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CinemaCon 2023: Optimistic Expectations of Upcoming Summer Box Office

Movies are back – that was the celebratory sentiment last year at CinemaCon, the annual film industry event in Las Vegas which attracts international and domestic cinema representatives from all over the world. It was a self-reassuring hopeful mantra that movie theaters are on the rebound in a post-pandemic reality.

CinemaCon 2023 kicks off this week with a similar message, but now with proof of 2022 box office smashes like Top Gun: Maverick, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and of course, director James Cameron’s long-awaited sequel Avatar: The War of Water, which, with over $2.3B worldwide, officially ranks as the third highest grossing film of all time.

That’s why it is no wonder that the convention’s first seminar setting the tone for the rest of the week is all about box office figures from 2022 and early 2023, what they really tell us about the true state of the cinema industry and what we can expect in the coming months.

Ahead of the seminar titled “Hidden Figures,” we caught up by phone with one of the panelists, Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for ComScore who has been covering the convention since 1995, to get his take on the past year and what’s to come.


What is the underlying message this year at the convention?

I think it’s going to be more of the same, that the industry is making this huge comeback. But quite frankly, in 2022, it was still a year of transition. The year wound up domestically at about $7.5B. It was well down, but still much better than 2021. And certainly 2020. So far this year, we’re at a point where the big screen industry is fully back. Now you could say it with authority off the tailwind of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, there’s no better kind of setup for optimism.

How much does the big initial box office success of that film signal hope for summer?

It is probably the best scenario for the industry to have The Super Mario Bros. Movie in April, in the run-up to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and all the other movies yet to come. There is nothing better than having a huge audience in theaters in April to set up a great May, June, July and August. Remember, it is a momentum business, but it’s also about paying the excitement forward, which Mario is certainly doing on a grand scale for the movie-going experience. I mean, you have to buy your ticket, pick your seat, get out of the house, get dressed up. It’s an event anytime you leave your home and buy a ticket for anything, whether it be a sporting event, just like going to a concert, opera, theme park, you name it. And if the movie’s great on top of it, it makes it just so exciting. We’re seeing repeat viewing just based on the numbers for Mario. People are going back to the movie theaters over and over again.

Last year at CinemaCon we got to see Top Gun: Maverick and no one dreamt it would be such a hit grossing close to $1.5B. What is your takeaway regarding that film’s success?

First, that’s why CinemaCon last year was so important, still at a point where we knew the year was going to be under the pre-pandemic numbers globally. Top Gun: Maverick was the real turning point just in terms of the CinemaCon experience and that movie. If people were hopeful walking in to see that screening, when they walked out, they were ecstatic. That movie delivered beyond anyone’s wildest streams, and later Avatar picked up the baton and ran with it, which led into a lot of great films in the first quarter of this year. Because it’s one thing if theater owners are excited about a movie and they think it’s great, but you have to get the general public on board.

It’s the audience who are the most powerful entity in our industry because they determine the fate of your movie, your theaters, your studios, every step along the way. And that just means the burden is on the studios to create great movies that people want to see. It’s up to their marketing departments to create a narrative around those movies that gets people to want to see the film, and set release dates strategically by distribution, to set up the best possibility to succeed.

And then the theaters need to welcome their guests into a wonderful environment in which to see those films that makes them want to come back. And of course, a lot of concessions, because no kid in the world will opt out of Red Vines, soda and popcorn. That’s a profit center for theaters. And that’s great because, again, the more people in the theater, and especially for films aimed at older audiences where you’re getting probably alcohol sales and all that kind of good stuff, it just creates a whole vibe. Right now, we’re living in a perfect scenario or blueprint for what the ultimate lead-in to CinemaCon 2023 would be.

What should we look out for this summer season?

Well, we had a gangbuster summer in 2022, but then it really kind of dropped off in early August due to the reshuffling of the deck and in terms of the production schedules that had a ripple effect and a negative effect in some ways on the release calendar. This year, I’d say it’s one of the best summer release slates I’ve ever seen. And that’s not hubris. It’s truly an incredible lineup. I look at the weekend of July 21 as being just unreal with Oppenheimer and Barbie opening on the same day, two very different movies which will each draw an audience. And the week before that, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, which perhaps has the best lead-in of any movie ever with Top Gun: Maverick being delayed to the point where now you have another Tom Cruise summer movie. And then you have The Flash, Fast X, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and all those movies I mentioned earlier. This year we’re going to have probably 30 plus more wide-release films than in 2022. The fact that we got to $7.5B at the domestic box office total [last year] was miraculous.

What do you roughly estimate will be the total in 2023? Closer to pre-pandemic figures?

Domestically, we saw $11.4B in 2019 and a record $11.9B in 2018. I think we’re conservatively in the $9B range for sure, but every week that goes by, my estimate seems to be going up. So not to get too far ahead of ourselves, we want to manage expectations, but it’s going to be a really phenomenal year and I think the numbers are definitely going to reflect that. Even if we’re not at that $11B pre-pandemic era range, this is a very robust business with many great wide-release films on the calendar that get moviegoers excited.