Between 2016 and 2019, Disney released nine major animated titles and all but one of them ("Cars 3" being the lone exception) exceeded $795 million worldwide, with many of them soaring past the coveted $1 billion mark. Cut to 2022, though, and Disney's animated wares are far less in demand for family moviegoers. "Lightyear" bombed following its release in June with a worldwide total that failed to clear $220 million. That was positively glorious compared to the box office run of "Strange World," which looks poised to lose $100 million for Disney, making both films some of the biggest movie flops of 2022.

How did Disney go from king to pauper in the world of animated family features?  The Hollywood Reporter suggests brand confusion and politics came into play particularly in regards to "Lightyear," while Disney's decision to put titles like "Soul" and "Turning Red" on streaming, meanwhile, likely helped dilute the specialness of its movies on the big screen. 

It's an especially fascinating turn of events given that Universal's animated works like "Minions: The Rise of Gru" are hitting new box office highs for Illumination features. Kids and their parents are still going to the movies ... Disney will just need to figure out how to get them to see its future animated titles on the big screen in greater numbers than the turnout for "Lightyear" and "Strange World."

Universal Pictures thrived on variety

Everybody likes a bit of variety. Sometimes we want comforting familiarity, whether it's with food, music, or even where we rest our heads, but we've all got an inclination to try out the fresh and new. It's no surprise, then, that a studio that embraced a wide variety of theatrical releases had an exceptional yearly box office haul in the North American marketplace. With a yearly total set to exceed $1.5 billion thanks to the upcoming title "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish," Universal is projected to have its third-best year on record in the domestic marketplace.

The reason for such a massive haul is simple: variety. Universal put out big franchise blockbusters like "Jurassic World: Dominion" and "Minions: The Rise of Gru," but the studio also took a chance on original titles like "Nope," "Violent Night," and "The Black Phone." Universal released everything from kid's movies to romantic comedies to quiet dramas in the process, ensuring that it had something for all moviegoers. It didn't hurt that Universal stuffed the 2022 calendar full of buzzy titles, with the studio reaping the benefits of launching 19 new movies in the year (plus re-releases of old favorites like "Jaws"). 2022 was a year of awkward change and evolution for some studios. For Universal, though, it was a time to celebrate the financial benefits of embracing a slate leaning on variety.

We need movies year round

July 2022 was a watershed moment for the domestic box office. It was easily the biggest in terms of North American box office gross for a single month since the pandemic started and the first post-February 2020 month to crack $1 billion in this territory. A slew of hits occupying varying genres aimed at different audiences kept movie theaters buzzing. Unfortunately, the following few months returned to dire numbers. While months like September and October typically make less than July in an average year, there's not usually this sharp of a drop-off.

After July 2022 grossed $1.1 billion, August only made $466.9 million while September was the nadir of the year with just $323.1 million. These box office lows can be chalked up to Hollywood failing to deliver new exciting titles theatrically, with much of September 2022 being an utter ghost town save for a handful of titles like "Barbarian." If Hollywood wants the box office to reach pre-pandemic normal, then more major titles need to be produced and scattered around the calendar. Even November 2022 came in behind most other box office hauls for that month because studios refused to schedule a full slate of releases for the month (only one major new wide release dropped the first weekend of November). A more robust and packed calendar of theatrical titles will help avoid severe drop-offs like the one the domestic box office faced after the glories of July 2022.

Audiences aren't sick of legacy sequels or nostalgia

Sometimes, if moviegoers have to deal with the oversaturation of a certain genre or style of filmmaking, they quickly get sick of it. However, in 2022, it was apparent that at least right now, audiences aren't exhausted yet of either legacy sequels or 1980s nostalgia. This is especially true when those two elements are combined in the form of a movie like "Top Gun: Maverick." This one checked off all the boxes of a standard nostalgia sequel, but that just made it all the more appealing to audiences, who drove the title to staggering box office figures.

