One crucial thing will be missing from theaters this fall: movies.
After “Bullet Train,” Sony’s action flick starring Brad Pitt, hits theaters next week, the movie slate for August, September and October becomes desolate. It’s hard to find any blockbusters in the mix. In fact, there aren’t many films that could open beyond $50 million at the box office until Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which doesn’t debut until November 11.
The dearth of films comes in a year that’s already well behind pre-pandemic output from Hollywood. At this point in 2019, there were 63 nationwide releases in North America, according to Comscore (SCOR). This year the number is 39 — a 38% drop from three years ago.
Despite the lag, 2022 has mostly held its own. Ticket sales are roughly 30% behind pre-pandemic levels in 2019, which is pretty good considering the lack of movies hitting theaters.
So where are all the movies? There’s still a lot being produced and released, but many are either headed directly to streaming or being delayed because the industry is experiencing a lot of the same problems as the rest of the economy.
In short, Hollywood has supply chain issues.
Slowdown in Tinseltown
“A number of lingering issues pertaining to supply chain and production pipeline backups have impacted various films,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, told CNN Business. “It’s important to remember that studios map out their release strategies six months to a year or more in most cases.”
Although summer movies have been a “resounding success” in theaters, the industry is “still playing catch-up to audience sentiment and expectations for new content on the big screen,” Robbins added.
Think back to two years ago when studios were delaying films nearly every day as the coronavirus pandemic upended Hollywood. The reverberations of those decisions are still being felt today.
There’s also another reason why theaters may be lacking the normal amount of films: Streaming.
As streaming becomes more of a focus for media companies, studios find themselves now supplying both theaters and streamers. Some films that seem perfect for theaters, such as 20th Century Studios’ “Prey,” the next installment in the “Predator” franchise, are heading exclusively to streaming instead of the big screen. In fact, many of 20th Century Studio’s and Searchlight Pictures’ films now just go to Hulu.
“It’s no secret that studios are looking to diversify distribution strategies while streamers want to expand content offerings and compete among subscriber bases,” Robbins said.
A direct-to-streaming strategy makes sense for many films. And “a big-budget film being sent straight to streaming may have a low box office ceiling to begin with,” Robbins added. Otherwise, there would be “little sense in cutting off that lucrative revenue stream.”
While there may not be many big hit films in theaters over the next few weeks, there will still be movies to go see.
There’s smaller films like A24’s horror film, “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” which opens on August 5, the twisty “Don’t Worry Darling” starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles on September 23, the romantic comedy “Bros.” on September 30, “Halloween Ends,” the next and potentially final film in the Halloween franchise, on October 14 and “Black Adam,” a superhero film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, on October 21.
Any of those films can surprise and find an audience.
There will even be blockbusters of yore hitting theaters with IMAX re-releases of “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” in August and “Jaws” in September.
So there’s a few silver linings for theaters over the next few months. However, that doesn’t change the fact that “Wakanda Forever,” Hollywood’s next great blockbuster hope, feels forever away.