Is the movie industry dying?
In 2022, the domestic box office figures for movies released in the cinema will hit around $7.3 billion. The first year post-pandemic, many predicted that cinemas would be booming again, with experts predicting that fans would return in their droves and watch the latest flicks on the big screen.
While this $7.3 billion figure seems impressive, it’s actually a pretty damning number. In fact, 2022 will mark the worst year at the domestic box office since 1998. That’s pretty shocking, especially when you consider the box office has been steadily chugging along with comfortable takings of $10 billion or more since 2009. (Source)
So, is the movie industry dying? The short answer is no, not right now. For a longer answer (a whole 2946 words to be precise!) we dive deeper into the mechanics and specifics over what’s been happening these past few years, which feed back into box office numbers and the predicted future for the film industry.
It feels like we’re on the edge of a cultural wake-up that’s going to see big winners and even bigger losers.
The Cinema Pricing Problem
In 2022, watching a movie at Cineworld costs £10.20 for an adult ticket in the UK. Child tickets clock in at £7.70. Factoring in travel (whether that be public transport or petrol) along with buying snacks (either inside or outside the cinema), for the average family-goer with 2 adults and 2 kids, you’re looking at £35.80 before you’ve even thought about extras.
In the US, the situation isn’t much better with inflation resulting in ticket prices rising to around $9.16 averagely. Of course, in bigger cities you’re looking at that price increasing. In Manhattan for example, it’s around $14.50 for an adult ticket. With a cost of living crisis for many people, that’s just not sustainable. (Source)
An interesting analogy can be made to bowling alleys. In the 50’s and 60’s, these were the go-to places to hang out, knock down some pins and kick back with a milkshake and friends. However, with the steady increase of prices, less people decided to go, turning more into a monthly event than a genuine place to hang out every week.
In pricing themselves out of the market, cinemas have essentially evolved from a go-to place to an event you’ll go to only to see the most reliable films or IPs (Intellectual Property) you know will be good. As someone who does this for a living, I can’t tell you the amount of times I left the cinema in 2022 to hear murmurs from other audience members about how poor or boring the film they just watched was.
Of course, that’s before even mentioning the audience itself. Walking into a cinema now is pot luck. Will you get the noisy eater munching popcorn super loud behind you? Will there be the annoying guy on his phone the whole time? How about a bunch of kids laughing and talking loudly all the way through? And what about the sticky floors and potential for people to kick your seat? All of these, of course, lead to unpleasant experiences that completely ruin the “cinema experience”.
Technology & Streaming
Technology has come a long way in recent years. Many of us have large, flat-screen TVs at home, boasting high definition picture. During the pandemic we’ve become accustomed to watching movies at home, curled up on the sofa, pausing to head for a bathroom break or make snacks and return where we left off. With some of the bigger movies this year in the cinema clocking it between 2 and 3 hour run-times, not to mention the aforementioned cost of living increases, it just seems economically cheaper to wait for these movies to hit home streaming.
Intermissions are seemingly a thing in the past (something that could actually help these places pick up business again) while as mentioned before, you’re not quite sure on the quality of a project before you go to see a new IP.
With streamers like Netflix dishing out big bucks to produce enjoyable action flicks on the small screen, and Disney’s desire to throw on their latest movies several months after releasing them in theatres (most recently Strange World, which completely flopped for Disney), it seems many people have realized it’s easier to wait and watch the latest movie in the comfort of our homes rather than making the trek out to the cinema.
Of course, established brands like Star Wars, Star Trek and Marvel have always been heavy-hitters and a sure-fire way to rake in the cash, but even that is starting to change now.
Marvel’s Post-Endgame Problem
One of the more reliable factors in the success for cinemas recently and, at large, the film industry has been Marvel. While Star Wars was effectively dug up from the ground, paraded around with a tug of war sequel trilogy and then hastily shuffled over to the small screen, Marvel has been one of Disney’s most reliable IPs for income.
If you look back at those box office numbers, between 2013 and 2019 Marvel movies topped the records 4 times. On the years that Marvel didn’t have the highest grossing movie, they still came in the top 5.
Avengers: Endgame felt, to many people, like a conclusive ending to the chapter of our superheroes we’ve come to love over the years. Everything built up to this final hoorah; a swansong that bowed out the Infinity Stone saga in the most satisfying way possible. Sure there were a couple of forced moments that didn’t quite work and a particular Captain Marvel problem that saw her sidelined for most of the film, but on the whole fans were happy with what they saw and the box office backs that up.
