2022 Box Office is WAY Better Than 2021 (And Way WORSE Than 2019)


With the huge success of Top Gun: Maverick and the year-end release of Avatar: The Way of Water becoming the year’s top-grossing movies and crossing $1 billion in less than 14 days, the 2022 box office is a clear improvement from 2021, but still slow to recover from COVID shutdowns. The post-pandemic box office may never be the same, but bigger hits and rising revenue shows audiences are returning in big numbers, but there’s still a long way to go to get even close to 2019’s record numbers.


2022’s box office numbers are significantly up from 2020 and 2021, but the numbers reveal a number of different things about audience behavior and the state of the global box market. Hopefully, theaters continue to heal and reach pre-pandemic levels again in future years, but if not, there’s still signs that give hope for the future of the theatrical model.

Related: 10 Highest Grossing Movies Of 2022

2022’s Total Box Office Revenue is Way Up From 2021 (and Way Down From 2019)

The domestic box office in 2022 grew substantially compared to 2021, but still has a long way to go to catch up with pre-pandemic box office levels seen in 2019. According to a report from Comscore (via the Los Angeles Times), the revenue for the domestic box office in 2022 is estimated at $7.35 billion, 61 percent more than 2021’s $4.5 billion, but still down 35 percent from 2019’s $11.4 billion. This also isn’t accounting for inflation, which saw sharp increase in 2021 and 2022, which would value 2019’s $11.4 billion box office closer to $13.2 billion in 2022 dollars. In that case, 2022s $7.35 billion is actually down closer to 45 percent from 2019.

2022’s box office increase over 2021 comes both from more total movies releasing in theaters as well as bigger box office averages for those releases. Theaters were still closed for part of 2021, so many movies were delayed to 2022 or released straight to streaming. Since COVID restrictions slowed a number of productions, some movies targeting 2022 have also been delayed, so, while a lot more movies released in 2022 than in 2021, it was still down 38 fewer wide releases per Comscore.

Related: You Can’t Predict Avatar: The Way Of Water’s Box Office

2022’s Top 10 Box Office Earners Blow Away 2021’s Top 10

2022 had a lot bigger hits at the top of the box office. In 2021, Spider-Man: No Way Home was the only movie to gross more than $1 billion globally, $231.8 million of which was actually earned in 2022 because the movie was released so close to the end of the year (December 17th). In 2022, three movies grossed more than $1 billion, Top Gun: Maverick ($1.49 billion) and Jurassic World: Dominion ($1 billion), and Avatar: The Way of Water (1.03 billion and climbing). 2021’s top 10 movies averaged just $598.3 million, while 2022’s top 10 average went up almost 40 percent to $836.2 million. Domestic numbers were even starker, with 2022’s $366.3 million top-10 average increase 56 percent over 2021’s $233.6 million average.

While the box office increases seen by the year’s top 10 movies is a positive sign, Comscore estimates the top 10 movie box office revenue to make up more than half of the total box office for 2022, while pre-COVID years typically saw it make up just 30-40 percent of total box office. So, while the top movies are doing overall better than in 2021, that growth didn’t occur across the board, with the lion’s share of box office revenue going to blockbusters as smaller movies are exiled to streaming.

Theatrical Audiences Behaved Totally Differently in 2021 Than 2022

Best Way To Watch Avatar The Way of Water In Theaters

While movies in 2021 earned less across the board than in 2022, the way they made that money was also totally different. The top 10 movies in 2021 opened to an average of $79.7 million compared to $126.7 in 2022 and dropped an average of 64.14 percent in their second weekend compared to 2022’s 57.73 percent, meaning fewer total people bought tickets opening weekend and a smaller percentage of them bought tickets in the second week; however, 2022’s top 10 average multiplier (measurement of how much of a movie’s box office was generated after opening week) of 2.9 was a decrease from the 3.2 average multiplier in 2021.

Related: Can Avatar 2 Actually Earn Enough At The Box Office To Be Profitable?

A plausible theory explaining this change is that theater restrictions and attempts at social distancing resulted in fewer people seeing movies in the first few weeks to avoid crowds, but not abandoning theaters entirely. Of course, the crash in revenue was a bad sign, but the superior 2021 multiplier could be a sign of market elasticity, proving there is a strong core customer base for the theatrical experience, even if it never returns to its previous box office highs. Of course, as social distancing concerns eased in 2022, a higher percentage of the audience began seeing movies in the first two weeks again, meaning higher average openings and weaker legs.

2022’s International Box Office Saw Major Changes From 2021 (Especially in China)

Top Gun 2 Avatar 2 Mashup

Because domestic theaters in the United States and Canada were impacted differently by COVID shutdowns than theaters internationally, there’s also a major swing in global box office behavior. In 2021, the top 10 movies saw an average of 64 percent of box office revenue come from international ticket sales, while 2022’s top 10 saw an average of 57 percent of box office revenue come from international ticket sales. For contrast, the top 10 movies of all time earned an average of 65 percent of box office revenue, so 2021’s 64 percent isn’t inherently a bad sign, although international ticket sales usually have a lower profit margin than domestic box office revenue.

While 2021’s shift to international revenue was due to domestic theaters being shut down while many countries had theaters open, as well as Warner Bros. simultaneously releasing its theatrical movies on HBO Max, which was only available domestically, 2022’s shift back is the reverse. There was a shift back to theatrical exclusivity, such as Top Gun: Maverick, 2022’s highest-grossing movie, and a number of major 2022 releases didn’t get releases in China, one of the world’s biggest markets. For example, Top Gun: Maverick, currently the highest-grossing movie in 2022, didn’t get a release in China, and only made 51 percent of its box office overseas, while Avatar: The Way of Water did get a China release has made 69 percent of its box office overseas (the original Avatar made 73 percent of its box office in China in 2009).

Related: Every Box Office Record Broken By Top Gun: Maverick

The performance of Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water are good signs for the box office, but with top blockbusters making up a small percentage of total box office, more growth is necessary. While the box office shift to big franchise blockbusters seems inevitable, hopefully smaller movies will be able to carve out their own spot in the theatrical market in future years as the box office recovery continues.

Next: Top Gun: Maverick’s Box Office Shows Importance Of Non-Marvel Audiences


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