Has The Box Office Recovered From Covid? A Look At May, 2022

 After two summers of Covid, restrictions on theatre attendance, movie productions being forced to adapt, and studios holding back big films to release in more opportune times, things seem to finally be getting back to normal.  Or, as normal as they could be considering what we have finally starting to emerge from.

May was a very promising month, with movies like Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Top Gun: Maverick posting pre-Covid tallies.  Dr Strange raked in $187 million during its opening weekend, while Top Gun opened to $126 million.  In comparison, A Quiet Place 2, the highest grossing movie in May of last year, opened to $47 million.  Things are definitely looking up, but there is still a long way to go before the movie industry has completely recovered.

Between 2009 and 2019, there were only three times that the cumulative gross for the month of May were below $1 billion. All three Mays (2010, 2016, 2017) still had cumulative grosses that were higher than this past month, with May of 2017 being closest to 2022, with only a difference of $50 million between the two. This is very encouraging, and the hope would be that by the time next May comes around we may be back to a total of over one billion dollars.

Looking at the average amount of money earned across all monthly releases, May of 2022 looks great when compared to pre-Covid numbers.  The average per movie was $9.7 million, while in 2019 it was only $4.7 million, which is not even half of the 2022 May average.  In fact, the per movie average of this past May is the highest it has been since 1997 when The Lost World: Jurassic Park was the main earner.  This is exciting, right?  Not really.

The problem is that the average per movie gross of May, 2022 is skewed entirely by the amount of films that have been released.  One of the biggest problems of the current movie landscape is that the effects of Covid and how it impacted movie production and this is being seen in a lack of releases.  Before the pandemic, we would see around 200 movies being released in that month, with 2019 being the second highest May of all time in terms of films released, with 225.

This is where the problem is shone in its entirety.  May, 2022 saw a minuscule 81 films released, actually two shy of the same time last year.  The per movie average this time around seems gigantic, but this lower number of releases shows why.  The issues created by Covid severely stunted movie production.  There just are not the same amount of movies that have been made in time for release.  

All you have to do is to look at some of the wide releases this year.  We had some films that in any year prior to Covid would have most likely only seen limited numbers of theatres.  Because movies released in April still make money in May, and therefore impacting the overall numbers, I'll use a few examples of films that most likely never would have seen large theatre numbers from the past two months.

Father Stu, Men, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, The Northman and Everything Everywhere All at Once all hit at least 2,200 theatres.  I also wouldn't have been surprised if movies like Firestarter and Memory would have had limited releases if this May was stacked like previous years.  

The shortage of films has made it so that theatres have had to utilize movies that they would not have exhibited in more 'normal' circumstances.  I'm not going to complain about this, though.  This has meant that a wider variety of types of movies have been given mainstream treatment.  It has meant that audiences have had opportunities to experience films that they may have never known about it under different circumstances.  The fact that Everything Everywhere All at Once eventually made it to wide release is very beneficial to lowering theatrical homogeny, both from a perspective of racial representation as well as a story telling perspective.

There is no doubt that this past May was healthy, but it is also a sign of just how much more time needs to pass before we are back to seeing the anything resembling pre-Covid numbers.  While there have been some blockbusters racking in the cash, the pool of films for theatres to choose from is nothing near where it used to be.  The real effects of Covid are being shown, but at least the heart of the theatre is starting to beat strong.