“Consume product then get excited for next product”
With a certain pandemic doing the rounds, forcing cinemas to shut and big studios to look at alternate means for releasing their products, Disney+ decided (foolishly) to try and compete with Netflix for sheer content output rather than taking a break and mapping out the next stage for Marvel.
Netflix have studios set up all over the world that allow them to essentially churn a steady stream of content every week, with TV and film hailing from all corners of the globe. Netflix have an African studio, film crews down in Brazil, across Europe and even in Asia, as evidenced by their growing foreign catalogue that oftentimes trumps what’s produced over in the States or the UK.
Disney, unwilling to try new IPs and believing the big money makers are in their established products, began to churn out a steady flow of content, alternating between Star Wars and Marvel, beginning with WandaVision and essentially ending this latest Phase of Marvel’s projects with 7 movie releases and 9 TV shows. In 2 years.
By comparison, the previous slate of Marvel movies released 2 or 3 a year and let the projects speak for themselves. This sudden influx of content (and a notable decline in quality) hurt Marvel’s prospects of hitting huge numbers at the box office, essentially causing superhero fatigue all on their own. And that’s before mentioning whatever DC are doing right now and small screen rivals like The Boys and Invincible.
The diminishing returns can be felt from the number of people watching these shows on Disney+, with viewing numbers struggling to hit Nielsen’s top 10. In fact, for Ms Marvel it holds the unenviable title for earning the lowest viewership of any Marvel Disney show. (source)
These fractured stories are not helped by a lack of a cohesive narrative tying everything together. Phase 1 was about building up the Avengers. Phase 2 offered a glimpse at the fall-out from the Avengers saving the world and, inevitably led to Civil War. Finally, Phase 3 saw Thanos and the Infinity Stone saga come to the foreground. As for Phase 4, the stakes are all over the place.
We’ve got fractured timelines in Multiverse of Madness and Loki, real-world political issues in Falcon and the Winter Solider and Wakanda Forever, while Eternals introduced the Celestials (which have only shown up as a tiny TV screen in She-Hulk since). Oh, and there’s also Kang too.
The ensuing result has caused many to question the stakes Marvel are playing with, not to mention the questionable ethics and morality many of our heroes now adopt.
“At Globo Gym we’re better than you… and we know it!”
Everyone who has worked in retail will know the age old quote: “The customer is always right.” When it comes to Hollywood however, the same is not true. These past few years have seen a staggering amount of backlash against fans, from studio heads and writers through to actors and industry insiders.
All of this started back in 2016. Ghostbusters announced an all-female reboot of the classic 80’s movie. Many people were wary about this change, with the Official Trailer on YouTube, showing a very goofy, loud and different style of comedy to the original.
At the time of writing, that trailer sits at 1.2 million dislikes to 326,000 likes. In response, creator Paul Feig famously came out and bemoaned critics of this different vision for Ghostbusters, tarring everyone with the same brush and calling them sexist.
Of course, with the power of social media, and our online communities more divided than ever before, this unfortunately led to many fan arguments online for and against the film – and the beginning of what we’ll colloquially refer to here as the “Fandom wars”.
A year later, Rian Johnson’s incredibly divisive Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, dropped in theatres. Johnson has recently come out and said he’s proud of the bold, different vision the film took, with character development from the previous movie thrown out in favour of a new vision that divided the fanbase.
This division hurt Solo: A Star Wars movie financially, a film that underwhelmed and performed so badly in the cinema that all subsequent sequels after Rise of Skywalker (the third and final film in the sequel trilogy) were dropped. All the while, the producers and creators of these divisive Star Wars movies – which essentially turned into an artistic vision fight between J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson – led to the Star Wars fanbase fractured and more divided than ever before.
Of course, these companies are not blind to how social media can stir up controversy. In fact, the algorithms work to predict exactly what will rile you up and get you to “like”, “retweet” or “comment” on these different platforms. We won’t get into that here, nor will we discuss the political implications of this. Suffice to say, these companies thrive on controversy to help promote their products, pointing out that any valid critiques or issues with a product are simply the conditioning of “toxic fandoms” and allowing people to fight amongst themselves.
What are toxic fandoms? Do they really exist?
So what exactly is a toxic fandom? Well, if we look at the broad term used by journalists and news outlets, it defines a group of popular culture fans who engage in behaviours that are considered “negative and unacceptable.” But how do we define what this entails?
Well, obviously in the most extreme cases of unacceptability we can look at things like bullying, abuse – both racial and sexist – along with genuine threats to the wellbeing of an actor, actress or anyone else working on a TV show or movie. These acts are obviously abhorrent and completely wrong.
But if someone wants a show or property to remain true to the IP’s roots, whether that be sticking to established lore, a character acting a certain way or being depicted in a certain manner, how do we then define the difference between someone being toxic and just expressing passion and love for a franchise they adore?
