In 2022, the world of cinema celebrated the great return of the Oscars. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the awards ceremony was held in person, at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. Hollywood was hoping to stave off its own decline. With this year’s 95th Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards taking place on Sunday, March 12, the entertainment industry is forced to face the truth: The old days are not coming back.
Three years after the beginning of the pandemic, it is clear that the film industry has been permanently transformed. Certainly, the year 2023 is off to a good start in the United States: $958.50 million (€904.40 million) in box office receipts since January, 50% more than the corresponding period in 2022. But that’s still 25% less than in 2019, according to the media measurement company Comscore. For the year 2022, ticket sales ($7.50 billion in the domestic market) saw a 34% drop in revenue compared to 2019.
The industry’s situation is a mixed bag, with production doing well. Rarely have there been so many films released, especially in 2022. But the majority of the productions are mainly for the streaming market. Netflix alone produced about 40 films in 2022. Consumer preferences have changed. Even when it comes to seeing a movie for the first time, the majority of viewers now prefer to watch it at home. Among millennials, the cinema budget has given way to investments in home theaters: giant screens and surround-sound installations with multiple speakers embedded in the ceiling. Rather than going out, young people prefer to have friends over for movie nights in their living rooms with adjustable sofas.
Symbols of a hoped-for revival
Dramas, comedies and auteur films do not attract this audience beyond the week of their release. These kinds of movies are more and more quickly transferred to the video-on-demand market, if they are not directly released there. Audiences are now only going out to theaters for certain types of feature films: horror movies, blockbusters and superhero films (known as “tentpole movies” because they are meant to prop up a studio through massive ticket sales and tie-in merchandising).
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Consider Avatar: The Way of Water. Since its release on December 16, James Cameron’s film has taken in $670 million in the North American market and $2.2 billion worldwide, making it the third highest-grossing film of all time. The digital version will be released on March 28.
Then there’s the runaway success story of Top Gun: Maverick by Joseph Kosinski. Released on May 27, the film produced by and starring Tom Cruise has become an almost miraculous symbol of the hoped-for revival. In the domestic market, the sequel to the 1986 film Top Gun grossed $718.70 million, making it the biggest hit of 2022, and $1.5 billion internationally. At Tom Cruise’s request, Paramount did not put the film on its streaming subsidiary Paramount+ right away. Instead of the usual 45-day delay, the studio kept it exclusively in theaters for 90 days.
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