Summer Box Office Numbers Plummet, Marking Lowest Since 1995

Summer Box Office Struggles: A Slow Start for 2024

by Faruk Imamovic
Summer Box Office Numbers Plummet, Marking Lowest Since 1995
© Getty Images/Sean Gallup

The start of the summer movie season, typically marked by high anticipation and booming ticket sales, has this year commenced with subdued performances, casting a shadow over the industry's annual expectations. Memorial Day weekend, a bellwether for seasonal success, saw movie theaters across the United States pull in a meager $128.3 million. This figure not only falls short of the previous year's $205 million but also represents one of the lowest grosses since 1995, when revenue stood at $117.1 million, not adjusted for inflation.

An Unprecedented Drop

The downturn in box office revenue is notable, with 2024's figures set to be the lowest since 1995 when "Casper" led to a $117.1 million weekend. Adjusting for inflation makes the comparison even more stark. Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, did not mince words: "There’s no way to sugarcoat it, the numbers that are coming out this weekend are nothing to write home about."

"Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" was the top movie, with $32 million in sales, but this fell short of expectations. The slow Memorial Day weekend extends a trend of a lukewarm start to the summer box office season, influenced by last year’s Hollywood strikes and ongoing production delays from the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

The Importance of the Summer Box Office

Summer has traditionally been the most crucial period for movie theaters, accounting for nearly 40% of the total annual revenue domestically. Last summer, blockbusters like "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" combined to add nearly a billion dollars to the domestic box office. However, this year, studios are betting on mid-range sequels, prequels, and family-focused animated films to fill the gap left by major blockbusters.

Analyst Shawn Robbins from Box Office Theory predicted, "Barring some major overperformances, this summer looks like it’ll be down 20% to 25% in box office grosses between May and August from last year."

Despite the absence of a Marvel movie or a significant blockbuster for Memorial Day, there's hope for recovery with potential hits expected in June and July, such as "Despicable Me 4," "Inside-Out 2," and "Deadpool & Wolverine."

Summer Box Office Plummets, Marking Lowest Since 1995
Summer Box Office Plummets, Marking Lowest Since 1995© Getty Images/Andrew H. Walker

The Elusive $100-Million Opening Weekend

Historically, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day could be relied upon to generate upwards of $4 billion in domestic revenue. Summer 2023 marked the first post-pandemic $4-billion summer, bolstered by successes like "Sound of Freedom," "Oppenheimer," and "Barbie." Yet, this year, no movie has managed to cross the $100 million opening weekend mark.

Without a Marvel movie to provide a significant boost, the summer box office is struggling to gain momentum. Dergarabedian noted, "Sans a Marvel movie to provide a $100-million-plus opening weekend to get the momentum going, this summer will have to make up ground in June and July."

Disney's Crucial Role

Two movies that analysts believe could surpass the $100 million threshold this summer are "Deadpool & Wolverine" and "Inside Out 2," both from Walt Disney Studios. The first wide release under Disney's banner in 2024 is "Inside Out 2," an anomaly reflecting the impact of production delays caused by the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

Daniel Loria, editorial director at Box Office Pro, highlighted the unusual inactivity from a major studio like Disney in the first half of the year. He emphasized, "We tend to overemphasize the effect of Hollywood’s 2023 labor strikes at the box office, but it’s hard not to cite it when you look at the number of releases to have hit theaters from major studios in the first half of the year."

Disney's summer releases, particularly from its Pixar and Marvel divisions, will be pivotal for the overall performance of the 2024 box office. "Inside Out 2" is forecast to open between $80 million and $100 million, while "Deadpool & Wolverine" is expected to rejuvenate audience enthusiasm.

A Glimmer of Hope

Despite the slow start, industry experts remain hopeful. Robbins pointed out, "Box office earnings have been down largely because of staggered gaps between widely appealing releases in the first half of the year." He added that strong titles in the second half of the year, such as September’s "Beetlejuice Beetlejuice" and October’s "Joker: Folie à Deux," could help fill the gap.

Loria echoed this sentiment, saying, "Moviegoing habits have changed drastically since the pandemic, but we continue to see significant enthusiasm when it comes to the theatrical experience." He stressed that while predicting blockbuster hits is challenging, audience support for the theatrical model remains strong.

Box Office Pro projects that the 2024 box office will gross around $8.2 billion, approximately 10% lower than last year’s $9 billion. While domestic earnings for 2023 were the highest since the pandemic, they still fell about $2 billion short of pre-pandemic yearly sales.

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