Most recently we’ve seen former writers for The Witcher confirm to insiders that those working on the show “openly mocked the source material” (source) and, more recently, fell out with Henry Cavill about core changes to the lore and the way the world works. In a recent baited interview, Cavill was asked about “toxic fandoms” and the man had the best reply, which we’ve pasted below.
A Face Only A Mother Could Love
An earlier example of where fan backlash and “toxic fandom” has actually worked in a more positive light comes from Sonic The Hedgehog. When the original trailer dropped back in 2020, fans were horrified over the changes to the blue hedgehog. With tiny eyes and deformed features, Sonic looked nothing like its source material and as such, was downvoted to oblivion and many fans took to social media platforms to express their incredulous disappointment. So how did the creators respond? By taking the criticism on board and making changes.
As a result, Sonic the Hedgehog was a wild success when it dropped, winning over fans who were initially turned off from the product, making a tidy profit at the box office and garnering 2 sequels and making a lot of money for Paramount.
When it comes to this idea of “toxic fandoms”, the majority should not be tarred with the same brush as the minority. Those who dish out racist and sexist abuse do not represent the whole. These people should be called out, yes, but similarly the best thing these IPs can do is produce good content. All the examples of companies lashing out against their fans, pointing the finger at sexist and racist abuse, have come from objectively badly written or divisive shows.
“If You Don’t Watch My Show You’re an [Insert ‘ist’ or ‘phobe’ here]”
When the bad numbers come in for these projects, some creative individuals unfortunately head over to social media to express their annoyance. Billy Eichner, for example, infamously reacted to his LGBTQ+ romcom, Bros, failing by shouting to the rafters “IF YOU’RE NOT A HOMOPHOBIC PIECE OF SHIT, GO SEE BROS!!!” (source)
Meanwhile, Viola Davis, who fronted The Woman King, an “alt-history” title that glorifies black slavers had this to say in response to the film’s opening: “Audiences who don’t see The Woman King are supporting the narrative that black women cannot lead the box office globally.” In other words, “You’re racist if you don’t support a movie glorifying slavers.” (source)
So what does this mean for the box office? Well, we’ve seen it this year with the numbers. If you call out your fans and try to gaslight your audience into going to the cinema, it’s going to go badly.
Using the two above examples, The Woman King and Bros both made a loss at the box office.
Tom Cruise and the resurgence of the action blockbuster
With superhero fatigue on the cards, there are clear winners in the race for the box office and Hollywood’s resurgence. Going back to that earlier point about films being events, it’s no surprise to see Top Gun: Maverick top the domestic and international box office charts this year. And the best part? Tom Cruise actually came out and thanked the fans for their part in all this.
As a side note, I’m calling it now. Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning is going to rake in over a billion next year at the box office, easily. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if it tops the yearly amounts too.
The over-saturation of superhero movies can be linked, quite similarly, to that of the western genre. With countless films and TV shows releasing, the high exposure feels like it could go the same route as Westerns which, in its heyday, had over 600 films releasing in the span of a decade. There’s a great article about that over at Leoedit which you can check out here: (source)
2023 and Beyond
So what of the future? It seems Hollywood’s current strategies for calling out fans as “ists” and “phobes”, delivering a constant flurry of superhero films with increasingly diminishing returns and the new era of streaming, have caused many of the usual reliable avenues to fall by the wayside.
With the excellent choice of international content available, many need only turn to Netflix, Amazon or streamers like Viki to find an array of excellent film and TV shows to watch through. Wednesday won over the masses and proved to be a big cultural moment for Gen Z, especially with TikTok dances going viral, while Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio was fantastic and a far cry from Disney’s attempt to regurgitate the same story again.
As for our cinemas, it seems that we’re on the cusp of another genre change akin to that of the western. Action films have always been reliable but with the success of Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: Way of the Water – not to mention our prediction that Mission Impossible will top the box office for 2023 – it wouldn’t be a surprise to see stories scaled back to simple good VS evil action flicks.
There’s a reason why films like The Fast and the Furious and Transformers were reliable box office winners for so long, and it comes from that simplistic message. There’s no agenda here, these guys just want to tell a good story and sometimes it’s nice to just kick back and watch a crazy action film.
2023 will be a massive year for Hollywood and unless big changes are made to stop the diminishing return for box office numbers, it could be a very painful lesson for the studios to learn. In the words of the great philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
But those are just out thoughts on the matter. Do you agree? Do you think 2023 is just a blip and we’re over-reacting? We love to hear from you so do let us know your thoughts in the comments below!