April 19, 2024

Will the box office hit $9 billion in 2023? Analysts have predicted, or at least hoped, that’s where domestic grosses would wind up. And there are no less than eight new releases set to unspool over the next 14 days, which could help theaters finish the year having passed that coveted figure.

But after a 12-month stretch that’s seen two labor strikes wallop a business that’s yet to recover from the pandemic, Hollywood may struggle to get its happily ever after.

As of Dec. 17, the domestic box office has collected $8.58 billion, according to Comscore. That’s roughly $416 million away from $9 billion. Wherever ticket sales end up, it’s already the highest-grossing year since COVID upended the movie theater industry — far above 2022’s $7.46 billion haul and 2021’s $4.56 billion tally. But it’s not quite at pre-pandemic levels when the box office comfortably reached $10 billion to $11 billion a year. Part of the falloff is because Hollywood studios have been putting fewer films in theaters. There were 88 films released in 2023 compared to 108 in 2019 when ticket sales reached $10.5 billion.

The next two weeks will bring several high-profile releases, including Universal and Illumination’s animated “Migration,” Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell’s romantic comedy “Anyone But You,” Warner’s musical adaptation of “The Color Purple,” the DC Comics sequel “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” and A24’s sports drama “The Iron Claw.” There’s also Neon’s racing drama “Ferrari,” director George Clooney’s “The Boys in the Boat” and the literary satire “American Fiction” that will make their way to the big screen before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

“The pressure is on for [these] films to deliver big to get us to $9 billion for the domestic full year,” says senior Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

In recent years, a single blockbuster — “Avatar: The Way of Water” in 2022 and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” — completely dominated the Christmas box office. But this time around, Dergarabedian adds, “the wealth [will be] spread across several films.”

But the trouble is that theater owners don’t expect to host a $1 billion-grossing behemoth to cap off the year. And even if the movies on schedule are successful at the box office, they aren’t expected to collectively live up to the coinage generated by the last two holiday seasons.

Theater owners believe the day of the week of a holiday can work for or against moviegoing. This year, they aren’t too excited that Christmas Day lands on Monday and New Year’s Eve falls on Sunday. It’s better for attendance (and popcorn sales) if they take place on a Thursday or Friday.

“In some years getting another $417 million on the books in the home stretch of the year would be a cakewalk,” Dergarabedian says. “But this year it’s more of a crap shoot with some unique variables in place.”

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