Though not rooted in 1980s nostalgia, "Jurassic World: Dominion" also flourished financially as a legacy sequel that combined the casts of "Jurassic Park" and "Jurassic World." On a smaller but also successful scale, "Scream" returned to being a box office powerhouse by commenting on and simultaneously embracing legacy sequel tropes. Even the box office phenomenon of "Minions: The Rise of Gru" was fueled by organic fan support built on nostalgia. A yearning for yesteryear has often been an important factor in getting a movie to be a sizeable box office hit. But at the 2022 domestic box office, legacy sequels and nostalgia were especially prominent. Don't expect movies leaning on these ingredients to die out anytime soon.

Netflix movies can succeed in theaters ... now what?

It's hard to determine what is and isn't successful with the peculiar one-week release of "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" just because of its unprecedented nature. Still, the projected $15 million haul of the movie over just seven days of release certainly looks solid, especially given that the project never played in over 696 theaters. The significance of this movie's box office run came entirely from its distributor, Netflix. The streamer has been notoriously reluctant about engaging in normal theatrical runs for its movies, but "Glass Onion" marked the first time it gave a splashy big-screen run for one of its titles in movie theater chains like AMC.

The strong box office numbers for "Glass Onion" are a great case for demonstrating how audiences will show up for Netflix movies in theaters so long as the features are marketed well and playing on screens near them. It's a big foot forward in Netflix's relationship with movie theaters, but head figures at the streamer have made it clear that Netflix "are not trying to build a theatrical business." Future yearly box office hauls would greatly benefit from Netflix expanding on the success of "Glass Onion" with longer and wider theatrical releases. Sadly, right now, that doesn't look to be in the cards.

Horror had a scary good year

Horror movies delivered all kinds of gruesome deaths and chilling set pieces this year, yet, even with all that grisly chaos, the genre was inspiring grins all across Hollywood thanks to how lucrative the films were at the box office in 2022. "Nope" was the highest-grossing horror title of 2022 with a commendable $123.2 million sum that continued Jordan Peele's hot streak at the box office while "Smile" blew past all expectations with a massive $105.9 million North American total.

Beyond those two, other projects like "The Black Phone" and "Scream" managed to exceed $80 million in their domestic runs while smaller-scale features like "Barbarian" turned into impressive sleeper hits. Even "Orphan: First Kill," which had a lower theater count and simultaneously bowed on streaming and on PVOD with its theatrical debut, made some solid sums of cash. Best of all, though, was how many of the big horror movies in 2022 were either original properties or titles like "The Black Phone" were based on lesser-known source material. You didn't need an instantly recognizable brand name to make big bucks at the North American box office with scary cinema in 2022. That's an extremely encouraging sign for the genre and even theatrical cinema as a whole going forward.

Marvel movies are becoming more frontloaded

Before 2021, only four out of the then-23 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies had dropped over 60% in North America in their second weekends of release. This impressive feat, accomplished despite so many of this franchise's installments opening to massive $200+ million opening weekends, signaled the kind of positive word-of-mouth a typical Marvel Studios title generated. Fast forward to 2022, though, and those second-weekend drops are becoming routinely more and more sizable. "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" plummeted 67% in its second week of release while "Thor: Love and Thunder" had a slightly worse hold by dropping off a steep 68% in its second weekend. Even "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" dropped 63%, a larger second-weekend decline than any pre-2021 Marvel Studios title.

Granted, these three Marvel Cinematic Universe titles still made over $1.151 billion for the domestic box office marketplace in 2022, so it's doubtful theater owners are sobbing over these declines. Still, the significantly frontloaded nature of Marvel Studios projects indicates that the audience for these films is narrowing. Once the core fanbase shows up on the opening weekend, the appeal of these blockbusters lessens significantly. Marvel movies can still pull in heaps of cash, but it's also clear these individual titles are way more frontloaded and function less as long-term box office juggernauts compared to entries in this franchise released before the pandemic.

Older adults will go to the theater ... they just need a reason

Every time a new drama aimed solely at older audiences bombed in the final four months of the year, like "She Said" or "Amsterdam," it begged the question if that demographic would ever return to movie theaters. Were movies targeted towards non-teenagers doomed to fail on the big screen? The weird thing is, though, movies aimed at older audiences actually had some real high points in 2022 at the domestic box office. A great example was "Elvis," which played to mostly older crowds, with nearly 50% of its business in its first two weeks of North American release coming from moviegoers over the age of 45. Meanwhile, well over half of the opening weekend audience for "Top Gun: Maverick" was over the age of 35, with that demographic also making up two-thirds of the opening weekend audience for "Ticket to Paradise."

