Box Office Report Card: Grading Disney, Paramount on 2022 Movies

Two years ago, there was serious concern that the box office would ever rebound from the pandemic. In 2021, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and the James Bond sequel “No Time to Die” provided glimmers of hope that cinemas weren’t, indeed, relics of the past. But it took until 2022 for movie theaters to truly reestablish their value to Hollywood.

And for the first time in a long time, it wasn’t only superheroes that sustained the box office. In fact, the highest-grossing movie of the year was “Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel to a movie that premiered nearly four decades ago, while Baz Luhrmann’s glitzy biopic “Elvis,” Universal’s starry romantic comedy “Ticket to Paradise” and A24’s indie “Everything Everywhere All at Once” proved there’s real opportunity for bold swings to resonate with audiences.

But with the earnest return of movies comes those pesky but inevitable flops. And this year, there were some doozies. The failure of Disney’s “Lightyear” and “Strange World” cast some serious doubt on the future of family movies. Meanwhile, the well-reviewed “Bros” and “She Said” highlight the challenges facing mid-budget fare.

Overall, the domestic box office has collected $7.4 billion so far in 2022, according to Comscore. Those ticket sales remain down 33% from the $10.6 billion generated in 2019, the last normal period at the box office. That’s partially because studios released fewer films over the course of the year, but the decline can’t only be ascribed to COVID-related production delays. It could also indicate a change in consumer habits.

Before the year comes to a close, Variety took a look at how the major studios fared at the global box office over the past 12 months.

Disney

Highs: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” ($955 million), “Thor: Love and Thunder” ($760 million) “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” ($800 million and counting), “Avatar: The Way of Water” ($955 million and counting)
Downs: “Death on the Nile” ($137 million), “Lightyear” ($226 million), “Amsterdam” ($31 million), “Strange World” ($54 million)
Grade: B-
Takeaways: What a difference a few years and one pandemic can make. In 2019, Disney could do no wrong at the box office, crushing records with a staggering seven billion-dollar blockbusters. At this point in the year, none of his movies have hit that particular benchmark, although “Avatar: The Way of Water” will surpass $1 billion any day now. To be fair, only two other movies this year managed to reach that milestone, but you’d think with three Marvel movies on the calendar, at least one would have a fighting chance. Outside of winning pre-existing franchises, Disney has withstood a series of embarrassing big-budget misfires. It’s especially concerning that Pixar, once the gold-standard of kid-friendly fare, hasn’t struck a chord with consumers in quite a while. Of course, Disney’s misses still outperform most studio’s biggest wins, but the Magic Kingdom spends a pretty penny to make and market their films, resulting in towering bars for success. Superheroes will be just fine in 2023, but when it comes to the rest of the slate, the studio’s newly reinserted CEO Bob Iger certainly has his work cut out for him.

Paramount

Highs: “Top Gun: Maverick” ($1.488 billion), “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” ($402 million), “Smile” ($216 million), “The Lost City” ($190 million), “Scream” ($140 million), “Jackass” Forever” ($80 million)
Downs: “Babylon” ($5.3 million and counting)
Grade: A
Takeaways: It’s hard to understate Paramount’s improbable box office rebound. After being written off in the early pandemic days, the studio enjoyed a near-perfect stretch (the good times were marred slightly by “Babylon”) with consecutive hits in every genre. It’s especially impressive that Paramount’s 2022 slate appealed to lovers of rom-coms, slapstick and classic all-American action, with “Jackass Forever” and “The Lost City” catering to demographics that were previously struggling to bring in audiences. And, of course, there’s the blockbuster success of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Tom Cruise’s decades-in-the-making sequel, which was hardly a foregone winner. Yet it became inescapably popular, and not just with fans of the original. Anyone paying attention to pop culture felt the need to check out the hype, propelling the movie to $1.488 billion globally and making it the highest-grossing release of the year. Tom Cruise, the box office gods salute you.

Sony

Highs: “Uncharted” ($401 million), “Bullet Train” ($293 million), “Where the Crawdads Sing” ($140 million), “The Woman King” ($92 million)
Downs: “Morbius” ($167 million), “Father Stu” ($21 million), “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” ($87 million), “Devotion” ($17 million), “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” ($9.5 million)
Grade: B
Takeaways: Sony spent a good portion of the year riding high with “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which opened in December 2021 but continued to sell tickets through the summer. With its 2022 offerings, the studio took some risks that paid off, like the video game adaptation and franchise starter “Uncharted,” Viola Davis’ action epic “The Woman King” and the literary adaptation “Where the Crawdads Sing.” Jared Leto’s comic book movie “Morbius” wasn’t a total disaster since it cost $75 million, but it’s hardly enough coinage to merit sequels and spinoffs that rival Disney’s MCU adventures. And “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” joined the list of the year’s underperforming family films. The $90 million-budgeted “Devotion,” which Sony distributed but did not finance, was the only painful flop. By keeping budgets in check, the studio helped to prove there’s still room for originality at the box office.

Universal

Highs: “Jurassic World Dominion” ($1.001 billion), “Minions: The Rise of Gru” ($939 million), “The Black Phone” ($161 million), “Ticket to Paradise” ($165 million), “Halloween Ends” ($104 million) , “Nope” ($171 million)
Downs: “The 355” ($27 million), “The Northman” ($69 million), “Bros” ($14 million), “Easter Sunday” ($13 million), “She Said” ($10 million), “The Fabelmans” ($10.5 million)
Grade: B+
Takeaways: Universal went for volume and variety in 2022, releasing far more movies of a much wider range of budgets and genres than its big studio brothers. Yet the results were decidedly mixed. Universal’s major franchises, “Jurassic World” and “Minions,” delivered the blockbusters they were supposed to, becoming some of the year’s biggest hits and propelling the studio past $3 billion globally. And horror films such as “The Black Phone” and “Nope” proved irresistible to audiences. But Universal’s efforts to stretch into more arthouse or adult-oriented fare failed to reap dividends. Oscar-bait films such as “The Fabelmans” and “She Said” bombed — and their commercial collapse is upsetting because, for the most part, critics thought they were actually good. Quality, it seems, isn’t enough during a pandemic that refuses to fade to black.

Warner Bros.

Highs: “The Batman” ($770 million), “Elvis” ($286 million), “Don’t Worry Darling” ($86 million), “DC League of Super-Pets” ($220 million)
Downs: “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” ($405 million), “Black Adam” ($389 million)
Grade: B-
Takeaways: It was not a very happy time to be at the house that the Warner brothers built. With a new corporate leader in Warner Bros. Discovery, the studio has embarked on a wave of cost cutting, layoffs and canceled projects that’s made it a pretty stressful place to work. So how did the studio perform amidst all the upheaval? OK. “The Batman” delivered the goods, with director Matt Reeves finding a fresh way into the oft-told tale of a masked avenger. “Elvis” became one of the rare movies aimed at adults to actually connect at the box office, while “Don’t Worry Darling” rode a wave of off-screen drama to must-see status while providing us with some of 2022’s most meme -able moments (Miss Flo and spitgate, we’re looking at you). But elsewhere, things didn’t go according to plan, with two franchise-hopefuls sputtering out. “Fantastic Beasts” appears to have lost its magic touch, while “Black Adam” was a waste of time and treasure that left DC’s new bosses opting to move on from Dwayne Johnson’s anti-hero.

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