At the cinema

Can cinemas survive 2023?

Cineworld filed for bankruptcy in the States last October, and 2023’s cinema line-up might have other cinema chains quaking in their boots.

When Cineworld filed for bankruptcy in the States last October, it blamed its money woes on the year’s ‘limited film slate.’ If that’s the case, 2023’s line-up might have other cinema chains quaking in their boots.

In a recent interview with Variety, Avatar: The Way Of Water director James Cameron said the success of his film at the box office proves the public are ready and willing to head back to the big screen.

If only that were true.

While more recent numbers show that 2022’s box office is heading in the right direction (2022’s total in the UK was only 28% behind 2019’s record-breaking score), there’s still a long way for the business to go to keep its head consistently above water. And with pandemic delays hitting blockbuster filmmaking particularly hard, this recovery might not be on the cards for some time yet.

Avatar The Way Of Water on a cinema screen

Where 2019 boasted a frankly absurd nine films making over a billion dollars globally, 2022 has just three: Jurassic World: Dominion (1 billion on the dot), Top Gun: Maverick (1.48 billion) and Avatar: The Way Of Water (1.73 billion and rising). While this might be great for cinemas for a few months of the year, consistency is really lacking in the year’s cinematic output. Remember last summer, when the only films selling tickets were Maverick and Minions: The Rise Of Gru, entering their umpteenth week?

Looking ahead to 2023, it’s not immediately obvious where this necessary wave of big hitters will come from. Marvel’s output, already in a slump post-No Way Home, doesn’t inspire much confidence. New franchise sequels for Ant-Man (the lowest performing Marvel superhero with at least two films, fact fans), the Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel are far from guaranteed to bring in the big bucks. The new Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible films might grab a chunk of change, and Dune: Part Two seems likely to outperform the original (if Warner Bros. doesn’t mess around with a day-and-date release again), but will it be enough?

Like 2022, horror could be another surprising saviour for smaller screens. Knock At The Cabin, Evil Dead Rise, Beau Is Afraid (which released its first trailer this week) and even Winnie The Pooh: Blood And Honey all have at least a degree of name recognition to get folks through the doors. And more petite studio flicks will no doubt hope to replicate the success of last year’s The Black Phone ($161.4 million), and Smile ($216 million) – monsters with normal-looking smiles need not apply.

But that still leaves significant gaps in the schedule where cinema chains must staff and heat some massive and costly buildings. At the time of writing, August, September, and October look exceptionally light, with Meg 2: The Trench, The Equalizer 3 and Kraven The Hunter scaring off all other competition. And where 2022 had an ample blue light at the end of the tunnel with Avatar: The Way Of Water scheduled for December, the same slot this year is jointly contested by Wonka and Aquaman 2 – neither of which seems likely to make the same kind of splash.

At this point, there’s little cinemas can do except hold on and hope for a better 2024. But the industry might soon need to look at some form of realignment. Covid may have accelerated a change in cinema-going habits in recent years, but it didn’t create them. An industry-wide move away from regular, adult-targeted pictures in favour of a few massive, four-quadrant hits has encouraged cinema-going as an occasional treat rather than a habitual way to spend a Friday night. Combine this with a cost of living crisis and an industry essentially put on hold for 18 months, and even beyond the film slate, things are looking bleak.

Maybe the year ahead will prove us wrong. After all, at the start of 2022, who could have predicted that Top Gun: Maverick would be the second-biggest hit of the year? Perhaps the rising star power of Timothée Chalamet will be enough to catapult Dune: Part Two and Wonka into the stratosphere. Maybe Unwelcome, the upcoming Ireland-set flick about a garden full of goblins, will prove a runaway success. But while we’re sure the big cinema chains will struggle on for the foreseeable regardless, if you’ve been meaning to check out your local independent cinema for a while, now might be the time, just in case.

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