“Creed III” delivered a powerful box office knockout with its $58.6 million domestic debut, clobbering expectations and franchise records in the process.
And there’s more good news for struggling theater owners starved for compelling content. It looks like the good fortune will continue in March with “Scream VI” (March 10), “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” (March 17), “John Wick: Chapter 4” (March 24) and “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” (March 31). There’s at least one major release every weekend through the rest of the month, offering the kind of stability that’s been desperately missing during the great box office reset.
“Momentum is everything, and it’s often only as good as the next weekend’s openers,” says Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Box Office Pro. “This March has a pre-pandemic-like consistency of widely appealing, high-profile theatrical releases that will establish a terrific foundation heading into a summer filled with more of the same.”
March is rarely one for the record books — only once in modern history has the month’s ticket sales ever surpassed $1 billion, according to Comscore — but this year’s 31-day stretch is poised to buck tradition. In any case, box office returns are likely to improve upon March 2022, which topped out with $598 million as “The Batman,” “Uncharted” and “The Lost City” graced theaters. Those ticket sales were up dramatically from 2021, when the month generated $117 million, and 2020, when the month generated $256 million as the virus started to force cinemas to close. In pre-COVID times, however, March was able to bring back as much as $968 million in 2019, $902 million in 2018 and $1.17 billion in 2017 — the latter benchmark-setting run was thanks mostly to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” remake and Hugh Jackman’s superhero adventure “Logan.”
A winning March at the box office would continue a strong start to the new year. Overall ticket sales are 37% ahead of the same point in 2022, according to Comscore. That’s because several films — including Universal’s killer-doll thriller “M3GAN,” Sony’s Tom Hanks dramedy “A Man Called Otto,” Paramount’s octogenarian comedy “80 for Brady” and Lionsgate’s faith-based “Jesus Revolution” — have encouragingly beat projections. There’s been one discordant note in this symphony of success. Disney’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” isn’t living up to Marvel’s stratospheric standards, dropping sharply due to bad reviews and mediocre word-of-mouth. Still, the movie crushed opening weekend expectations and managed to earn more money in three days than most releases hope to generate in their entire theatrical runs.
“It’s all about having a frequent string of films on the slate. That’s what keeps people coming back because it means more people are exposed to in-theater marketing,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior Comscore analyst. “If you look at what is working, it’s having a diverse slate of films programmed to appeal to everyone.”
Box office experts believe the universal appeal of “Creed III” led to outsized returns in its opening weekend. Crowds were mostly male — which has been and continues to be the most consistent demographic to buy tickets — while 55% were between the ages of 18 and 34. Of those audience members, 23% were white, 28% were Latino, 36% were Black and 13% were Asian, according to PostTrak data.
“The audience makeup [for ‘Creed III’] is incredibly diverse, and that tends to be a common denominator when films beat expectations by such a wide margin,” Robbins says.
Even though teenage boys and grown men have been some of the most reliable to fill seats, there’s some understandable concern about cannibalization among March releases. Most of the movies on the calendar are vying for attention from male moviegoers. But there’s hope that offerings like “Shazam 2” and “Dungeons and Dragons” will be able to expand their reach to the under-served demographic of family audiences.
“There is arguably some inherent risk in audience overlap,” Robbins says. “But that comes with the territory of having a healthy overall market. The cream usually rises to the top. Which films can coexist will usually be dictated by word-of-mouth.”
For the last three years, Hollywood suffered from a volume issue. There were 36% fewer releases in 2022 than there were 2019, and grosses were comparatively down. When there were major blockbusters on the schedule, rival studios would steer clear, leading to one-off hits and several downtrodden periods at the box office. But the number of wide releases is expected to improve in 2023. For exhibitors, that’s a big relief.
“Moviegoing is getting back to normal in terms of consistency and number of films being released,” Dergarabedian says. “Theater owners should feel really good right now.”