Good news – the global box office is up to 2022 $25.9 billion gross compared to 2021, which hit $21.4 billion, as Variety notes. The bad news is it’s still 35% below the 2017-19 average. Still, is this a sign of encouragement? There are many reasons why these numbers are the way they are (and might not return to pre-pandemic levels). First, COVID-19 itself changed everything. Companies invested more in streaming services, and thus, viewer patterns have changed. More people might be inclined to stay home and wait for a particular film to hit the various platforms afforded to them. This phenomenon was happening even before the pandemic started. Indiewire notes that theater audiences have dropped by half in the past four years.
2022 had 38 fewer wide releases in total, but 2023 is gearing up to have a fuller deck. The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Fast X, John Wick: Chapter 4, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part One are some notable legacy films that will most likely get people out. One surefire thing the box office can count on is superhero films. We will have up to nine this year (a slight bump from seven in 2022). There are some questions surrounding the state of each studio. Can Marvel keep the MCU train going on what some consider a down year creatively? Will DC bring people out even with the upcoming overhaul of the DCEU? And Sony...can they continue to build a stable foundation in their Spider Cinematic Universe?
In 2022, only three films grossed over a billion dollars worldwide: (Avatar: The Way of Water, Top Gun: Maverick, and Jurassic Park: Dominion). In the top ten films filmed based on gross worldwide, four were superhero films – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ($955,775,804), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ($827,206,321), The Batman ($770,945,583), and Thor: Love and Thunder ($760,928,081). Audiences are still turning out, but there were missteps, such as Morbius and Black Adam. Let’s take a quick look at the three studios and what they have for 2023.
After the emotional ending to Phase Four with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the MCU is retooling things for a big Phase Five. Marvel’s theatrical slate will bring them in at three films this year. That’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (February 12th), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (May 5th), and The Marvels (July 28th). Interestingly, the films stop in the middle of the summer. Blade was initially supposed to be released on November 3rd, but a director change and production schedule shift pushed it to next year.
Here, we have Marvel introducing Kang as a potential big antagonist, the farewell to the Guardians group as we know it, and a big team-up of Carol Danvers, Monica Rambeau, and Kamala Khan. This is not counting the many Disney+ limited series on the platform – even if the release dates haven’t been solidified yet. These films have ensembles that seek to further the Multiversal saga and also an established familiarity with the audience. One of the main criticisms continually echoed is, “where is all this leading to?”
Marvel is essentially in rebuilding mode – trying different story tones and introducing new and diverse characters. 2023 is when I feel you’ll start to see the larger story take shape.
Oh, the DCEU. Sometime this month, James Gunn and Peter Saffron will announce the beginnings of their film universe vision. However, that doesn’t mean Warner Bros. Discovery is resting on its laurels. DC has the most superhero films of 2023 at four – Shazam! Fury of the Gods (March 17th), The Flash (June 16th), Blue Beetle (August 18th), and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (December 25th). The first Shazam was a big bright spot in the DECU, the first Aquaman grossed over a billion dollars, and there is some good buzz around Blue Beetle. Having said all of that, it seems like everything is riding on how well The Flash does.
The Flash has a lot of (ahem) baggage and could potentially reset the universe by adopting the Flashpoint storyline. The return of Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton as their respective Batman characters will generate much interest. It’s yet to be seen if the many Ezra Miller controversies and allegations will stop people from supporting The Flash. Otherwise, DC has a wide array of projects that can cater to various audiences. It’s just a matter of believing in them, picking a path, and sticking to it.
Let’s not forget Sony. Coming off 2022 with (sigh) Morbius, the studio is aiming for more stable ground with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (June 2nd) and Kraven the Hunter (October 6th). Across the Spider-Verse is sure to be a hit, building off one of the best superhero films in recent memory, with 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse. The big question is surrounding establishing a character like Kraven the Hunter in his film without an appearance from the spider himself. Sony and Marvel still have some partnership with the MCU iteration of Spider-Man. Besides the Venom franchise, will these films thrive without a Peter Parker of their own?