There's no complicated phenomenon going on here. Older audiences, like teenagers and families, need a reason to leave their homes and see a movie on the big screen. That reason doesn't even have to be a $350+ million spectacle like "Avatar: The Way of Water," it just has to promise some fun and zippiness, like "Ticket to Paradise." Films like "She Said" and "Amsterdam" came up short financially for a lot of reasons, but it wasn't because older audiences have abandoned the movie theater.

Leggy releases were a common sight this year

Typically, each year brings one major wide release that defies all expectations and sticks around at the box office for months on end. In 2017, it was "The Greatest Showman," while in 2009, it was "The Blind Side." Shockingly, 2022 had multiple instances of movies sticking around way longer than expected in their respective North American box office runs. A great example of this was "Everything Everywhere All at Once," which only experienced a single weekend-to-weekend drop of over 21% in its first nine weeks of wide release. Then there was "Top Gun: Maverick," which defied the odds for how a summer blockbuster sequel should perform and just kept playing and playing all summer long with staggeringly impressive weekend-to-weekend holds, including a tiny 29% second-weekend decline. 

Though not as extreme in their box office stamina as those titles, other 2022 features like "Elvis," "Minions: The Rise of Gru," and "Smile" also held incredibly well for months on end. Part of this comes down to the simple fact that these were all popular movies, but it also didn't hurt that 2022 featured a lot of weekends totally vacant of new releases. Without a lot of competition to face, these movies could stick around in theaters way longer. This made it possible for events that would be unthinkable in any other box office year, like "Top Gun: Maverick" topping the Labor Day weekend frame after opening over Memorial Day weekend.

The arthouse sector is improving but still has a ways to go

While far from returning to pre-pandemic numbers, the theatrical arthouse sector had some encouraging high points this year. "Everything Everywhere All at Once" was a clear example of a limited release going the distance theatrically, but that wasn't the only arthouse hit in 2022. "Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris" proved to be a leggy theatrical release and managed to crack $10 million in its domestic run"The Banshees of Inisherin" has already exceeded the domestic lifetime total of Martin McDonagh's 2008 directorial effort, "In Bruges," even before it gets an inevitable box office boost from whatever Oscar recognition it receives. Even a handful of documentaries like "Fire of Love" managed to get past the $1 million mark in North America.

Unfortunately, the arthouse sector was still plagued with constant problems this year, including the simple fact that past suppliers of box office hits for arthouse theaters, like Searchlight Pictures, were MIA for much of 2022. In addition to a dearth of product, the short shelf life of many of these movies as theatrical exclusive events (like "The Fabelmans" going to premium video-on-demand services just 21 days into its wide release run) has greatly reduced the opportunity for the kind of box office legs arthouse movies need to survive. 2022 showed clear signs arthouse films have a future on the big screen ... but larger issues related to movie studios and how they release films are hindering that future.

Hits can come from anywhere

Did anyone have much in the way of box office expectations for "Terrifier 2," if they even knew it existed, at the start of 2022? Dropping in theaters the first weekend of October, "Terrifier 2" did decent, but not extraordinary business, on opening weekend (it didn't even crack $1,000 for its per-theater average that frame). But then "Terrifier 2" just kept making more and more money each weekend. The tales of audience members fainting or throwing up at the movie's gruesome violence gave it the kind of hype money can't buy. Soon, it cracked $10 million domestically. Here was a smash hit that grew out of good old-fashioned audience word of mouth, with "Terrifier 2" serving as one of several welcome surprise hits in 2022.

Similarly, "Barbarian" leaped out of the shadows without a recognizable brand name or iconic director to become a leggy box office hit, while "The Chosen Season 3: Episodes 1 & 2" turned out to be a bigger hit in North America than much costlier original feature films from 2022 like "The 355" and "Firestarter." It's always good to see surprise box office hits spring out of nowhere, but it's especially welcoming in 2022, where it can sometimes feel like only the biggest brand names can thrive at the box office anymore. If "Terrifier 2" proved anything, though, it's that the big screen can still be home to some box office surprises you never see coming.

