Box office: Highs and lows of 2022 summer movie season

As we near the conclusion of the 2022 summer movie season, this seems like the perfect time to look back at the highs and lows and see if anything has gotten better in terms of theatrical after two years of little to no business due to COVID and other reasons, like streaming. Eight films crossed the $100 million mark over the summer and a few of them did even better than that, with five grossing more than $300 million, one of those crossing $400 million, and then there was …

High: “Top Gun: Maverick”

Both Tom Cruise and Paramount Pictures achieved their biggest blockbuster hit ever when they finally got around to making and releasing the sequel to the 1986 action-thriller that helped make Cruise a bankable star in the first place.

“Top Gun: Maverick” was one of the movies delayed countless times due to the pandemic, but when Paramount finally settled on a Memorial Day weekend release, it was able to have a full-fledged premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and another one in San Diego on the USS Midway, which helped build excitement for it to become the biggest Memorial Day opener ever (as well as Cruise’s) with $160.4 million over the four-day weekend. If that’s all that “Maverick” accomplished, that would be impressive, but then, it remained in the Top 5 for 10 weeks.

It crossed the $300 million milestone in just over two weeks, then passed the $400 million mark a few weeks later, sailing past Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” As it continued to rack up money, it would pass some of the all-time box office record holders, including “The Dark Knight,” various “Star Wars” blockbusters, and then setting its aim for “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “Jurassic World” and even James Cameron’s “Titanic,” which held the record as #1 grosser until “Avatar” came along in 2009. This past weekend, “Maverick” passed “Avengers: Infinity War” to become the sixth-biggest movie ever domestically. Paramount finally releases the movie on demand this week, following re-releases into premium theaters like IMAX and Dolby that helped the action-thriller jump back into second place.

SEE 2022 box office hits: Every movie that made more than $100 million this year

Low: “Lightyear”

Despite having two Marvel movies, this was not a great summer for Disney, and especially not for its venerable animation brand, Pixar. After sending three Pixar movies to the streaming Disney+ network to much controversy (“Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red”), Disney’s attempt at a spin-off/prequel to Pixar’s most lucrative and popular “Toy Story” franchise just didn’t make waves or the kind of money expected following the success of “Toy Story 3” and“Toy Story 4” in 2010 and 2019, respectively.

Unlike many other Disney movies, “Lightyear,” featuring the voice of “Captain America” himself, Chris Evans, was gone from the Top 10 after just five weeks, topping out at $118.2 million domestic. For comparison, “Toy Story 4” made that amount its opening weekend with 2019 being a particularly banner year for Disney with four massive hits that summer.

High: “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

When Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert‘s (aka “Daniels”)  absurdist action-comedy was announced to open this year’s SXSW Film Festival, there may have been some head-scratching, because the duo’s previous film, “Swiss Army Man,” starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano, didn’t exactly make waves as one of A24’s early releases. And yet, somehow, the directing duo roped Michelle Yeoh into playing the main role of Evelyn Wang, a harried laundromat owner dealing with domestic as well as IRS issues before being approached by an alternate version of her husband Waymond (the triumphant return of ‘80s child actor Ke Huy Quan) to help save the multiverse.

Although the movie initially opened in limited release in late March, A24 went for a slow expansion that helped to build an audience through word-of-mouth, so by the summer, it was consistently making $2 million to $3 million each weekend without ever being in more than 2,213 theaters. (Compare that to the movies that were released into 4,000 or more theaters then remained in 3,000 or more theaters for many weeks.) Even once the flick became available on demand, it still continued to bring in theatrical business to become A24’s first movie EVER to cross the $100 million worldwide. As of this writing, it’s also A24’s biggest domestic release with close to $70 million.

