Monthly totals nearly hit $600 million, but remain 28% down from 2019
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If the January box office is any indication of how the rest of 2023 will play out, movie theaters should see a significant rise in business compared to last year — albeit still below what they saw before the pandemic.
Comscore data shows that the monthly total for the North American box office finished at $588.5 million, a staggering 50% increase from January 2022. The key driver, of course, was Disney/20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” with $222.5 million in domestic grosses that month.
But unlike last year when “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was the only serious moneymaker with smaller support coming from Paramount’s “Scream” revival, “Avatar 2” got more support from a wider array of new releases and holiday holdovers.
Foremost among them is Universal/DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” which shrugged off a sluggish Christmas opening to contributed $86.5 million to the January total. With $142 million and counting on the domestic front, “Puss in Boots” is close to passing “Sing 2” as the second-highest grossing animated film since the pandemic began.
Nearly matching “Puss in Boots” was fellow Universal release “M3GAN,” the newest Blumhouse horror franchise with $83 million grossed and a sequel greenlit for 2025. That total tops the $62.6 million earned in January by “Scream” last year.
Completing the month’s top five are Sony’s “A Man Called Otto” with $47.5 million and Lionsgate’s “Plane” with $26.1 million, two films that drew different subsets of the 45-plus age demographic. Combined, this top five illustrates the sort of variety that movie theaters need to get larger, more consistent box office returns in the months ahead.
But now the bad news: That $588.5 million total is still approximately 28% below the $816.7 million opening earned in January 2019. At the time, that total was seen as an underperformance for the box office compared to the $950 million-$1 billion totals seen in January from 2015 to 2018. In a post-COVID market, it feels like an example of not knowing what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
What’s worse is that the missing piece for the January box office may never come back: the awards box office. In most pre-pandemic years, there has been an awards contender with wide appeal that hit theaters following the Golden Globes. In 2020, that film was “1917,” which contributed $111 million to a $897 million monthly total that year. There was no comparable title in theaters this year, with almost all the Best Picture nominees either released during the fall and holiday season, running in limited release, or already available on streaming.
In addition, while “Avatar 2” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” have both been strong holiday holdovers, they are the only ones that have any substantial theatrical footprint. In 2019, “Aquaman” was the top-grossing film in January as a holiday holdover, but other Christmas releases like “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Bumblebee” and “The Mule” were each contributing between $40-$60 million in January. That wasn’t enough to put them among the top three films of the month, but they were vital revenue sources for the box office that weren’t there this month.
Box office analysts have expected domestic annual totals to reach somewhere between $8.5-$9 billion this year, an improvement from 2022 thanks to a larger slate of franchise blockbusters but still below 2019 as the overall number of film releases remains below pre-pandemic levels and prestige and indie titles continue to mostly underperform. That should continue to play out in February as “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” will be the big moneymaker as films like “Knock at the Cabin,” “Cocaine Bear” and “80 for Brady” look to provide support on the charts.
Box Office Reporter • email@example.com • Twitter: @jeremyfuster