Where the Crawdads Sing was the most important hit of 2022

The most important box office smash of 2022 wasn't "Top Gun: Maverick" or any of the three Marvel Cinematic Universe titles, but rather a smaller-scale romantic drama book adaptation called "Where the Crawdads Sing." What may sound on the surface like a joke is an undeniable truth. "Where the Crawdads Sing" opened in the middle of July 2022 to $17.2 million and kept on rolling for the rest of the summer, eventually amassing a fantastic $90 million domestic total on a $24 million budget. This was an incredibly lucrative title for all involved, but profitability isn't what makes "Where the Crawdads Sing" so important as a box office hit.

It's the fact that such a film soared theatrically in 2022 without any big movie stars, explosions, or any real spectacle. It is based on an incredibly popular book, which certainly helped it stand out, but "Where the Crawdads Sing" was supposed to be the kind of material that can only exist in 2022 as an HBO miniseries, not a theatrical movie. Seeing it thrive as it did, not to mention outgross more expensive and conventional 2022 Sony and Columbia Pictures titles like "Morbius" and "Lyle Lyle Crocodile," was incredibly reassuring. "Where the Crawdads Sing" being such a big hit is so incredibly important because it reaffirmed that a wide variety of movies can still be successful theatrically in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paramount had a comeback year for the ages

Before 2022, Paramount Pictures had experienced years of hardship. From 2012 to 2021, the studio only exceeded $1 billion in its yearly North American box office gross once (in 2014) and accumulated merely $525.9 million in 2017, its lowest annual haul in the 21st-century pre-pandemic. Paramount Pictures wasn't just a place full of box office duds, it was a studio so quiet in its box office presence that it was easy to forget about it altogether. But something strange happened in 2022. Paramount Pictures didn't just bounce back, it had a comeback year for the ages that's bound to become the thing of Hollywood legend.

With $1.295 billion as of this writing, the 2022 haul of Paramount Pictures was enormous and more than doubled its $563.9 million yearly takings in 2019. A lot of that could be laid at the feet of "Top Gun: Maverick" soaring high above all expectations, but what made Paramount's 2022 so impressive was that it wasn't just Tom Cruise raking in the dough. "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" turned into a massive hit, "The Lost City" exceeded $100 million domestically, "Scream" and "Jackass Forever" reaffirmed the financial validity of some long-running franchises, and "Smile" became the second-biggest horror hit of the year. Much like Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures offered a variety of movies in 2022 and that range paid off divinely for the once-troubled studio.

A bunch of big names can't prevent a movie from flopping ... hard

Throughout 2022, several movies attempted to cram as many big names as possible into one feature in an attempt to attract audiences of all shapes and sizes only to crater at the box office. This phenomenon was apparent right from the start of the year, as "The 355" collected a variety of big-name performers like Jessica Chastain and Lupita Nyong'o into a spy movie only for the movie to flop right out of the gate. That was nothing compared to "Amsterdam," a movie with a cast so massive that its initial poster was just a list of all its primary actors (which ranged from Christian Bale to Rami Malek to Taylor Swift). This movie was such a massive bomb that it was projected to lose almost $100 million for its financiers following the October release.

Even massive misfire "Moonfall," a disaster movie headlined by Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, and Michael Peña, couldn't use any of its recognizable names to grab the attention of movies. A film full of big-name actors isn't automatically guaranteed to flop at the box office (just look at the "Knives Out" movies), but the biggest box office duds of 2022 functioned as cautionary tales for studios that it isn't enough to just get a lot of famous people in your film and call it a day.

The romantic comedy had a good solid year

As late as 2011, the romantic comedy could still be expected to bring in over $600 million a year to the domestic box office. However, in the ensuing decade, Hollywood largely gave up on the genre as a big-screen entity, with streaming opting to take the reins on this genre. While the romantic comedy didn't suddenly turn the clock back to 1999 in terms of box office prowess, there were quite a few successes this year. It helped that titans of the genre, like Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, and Julia Roberts, all came back to headline new entries in the world of romantic comedies, thus giving audiences a chance to remember why they fell in love with box office hits like "The Proposal" in the first place.

