Movies love a comeback story. This summer, it’s their turn.
THIS summer at the movies, Tom Cruise is back in the cockpit behind those iconic aviators. Doctors Grant, Sattler and
Ian Malcolm are returning for another round with the dinosaurs. Natalie Portman is picking up Thor’s hammer. And Jordan Peele is poised to terrify us with the unknown. Again.
Hollywood is bringing out some of its biggest and most reliable players for the 2022 summer movie season, which unofficially kicks off this weekend with the help of Marvel and Disney’s “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” and runs through the end of August. It’s an uncertain time for the movie business as studios and exhibitors are still making up for losses incurred during the pandemic and adjusting to new ways of doing business, including shortened release windows, competition from streaming and the need to feed their own services. And everyone is wondering if moviegoing will ever return to pre-pandemic levels.
But though the pandemic lingers on, there is optimism in the air.
“We’re still waiting for older audiences to come back. But it really feels like we’ve turned a corner,” said Jim Orr, the head of domestic distribution for Universal Pictures. “You get the impression that audiences want to be out, they want to be in theaters. I think it’s going to be an extraordinary summer.”
Last week, studio executives and movie stars schmoozed with theater owners and exhibitors at a convention in Las Vegas, proudly hyping films that they promise will get audiences back to the movie theaters week after week.
Expectations are particularly high for “Top Gun: Maverick,” which Paramount Pictures will release on May 27 after two years of pandemic postponements. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer says he never wavered for a moment in wanting to release “Top Gun: Maverick”—a full-throttle action film made with extensive aerial photography, practical effects and up to six cameras inside fighter-jet cockpits—exclusively in theaters.
“It’s the kind of movie that embraces the experience of going to the theater. It takes you away. It transports you. We always say: We’re in the transportation business. We transport you from one place to another, and that’s what ‘Top Gun’ does,” Bruckheimer said. “There’s a lot of built-up demand for some movies and hopefully we’re one of them.”
The movie industry has already had several notable hits in the past six months too, including “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” now the third highest grossing film of all time, “The Batman,” “The Lost City” and, though smaller, “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” The hope is that the momentum will only pick up in the coming months.
Before the pandemic, the summer movie season could reliably produce over $4 billion in ticket sales, or about 40 percent of the year’s grosses according to Comscore. But in 2020, with theaters closed for the majority of the season and most releases pushed, that total plummeted to $176 million. Last summer presented a marked improvement with $1.7 billion, but things were hardly back to normal—many chose to either delay releases further or employ hybrid strategies.
Now everyone is refocusing on theatrical, though slates are slimmer. The ticketing service Fandango surveyed more than 6,000 ticket-buyers recently and 83 percent said they planned to see three or more movies on the big screen this summer. And, not insignificantly, Netflix last month also reported its first subscriber loss in 10 years and expects to lose two million more this quarter.
“Finally, it is movie time, with blockbuster after blockbuster after blockbuster after blockbuster,” said Adam Aron, chairman and chief executive officer of AMC Theatres, the nation’s largest theater chain. He touted franchises like “Doctor Strange 2,” “Top Gun 2,” “Jurassic World: Dominion,” ( June 10) and “Thor: Love and Thunder” ( July 8), “new film concepts” like Jordan Peele’s “Nope” ( July 22) and “Elvis” ( June 24) and family friendly offerings from “Lightyear” ( June 17) to “Minions: The Rise of Gru” ( July 1).
“It’s a bold statement, but this summer could potentially be on par with 2019, which would be monumental for the movie industry,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore.
Analysts are predicting “Doctor Strange 2” could open to $170 million this weekend, double that of the first film. Marvel and Disney then follow that with the new Thor, which picks up with Hemsworth’s character traveling around with the Guardians of the Galaxy after “Endgame” and wondering “what now?”
“Thor is just trying to figure out his purpose, trying to figure out exactly who he is and why he’s a hero or whether he should be a hero,” said director Taika Waititi. “I guess you could call it a midlife crisis.”
The film brings back Portman’s Jane Foster, who becomes The Mighty Thor, Waititi’s Korg and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, and adds Russell Crowe as Zeus and Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher. Waititi has said that it’s the craziest film he’s ever made.
“It’s a great, really fun, weird little group of heroes, a new team for Thor with Korg, Valkyrie and The Mighty Thor,” Waititi said. “And, in my humble opinion, we have probably the best villain that Marvel’s ever had in Christian Bale.”