Analysis: What Movies Audiences Wanted (And Rejected) During The First Half Of 2022

Zinger Key Points
  • "Everything Everywhere All at Once" and "Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie" found audiences in limited release primarily via word-of-mouth.
  • "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Spider-Man: No Way Home" passed the $1 billion mark without playing in China.

The first half of 2022’s movie year was marked with several intriguing surprises that could reshape film production and exhibition trends for years to come.

And The Winners Are: For the films that were in U.S. theatrical release from New Year’s Day through June 30, here are the top 10 grossing films, as per data published by Box Office Mojo:

1. “Top Gun: Maverick,” $530.1 million; opened May 27; Paramount PARAA
2. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” $409.7 million; opened May 6; Walt Disney Co. DIS
3. “The Batman,” $369.3 million; opened March 4; Warner Bros. WBD
4. “Jurassic World Dominion,” $310.4 million; opened June 10; Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp. CMCSA
5. “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” $231.8 million; opened Dec. 17, 2021; Sony Pictures SONY
6. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” $190.7 million; opened Apr. 8; Paramount
7. “Uncharted,” $148.5 million; opened Feb. 18; Sony Pictures
8. “The Lost City,” $105.3 million; opened March 25; Paramount
9. “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” $95.8 million; opened April 15; Warner Bros.
10. “The Bad Guys,” $95.7 million; opened April 22; Universal Pictures

It should be noted that “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was the sole 2021 carryover on the list, and its combined U.S. gross is $804.7 million.

Among the studios releasing films this year, Paramount was the big winner with three of the top 10 films, including chart-topper “Top Gun: Maverick.” This also marked the comeback of the year, as the studio canceled nearly all of its fall 2021 theatrical releases out of fear that the omicron variant of the coronavirus would spark another round of theater closures – that didn’t happen, of course, but Paramount easily made up for lost time.

Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. each had two films in the top 10 and Disney had one.

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What Audiences Wanted: Seven of the top 10 films were either sequels, franchise extensions or reboots – and “Top Gun: Maverick” showed that audiences were willing to wait patiently for a sequel, as the original production debuted in 1986.

Two of the top 10 films were sourced from popular franchises in other media – “Uncharted” was adapted from the classic video game and “The Bad Guys” was based on Aaron Blabey’s children's book series. Only “The Lost City” was a completely original IP, albeit as a send-up of Hollywood action and romance films.

But that’s not to say that audiences were solely interested in retreads of big-budget knockabout.

A24’s wildly off-kilter “Everything Everywhere All at Once” ranked 15th with $64.9 million at the box office, while Crunchyroll’s anime feature “Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie” ranked 26th with a $21.3 million gross. While these might seem slender compared to the top 10, it should be noted both films were in relatively limited release and relied heavily on word-of-mouth to generate their audiences.

What Didn’t Work: There were a few intriguing misfires that punctuated the first half of the year.

Robert Eggers’ violent Viking saga “The Northman” from Comcast’s Focus Features ranked 34th with $32.4 million – the film’s budget was estimated at between $70 million and $90 million. Despite heavy promotion and an all-star cast, “The Northman” followed Disney’s 2021 overpriced and star-heavy flop “The Last Duel” in suggesting historical epics are very much out of favor.

Audiences were also not eager to see action film favorites taking on eccentric roles. Sony Pictures’ “Father Stu” ranked 28th with $20.8 million – the appeal of Mark Wahlberg playing a priest didn’t bring in audiences – while Nicholas Cage’s self-parody vehicle “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” ranked 29th with only $20.3 million in ticket sales for Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF-A).

And audiences were not interested in an action flick where the lead heroes were all female – Universal’s “The 355” starring Oscar winners Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz and Lupita Nyong'o ranked 31st with an anemic $14.5 million.

The Chinese market didn’t work for many American films, either through Beijing’s deliberate refusal to screen certain U.S. productions or because of the prolonged closure of many Chinese theaters due to percolating COVID outbreaks. But some of the major releases didn’t need China to hit their jackpots – “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” passed the $1 billion in global ticket sales without having a Chinese release, while “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is now at $950.5 million globally despite being absent from China.

Photo: Tom Cruise in "Top Gun: Maverick," courtesy of Paramount

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