The global cinema box office continues its slow but steady rise out of the COVID pandemic.
With the year nearly done, box office analysis firm Gower Street is forecasting worldwide theatrical revenues will hit $25.8 billion in 2022 (by Gower Street’s calculations, the total take as of Dec. 10 was $23.6 billion), a 21 percent jump over last year, thanks to the success of Top Gun: Maverick and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, among other titles, in drawing fans back to cinemas.
For 2023, Gower Street is forecasting another double-digit bump and expects total global box office to land at $29 billion-plus, or 12 percent up from this year.
The results are still far below the high-water mark seen before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down theaters worldwide. In the last pre-pandemic year, 2019, global box office hit an all-time high of $42.3 billion. At current exchange rates, Gower Street’s 2023 forecast is still 27 percent behind the average of the last three pre-pandemic years of 2017-2019.
The recovery has been slowed, Gower Street says, by China — whose strict no COVID policy has meant theaters have stayed shut longer in the world’s second-largest theatrical market — and by Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine in February led to a blanket boycott of the territory by the U.S. studios. Box office in China this year is set to land close to $3 billion down from 2021 levels, Gower Street says, and the combination of the Russia boycott and volatile exchange rates have meant a further $1 billion drop in U.S. dollar terms.
The release of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water worldwide this weekend should provide a welcome shot in the arm for global receipts. The sequel to Cameron’s record-breaking 2009 hit kicked off its international rollout with a strong bow in China, which, according to regional box office consultancy Artisan Gateway, it is forecast to gross $119 million-$128 million (RMB830 million-RMB 890 million) in its opening weekend.
The North American market is forecast to jump 12 percent in 2023 to $8.6 billion from $7.65 billion this year, but come in 25 percent below the three-year pre-pandemic average. The Asia Pacific market, excluding China, and Latin America territories are both expected to gain 11-12 percent on 2022, coming in around 20 percent below the pre-pandemic average. Gower Street is forecasting Chinese box office to hit $5.6 billion for 2023, up from $4.4 billion this year, but still well short of the $7.3 billion earned in 2021. The Europe, Middle East and Africa region is forecast to grow most slowly, adding just 7 percent on 2022 to finish 30 percent behind the pre-pandemic average. Russia will be the biggest drag on recovery in Europe, the report said.
The group predicts the film industry will have to wait until at least 2024 before the global box office returns to pre-pandemic levels.