Whenever one of our CJ Marquee editorials causes a stir with our readers it’s usually pretty easy to tell based on how many email responses arrive in the days that follow. What’s unprecedented however is to have a reader address a writer in real life to provide their thoughts on the latest editorial. Yet after last week’s column about how the dual Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strike will affect the cinema business, that is exactly what happened. As the Marquee got forwarded to non-subscribers the number of emails piled up until mid-week I was approached by a screenwriter (and WGA member) while making my way through the produce section of my local grocery store.
I’m still not sure how she recognized me, and though flattering, she conveyed the same message as most of the email comments you sent; the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike will not end by October as I predicted last week’s newsletter. In retrospect I should have been more clear in saying that I was outlining a best-case scenario wherein October was rather optimistic. My overall point was the longer the strikes last, the more they will impact the movie theater operators as studios and distributors begin delaying this year’s releases to 2024. No sooner had we sent last week’s newsletter did Sony Pictures and A24 announce revised release schedules, postponing a number of this autumn’s major titles.
In regards to my hypothesis that C-suite executives will get tired of telling Wall Street they aren’t hitting their numbers for two quarters in a row because of work stoppages, earnings reports can cut both ways, as we learned this week when Warner Bros. Discovery announced their second quarter 2023 results. Despite advertising revenue on a downward trend and despite losing 1.8 million global subscribers to Max, the company’s relaunched streaming service… WBD’s stock price rose after their earnings call. Why? Well, Max may be losing money, but the production shut down caused by the writer’s strike saved the media giant USD $100 million in May and June alone.
In other words, members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) against whome the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are striking will be able to boost their balance sheets with reduced production spending in the short term. They won’t have to address the inevitable revenue decline that comes with a lack of new television shows and movies until the first or second quarter of next year. WBD however is being even more Pollyannaish than I was last week, telling financial analysts they planned for the strike to wrap up in September. Apparently SAG-AFTRA President (and actress) Fran Drescher didn’t get the memo on that since during an interview earlier this week she said, “We have financially prepared ourselves for the next six months. And we’re really in it to win it.”
A six month strike would upend theatrical release schedules not only this year, but well into 2024. With that potentially bleak future sketched out, let’s turn to some factual good news for our industry. In July, the global theatrical film industry turned to the live concert and sports markets, which have been posting record attendance this year, and said, “Hold my beer.”
Thanks to Gower Street Analytics we know that global box office reached an estimated USD $4.54 billion in July of 2023, making it the single highest-grossing month since before the pandemic began. That’s pretty astonishing when you consider we’ve had billion dollar earners over the past two years like “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” but didn’t have the sheer volume of tentpole releases hit theatres in a single month. Besides “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” there was “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” and holdover business from “Indian Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” Then there were successful local productions like “Never Say Never” in China and surprise indie hits such as “Sound of Freedom” in North America.
AMC had it’s best admissions revenue week in company history during July and domestic box office alone made it Cinemark’s highest grossing month ever. Both Harkins Theatres in the United States and Omniplex Cinemas in Ireland entertained over half a million patrons during the initial days of the Barbenheimer phenomenon. So many records were being broken in July that we had trouble keeping up with all the press releases and news stories about revenue and attendance milestones being surpassed.
Meanwhile, thanks in large part to Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” IMAX also smashed some of its own corporate records, banking USD $176.2 million at the global box office during July, making it the company’s highest grossing July in history. IMAX has extended the global run of “Oppenheimer” an additional week, through 17 August. Indeed, tickets to 70mm screenings of “Oppenheimer” are sold out through August and are harder to come by than seats to a Taylor Swift concert.
While the release schedule in August may not be as robust, there is sure to be some spillover from July. Hopefully there will also be a few surprise hits that carry the industry into September, when we’ll know more about the effect the strikes will have on upcoming titles. As theatrical exhibition and distribution continues to recover from the pandemic, it would be a shame to lose the momentum that the market fought so hard to achieve in July.
Finally, and certainly not least, we’d like to congratulation our co-founder and former editor, Patrick von Sychowski, on starting his new role at CinemaNext as the exhibition services company’s Digital Marketing & Communications Manager.
Optimized coverage for small-to-medium-sized auditoriums
Optimized coverage for small-to-medium-sized auditoriums Dolby’s new System 126 screen speaker not only features a patented asymmetrical waveguide delivering exceptional audio coverage, but also offers both bi-amplified or passive, single-amp-channel operation.
Celluloid Junkie is the leading online resource dedicated to the global film and cinema business. The Marquee is our newsletter focused on motion picture exhibition; keeping industry professionals informed of important news, the latest trends and insightful analysis