Granted, the romantic comedy was far from foolproof this year thanks to the lackluster domestic box office performances of "Bros" and "Marry Me." Still, seeing "The Lost City" and "Ticket to Paradise" excel financially in North America did provide a reminder that the romantic comedy could still draw in a big crowd at movie theaters. It's doubtful we'll ever see the romantic comedy return to 2011 levels of box prowess, but 2022 demonstrated that the genre should not be counted out yet.

Is the movie star back ... ish?

The internet has been talking for a while now about how there are no movie stars anymore. Audiences and studios alike now put their faith in brand names and franchises, not the next Will Smith or Tom Cruise. In 2022, this trend didn't suddenly reverse ... but it also seemed like the classical movie star did take some baby steps toward existing again. After all, would anyone besides Channing Tatum have been able to turn "Dog" into a box office hit? It's also indisputable that the presence of Tom Holland helped "Uncharted" soar above domestic box office expectations. Brad Pitt's name above the title on the "Bullet Train" poster was also a big boost for that action-comedy, while Viola Davis leaping into battle was the primary selling point of the box office hit "The Woman King."

The importance of these titles is that they're not big reboots or sequels; they're either original properties or adaptations of material that had never been brought to the silver screen before. This meant that even "Uncharted" couldn't rely on callbacks to earlier movies to grab the attention of audiences, it needed to work with other elements ... like the presence of a famous face. Well-known actors got to flex their ability to draw in crowds several times throughout 2022 (including big romantic comedies like "Ticket to Paradise") in the process, proving throughout the 2022 box office that there may be space yet for a classic movie star.

People want hopeful entertainment

In the history of major American movies, there have been eras where general moviegoers were more open to darker entertainment. In the early 1970s, for instance, dark counter-cultural movies began to dominate the mainstream box office and allowed grim films like "The Godfather" to rake in a lot of dough. In the mid-2000s, in response to both the public consciousness after 9/11 and the success of projects like "Batman Begins," darker motion pictures once again began to creep their way to the top of the box office charts. Generally, though, audiences have often been enamored with lighter, unchallenging fare that offers escapism rather than reflections of brutal reality. As early as 1950, two of the three biggest movies at the yearly domestic box office were the animated kid's musical "Cinderella" and the upbeat comedy "Father of the Bride." 

It's easy to imagine a world where the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic helped push moviegoers toward embracing darker movies again. However, the biggest movies in 2022 were all very light-hearted productions. "Top Gun: Maverick" soared above the competition with its incredibly cheery depiction of Navy aviators while even "The Batman" closed out its grim story of a young Bruce Wayne with a sense of hope. It's far from unprecedented for the biggest box office performers to be bright or colorful, but the dominant films at the 2022 box office painted a clear picture of what movies audiences showed up for in a world rocked by COVID.

Theatrical exclusivity is important

2021 was dominated by films that opted for simultaneous launches in theaters and on streaming services, particularly regarding the 2021 Warner Bros. titles all sent to HBO Max. 2022 saw way less of that phenomenon. Disney eschewed any more Premier Access works while the new owners of Warner Bros. and HBO Max are firmly committed to theatrical exclusivity. However, there were still some instances of big-screen releases getting awkward simultaneous streaming launches. Universal Pictures was behind almost all of these, with the studio giving "Firestarter" and "Halloween Ends" releases on Peacock the moment they dropped into theaters.

Neither of these lived up to their box office potential thanks to this maneuver, with "Halloween Ends" especially suffering with a staggeringly frontloaded theatrical release that ensured it made less in its entire North American box office run than the 2018 "Halloween" grossed in its opening weekend. This is consistent with how incredibly frontloaded simultaneous releases are in their box office runs. By contrast, "Top Gun: Maverick" stuck around in theaters for months and was able to keep on chugging beautifully. Even "Bullet Train" held nicely week-to-week thanks to its Netflix debut occurring four months after its theatrical premiere. If you want your movies to have any kind of theatrical longevity, you have to give them theatrical exclusive releases.