By breaking every pandemic record, Spidey propelled the 4th Quarter box office to reach 70% of the same quarter in 2019, reinforcing the upward trend of steady quarterly progress.
The fourth quarter ran for 13 weeks starting Friday, October 1st and ending Thursday, December 30th. It was a struggle each week to maintain box office momentum, with ups and downs along the way. The quarter played out in three distinct chapters with varying results.
- October’s Onslaught (10/1–10/28)
- A Turkey for Thanksgiving (11/19–12/2)
- Spiderman’s Sprint (12/17–12/30)
Our quarterly review analyzes each of these phases and its ultimate impact on the quarter’s performance in comparison to the 4th Quarter of 2019.
OCTOBER’S ONSLAUGHT – Throughout September, the industry lived off the four-week first-place run of SHANG CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS, as no other new release managed to connect with the public. By the time that the calendar flipped over to October, momentum had slowed down from 53% to 51% of third-quarter 2019. As a result, the holdover cupboard was bare when the 4th quarter began with the 10/1 opening of VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE. The Sci-Fi superhero sequel jumped out to a healthy $110M week one, jump-starting an industry in need.
The total gross for all pictures playing in the first week of the quarter was $159M, the second-best result for the year. This good beginning was followed up with the 10/8 release of NO TIME TO DIE, the 25th edition of the iconic James Bond series, which grossed $75M in its first week. By mid-October, the industry was celebrating the highest-grossing two-week stretch of the year. The first two weeks in October would even beat out the two-week holiday run at Thanksgiving, and wind up only behind the Christmas rush at the end of the year.
October’s run continued with the well-timed 10/15 opening of HALLOWEEN KILLS, which was solid at $57M for the week. This was followed by the 10/22 opening of Warner Bros.’ DUNE, producing another $54M to close out a satisfying series for the month. October’s onslaught propelled 4th Quarter results to reach 75% of the 4th Quarter 2019, a highwater mark for any month in 2021. At no other point would the 4th Quarter reach over 70% of the Q4 2019.
A TURKEY FOR THANKSGIVING – In most years, the two-week period that begins on Friday before Thanksgiving is one of the highest-grossing stretches of the year. Studios take great care to schedule products expected to draw big audiences, taking advantage of Thanksgiving’s four-day holiday break. This year, after firing so many silver bullets in October, Hollywood’s cupboard was somewhat empty for the traditional Thanksgiving feast. A quick comparison of the lineup of titles in 2021 and 2019 tells the story.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that the Thanksgiving shortfall could have been offset by moving one of October’s high performers back to the holiday period. It was doubly frustrating in light of the fact that TOP-GUN: MAVERICK had only recently been pushed out of its scheduled 11/19 opening to a new date in May 2022. Thanksgiving’s results would have been very different had Paramount held to its original plans for TOP-GUN.
Going into the Thanksgiving period, the first seven weeks of Q4 were riding at 73% of the same period from 2019. After a disastrous two weeks that produced only 48% of the same two weeks in 2019, the quarter-to-date comparison had dropped by 8 full percentage points to 65%. This drop sapped the energy created during October’s Onslaught and left the industry hoping that December might turn things around.
SPIDERMAN’S SPRINT – Advanced tickets for SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME went on sale at 12:01 am on November 29th and almost immediately the major online ticketing sites Fandango, Atom, and AMCTheatres.com were strained to keep up with demand. After struggling throughout the day, it became apparent that the industry had a hit on its hands and that SPIDER-MAN’S opening weekend would shatter every pandemic record.
As opening day approached, the only remaining question was how much higher this SPIDER-MAN sequel would soar compared with its predecessors and all other pandemic releases. The special preview screenings on Thursday 12/16 took in $50M, by far the biggest Thursday night total of the pandemic and even better than the $40M Thursday night results from STAR WARS IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER two years earlier. By the end of the weekend, SPIDER-MAN had shot up to $260M, the second-biggest opening of all time.
Spidey accounted for 86% of the total box office for all films that week, and singlehandedly drove results to 94% compared with the same week in 2019. For the entire two-week period, SPIDER-MAN produced a staggering 75% of the entire box office for all titles playing in theatres across North America. This compared to STAR WARS IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER a 49% of all box office for the same two-week period in 2019. Here is a comparison of the box office from the Christmas period of 2021 compared with 2019.
By December 30th, the 4th quarter of 2021 wound up at 70% of Q4 2019 and the entire year of 2021 produced 40% of the results from 2019. The numbers for each quarter show steady progress throughout the year and clear signs of momentum as we head into 2022.
However, there are still serious questions about moviegoing in 2022, chief among them the impact of the spread of COVID’s Omicron variant worldwide. Out of an abundance of caution, Quebec Province closed its theatres to the public effective Monday, 12/20 followed by Ontario Provence on Tuesday, 1/4. Will widespread theatre closures return in the U.S. and other global markets? We will review this and other questions in next week’s 1st Quarter 2022 Preview.