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Low: Movies still being dumped to streaming

After all the success movies had in theaters this past summer, we’re still getting movies being dumped onto streaming services without consideration for a theatrical release. The latest movie to get backlash for doing so was Disney putting the latest “Predator” movie, “Prey,” onto Hulu with no theatrical offering earlier this month, even after an early Comic-Con screening proved the movie played well with audiences. One hopes this trend is starting to die out, but knowing how important the success of these streaming services are to the entertainment corporations, it’s doubtful. This week, Sylvester Stallone‘s long-delayed superhero movie “Samaritan” is being streamed on Prime Video after multiple delays by MGM due to the pandemic.

High: “RRR”

It’s not often that a Bollywood (or Tollywood, as is the case with movies in the Telugu language) breaks out big-time in the United States and enters the American public consciousness, but S.S. Rajamouli‘s 13th (!!!) movie did just that. It was a historic epic about the fictional frenemy-ship between two iconic legends involved in the revolution against India’s British overlords with an amazing dance number, unparalleled action scenes, and helped greatly by Variance Films giving it a high-profile theatrical re-release just as it hit Netflix. The movie even got a historical (and hysterical) Honest Trailer from Screen Junkies, who has never done one for a Bollywood movie before, really showing how “RRR” managed to break into the mainstream.

Low: Unpopular Disney and Discovery decisions

Really, “Lightyear” is only the tip of the iceberg, as even with two movies that opened with over $300 million, many were questioning if Disney, and especially Marvel, may have finally jumped the shark. Neither of the Marvel movies were received as well as past efforts, and the company got a lot of flack after “Lightyear” underperformed. Meanwhile, so much more focus has been put on the Marvel and “Star Wars” Disney+ shows that it feels like Disney is training audiences to sit at home and watch movies rather than go see things in theaters.

Not to be outdone by the competition, new Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zazlav angered fans and the industry alike by outright cancelling the release of the $90 million “Batgirl” movie, starring Leslie Grace, instead of just putting it on HBO Max, as per the original plan. Who knows if we’ll ever see the movie that was supposed to have connections to the Snyder-verse (most notably J.K. Simmons as her father). Just as people were recovering from that decision, a lot of original films and series were dumped from the streamer.

High: Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis”

It’s always an unforgettable experience whenever Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann releases a new movie, and “Elvis” was only his sixth feature film in 30 years. After “Elvis’” high-profile Cannes premiere, there was a lot of advance skepticism leading up to its release in June, whether it was due to the unknown Austin Butler playing the legendary rock ‘n’ roller or that crazy accent Tom Hanks was doing. After a subdued $31 million opening, the movie continued to find viewers, whether from word-of-mouth and repeat viewings, and it managed to stay as a theatrical exclusive to rack up (as of this writing) $262 million worldwide, including $142 million in North America. It’s still too early to tell if it might get some Oscar love, but it was another bane for theaters this summer after two rough years.

Low: “DC League of Super-Pets”

Maybe this was an animated movie that deserved a little more love, if only because it gave us a fairly decent big screen Justice League, but it also was Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart’s latest comedy pairing, this time voicing superhero pets. It’s one thing if a movie like DreamWorks Animation’s “The Bad Guys” underperforms, but when an animated movie based on popular DC superheroes and their pets can’t even crack $100 million domestic, it’s time to revise one’s vision board.

High: Jordan Peele’s “Nope”

While Jordan Peele’s third feature film wasn’t a huge box office hit, especially compared to his two previous films, “Get Out” and “Us,” it successfully managed to get people talking … a LOT. A strange combination of “Close Encounters of a Third Kind” and “Jaws,” Peele continued to prove his ability to create truly unique genre epics that needed to be seen on the big screen while making a movie that almost necessitated multiple viewings to appreciate all its layers. The movie did end up joining the $100 million club just last week, while generating almost a cult-level of scrutiny and analysis from all corners of the internet.

That’s pretty much all she wrote for the summer of 2022. It was down quite a bit from 2019 but still did significantly better than 2021 and definitely better than 2020, when there were no movies released until the very end of that summer.