This Year’s Box Office Faces a Brutal Start, Made Worse by Omicron

While a winter slate light on big-budget tentpoles, theaters might be stuck waiting for ”The Batman“ to arrive

As the windfall grosses from “Spider-Man: No Way Home” fade away, movie theaters are facing the sobering reality that the first two months of the 2022 box office look to be a serious dry spell — and that would have been the case even before the Omicron surge swung a wrecking ball into the Q1 release slate.

In the past week, Sony moved its next Marvel movie, the Jared Leto-led “Morbius,” from late January to April 1. Then, on Friday, Disney pulled the early-March Pixar film “Turning Red” from theaters entirely, instead making it the third straight feature film from the animation studio to get exclusive release on Disney+.

That means that theaters will soon be lacking all three of the major ingredients for box office riches at this time of year — holiday holdovers, Oscar contenders and major new releases — with only the prospect of Sony’s Tom Holland action film “Uncharted” on Feb. 18 and Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” on March 4 on the horizon to lure audiences in large numbers.

Even prior to the pandemic, box office performance in January and February has been mixed. On the one hand, films like “Hidden Figures,” “Bad Boys for Life,” and Marvel’s “Black Panther” found success with audiences in these early-year slots, combining with December releases like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and Oscar contenders like “La La Land” to provide a solid start for the year.

But that hasn’t always been the case. In 2019, early-year sequels like “Glass” and “The Lego Movie 2” performed below their predecessors and did not keep the momentum going from “Aquaman” the previous Christmas. Nor was there any major success from the Oscar field that year as “Vice” and “Green Book” failed to rank among the top 10 grossing films for January 20219. As a result, domestic grosses through the first two months for 2019 sat at $1.43 billion, the lowest in six years.

For at least the next four weeks, the box office is likely to see those 2019 trends play out again on a much greater scale. “No Way Home,” which grossed $33 million this past weekend, will provide a little help. But with Universal’s animated hit “Sing 2” now available on-demand, there won’t be much holiday holdover support from any other film.

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Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • • Twitter: @jeremyfuster