2018’s Summer Box Office Is Great, but Let’s Read Some Tea Leaves

As has been widely reported in the last couple days, a comScore analysis shows summer 2018 box-office returns that are much better than the dismal summer of last year, up 14 percent from what was the worst summer since 1992.

That’s good news, right? That would seem like good news.

There are concerns, though, that emerge when you start to dig into some other recent news that casts a gloom over what should be a bit of rosy prognostication.

Top Heavy Results

shuri black pantherThe growth is overly-reliant on a handful of blockbusters such as Avengers: Infinity War and Incredibles 2. In fact, more than half of that is accounted for by the top five films of the year so far, those two as well as Black Panther, Deadpool 2 and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. In short, the theatrical industry’s success is increasingly dependent on a smaller number of films performing *really* well, not on many films doing alright with a few breakout hits.

Total box-office revenue for the summer 2018 is projected to be $4.4 billion, up five percent from 2017. But as the Bloomberg story notes, that forecast is based not on audience desire but on increased ticket prices. Which leads to the second point…

Price Will Become An Issue

In Q2 of this year the average movie ticket price hit another all-time high, $9.38. Actual tickets sold dropped from 1.315 billion in 2016 to 1.239 billion in 2017. Reports from earlier this year showed ticket sales through May were 3.3 percent above the same period in 2017, but again there were just a few movies responsible for most of that.

airplane gladiatorsThe role MoviePass has played in that rise is sort of discounted in this and other stories about the summer box office, but it shouldn’t be. It certainly has proved to be a trainwreck of a company, constantly changing its terms of service and even its own data showed it was primarily being used to see big event films, it also encouraged people to see more and different movies because the potential downside was lowered. Put both of those together and you have more tickets being sold.

But MoviePass has alienated customers to the point that customer satisfaction is nearly half what it was just a few months ago and half their user base is actively mulling cancellation. So whatever impact it’s had is unlikely to continue.

The Fall Release Slate Seems…Soft

As this and other fall preview stories have pointed out, the second half of 2018 lacks new releases from both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars.

Meanwhile, Fandango has released its list of the most anticipated movies of the fall, but I’m skeptical of many of them:

  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – The first movie grossed $234 million, but there’s a real chance the backlash to Johnny Depp’s casting, combined with the natural drop off most sequels experience, means this comes in under $200, possibly significantly.
  • Bohemian Rhapsody – There’s some good buzz around the movie, but it will need to overcome the controversy it’s straight-washing Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and the fact that biopics often don’t do well with mass audiences.
  • Venom – There’s a very real chance this evaporates like a turd in the wind and Sony not only once again fails to do anything with its Spider-Man IP but winds up becoming merely a production arm for Amazon Prime Video.
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet – The campaign to date has seemed less than intriguing, even if the recent focus on the Disney Princesses has gotten lots of people’s attention.
  • A Star is Born – There’s been some great buzz for the movie based on festival screenings, but it remains to be seen if that translates into actual audience interest.

we are venom gifNot making the list are upcoming releases like First Man, which just made a big splash at Venice, Widows and others.

Once you get into December you have Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bumblebee, Aquaman and Mary Poppins Returns among others, some of which could pop but likely not to the extent of a Star Wars movie.

Still, that doesn’t seem like the kind of schedule that’s going to keep what has been a solid year going. Which leads me to the final point…

Netflix is Waiting to Swoop In

You can’t swing a dead cat around Buzzfeed, Vox, HuffPo or other sites in the last month without hitting five stories taking various angles on the two most buzzed-about movies of the year: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Set It Up, both of which were distributed by Netflix. The only recent studio theatrical release to come close is Crazy Rich Asians. And waiting to come out between now and the end of the year are:

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, directed by the Coen Brothers.
  • Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón
  • 22 July, directed by Paul Greengrass
  • Hold the Dark, directed by Jeremy Saulnier

And more, including the historical drama The Outlaw King, the rom-com Nappily Ever After and other high-profile releases, including a reconstructed version of Orson Welles’ final film. Those are just the kinds of movies studios should be putting out during what’s traditionally been “awards season.” And while David Lowery, Damien Chazelle, Drew Goddard all have new movies hitting theaters, Netflix has assembled a slate of heavy hitters that have serious buzz.

All that means if 2018’s box office momentum wants to keep going it will need a few of the theatrical releases to break out and overcome the significant challenge presented by Netflix. Having a good first half will help, but there’s a chance it may not be enough.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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