Cinema: before « Barbie » and « Oppenheimer », the Stations of the Cross of Hollywood blockbusters at the box office


While the joint release of « Barbie » and « Oppenheimer » creates emulators in dark rooms, the balance sheet of summer blockbusters is chaotic. Many accuse catastrophic figures, with losses sometimes estimated at more than 100 million dollars per film.

Barbenheimer to save the Hollywood summer? In any case, this is what the major American studios are going to hope for, after several very complicated months at the box office. « Dungeons & Dragons », « The Flash », « Indiana Jones » are all very heavy failures for the majors, which have lost several hundred million dollars on some of their big summer entertainment.

Only a few successes have survived, like the third adventure of « Guardians of the Galaxy », the planetary cardboard of « Super Mario Bros » and, to a certain extent, « Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse ». Multiple factors, from reminiscences of the pandemic to an overly dense offer, including the quality of said films.

Too many movies, kill the movies

The month of June 2023 was however to sign the return of the Hollywood summer. According to its report on dark room attendance this month, the National Center for Cinematography (CNC) details that “ten American films and eighteen French films were released in theaters, compared to five and twenty-nine films respectively in June 2022”. A renewed Hollywood offer, like the year 2019. But this year, the formula did not take.

“There is an overflow, period! In 2022, over the period May-July, there are two blockbusters per month: apart from ‘Buzz l’Éclair’, all reached one million admissions in the first week in France. Of the eight blockbusters released in May-June 2023, only two really come out on top: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 3’ and a month before that, a certain ‘Super Mario’ was very much alone, ”explains Davy Dourret, founder of the website specializing in the box office Ciné Directors.

And among these many failures, some have been real disasters. « The Flash », a new production stamped DC Comics, bet on a superhero little seen on the big screen and accompanied by two Batmans in the guise of Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton. However, the disastrous returns of the previews and the scandals caused by its main actor Ezra Miller killed the film in the bud. Result, the film will end its career around 275 million dollars, for a budget of 200 million dollars in production and 150 in marketing. The estimated loss for the Warner Bros studio is thus estimated at nearly 200 million dollars.

One of its main competitors, Disney, did even worse, with two successive failures. With its laconic promotion, “Elementary”, despite Pixar fame and good word-of-mouth, was a real failure: the film will just exceed 350 million dollars in receipts for a budget similar to “The Flash”. Worse still, the deficit that « Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny » will create. Estimates put the production budget alone at $329 million, making it one of the most expensive films since cinema’s inception. Problem, with 308 million dollars a month after its release, the feature film by James Mangold is neither more nor less than one of the greatest ovens in history.

“There are undoubtedly two parameters to explain his flab: the first is suggestive and it is the quality of the films offered. The other, a real weariness of the public. Lassitude of the suites (we are offered a 5th, 6th or even 10th episode!) and in the face of products which, for several years, have only been suites, reboots and others”, maintains Davy Dourret.

The same cake for more slices

It should be remembered that the studios do not pocket the full turnover of the box office. This sum is divided approximately by two to signify the part of the operators of cinemas, then numerous taxes and charges are added. Thus, « Indiana Jones 5 » could cost Disney more than $250 million on its release.

This data does not hide the relative disappointment of « Fast X » (705 million dollars in revenue for 349 million budget) and « the Little Mermaid » (555 million dollars, including a large figure in the United States for 250 million).

All of this is done without a real drop in attendance being observed. Over the first six months of the year, French cinemas sold 91.87 million tickets compared to an average of 104.56 over the 2017-2019 pre-Covid period, a drop of 12.1%. The month of June followed this trend with a fall of 12.8%.

Indeed, the spectators are back in France. But in 2019, just before the Covid, over a period just as busy with releases, the successes are sometimes relative: the scores of “Detective Pikachu” are good, but however not up to its budget. “John Wick 3”, in France, does not score comparable to those across the Atlantic. Similarly « Godzilla 2: King of the Monsters », « X-Men: Dark Phoenix » or « Men in Black International » were failures. So when Hollywood indulges in an overloaded offer, the public gets diluted and the failures pile up.

« Barbie » and « Oppenheimer » as a saviour?

It’s the cinematic soap opera of the summer. On July 19, the films “Barbie” by Greta Gerwig and “Oppenheimer” by Christopher Nolan were released the same day in theaters. Amused by the completely different tone of these two proposals, the spectators had named this duel “Barbenheimer” on social networks.

Result, instead of annihilating each other, the two feature films, which also had very good feedback from the press and spectators, left to be hits. With more than $155 million (according to Box Office Mojo), “Barbie” is the biggest debut for a feature film directed by a woman and the best from Warner since “Batman v Superman” in 2016. “Oppenheimer” went beyond expectations, with more than 80 million greenbacks on American soil. Similarly, the films will both probably exceed one million admissions in their first week of release in France.

These two simultaneous boxes even eclipsed the release of the last « Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning part 1 », with the eternal Tom Cruise. The results are already below expectations for Paramount, despite the confirmation of the second part, which could be the conclusion of the character of Ethan Hunt.

For the rest, the Hollywood summer promises to be difficult. The actors’ union SAG-AFTRA having joined the writers’ strike against the studios, no promotion can be ensured by the latter. Disney’s « The Haunted Mansion », « In very troubled waters » with Jason Statham, or even « Blue Beetle » from the superheroic DC team, will find themselves without a red carpet. For the time being, nothing says that this will have an impact on the turnover of films.


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