Theatrical distribution reasserts itself as the box office returns to pre-pandemic highs—tempting streaming companies to employ non-traditional release methods to earn unexpected profits.
- This was the year that audiences returned to the theater for the first time en masse since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
- Eight movies this year exceeded $500 million in box-office grosses and two exceeded $1 billion—Jurassic World: Dominion ($1.001 billion) and Top Gun: Maverick ($1.486 billion).
- Top Gun: Maverick is currently the 11th highest-grossing film of all time, and Paramount is celebrating its success this month by re-releasing the film in theaters from December 2 to December 15, before releasing it on Paramount+ on December 22.
- Netflix’s newest film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story was also released over Thanksgiving weekend to an unexpected $13 million gross, opening in just 638 theaters for five days and nearly outgrossing Disney’s newest animated feature Strange World’s $18.6 million, The Wrap reports.
Why it’s Important
Film studios and distributors are taking notice as the numbers come in from major success stories like Top Gun: Maverick. As we previously reported, movie theaters are beginning to look like a more financially stable option than streaming, which is mostly a loss leader for companies like Disney. Amazon Prime Video will start releasing more of its original content theatrically starting in 2023, eventually building up to theatrically releasing 12 to 15 original movies per year.
The successes also highlight new practices being employed by studios. Paramount is essentially taking a victory lap by releasing Top Gun: Maverick for two more weeks, generating a huge pile of bonus revenue from this high-grossing film.
Meanwhile, Netflix was able to generate some interest and revenue in Glass Onion—a film originally meant to debut on the streaming service—surprising insiders by creating nice incremental profit.
Streaming played a major role during the COVID pandemic, with millions of people trapped in their homes without access to outdoor venues, theaters, or other forms of entertainment. Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and HBO Max benefitted. Many of these same tech companies are now laying off thousands of employees from falsely projecting that these high numbers would be sustained.
“Had the film received a full wide release with a screen count between 3,500 to 4,000 theaters, [Netflix insiders] believe Glass Onion would have been able to beat the $41.4 million extended opening of Knives Out when it was released by Lionsgate in Thanksgiving 2019, possibly even reaching $50 million over five days,” says The Wrap.
“I would’ve loved to have as big and long a theatrical run as we could get. But I’m grateful to Netflix for stepping out of their comfort zone and doing even this version of it. And the fact that we’re in AMC and Regal and Cinemark chains, which is something they’d never done, and that they’re spending money to promote the theatrical release, I hope that’s a first step,” says Glass Onion director Rian Johnson.