At the start of 2020, Variety boldly predicted what the box office landscape that year was going to look like… before the world was upended by a pandemic.
While several of those forecasts did ultimately bear out — the James Bond sequel “No Time to Die” and “F9” (when they eventually were released) were, indeed, sure things; “Dolittle” and “The New Mutants” were, indeed, big bombs — it was, in hindsight, foolhardy to prognosticate potential box office performance for what turned out to be the most devastating period for theatrical exhibition in the history of cinema.
So let’s do it again!
Hollywood studios — at this point, anyway — are set to debut a bounty of potential blockbusters in 2022 that the movie theater business desperately needs. With COVID-19 variants continuing to wreak havoc, however, it remains exasperatingly unclear which of the year’s films will stick to their scheduled debuts — or even open on the big screen at all.
Already, Sony has moved “Morbius” from January to April and Lionsgate pushed “John Wick: Chapter 4” to next year. Disney, meanwhile, has not yet publicly committed to which films on its upcoming slate will open exclusively in theaters, debut simultaneously on Disney Plus Premier Access, or jump straight to streaming and bypass cinemas altogether.
Movies that do open in theaters first are far from guaranteed to become hits, either: Other than “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” no COVID-era domestic release has ascended to pre-pandemic heights, and many films that would have been infallible successes in before times have struggled to make a box office dent whatsoever. All that said, some movies still have a much better shot at success than others. Here’s how we see things potentially working out. Or not!
“The Batman” (Warner Bros.)
Current Release Date: March 4
What Looks Strong: Comic book adventures have essentially been pandemic-proof at the box office, and Batman is one of the most ubiquitous masked heroes on the planet. Add Robert Pattinson as a moody, enigmatic Caped Crusader and Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman and, yeah, this movie is going to be huge.
Causes for Concern: Joaquin Phoenix’s devilish turn in “Joker” demonstrates that DC can go dark, we mean Scorsese-level darkness, and still become an insanely profitable box office sensation. But will audiences respond to a gritty, gruesome Dark Knight?
Verdict: Robert Pattinson is playing Batman. Robert Pattinson is playing Batman! Need we say more?
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Disney)
Current Release Date: May 6
What Looks Strong: Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” sequel immediately follows the events of December’s billion-dollar grossing “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which cracked open the multiverse so all manner of previous Spider-Man characters could play together. This movie has “multiverse” right there in the title, suggesting variant versions of all kinds of MCU characters could be on deck for appearances (like, hypothetically, the dear departed Tony Stark or Steve Rogers), on top of Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch carrying over the events from the Emmy-winning Disney Plus hit “WandaVision.” Plus, Marvel tapped Sam Raimi, auteur of the original “Spider-Man” movie trilogy, to direct, and Michael Waldron, head writer of the delightfully timeline-twisty Disney Plus series “Loki,” to write the screenplay.
Causes for Concern: The first “Doctor Strange” movie is among Marvel’s lower grossing blockbusters, and the film was still shooting in Los Angeles through December 2021, causing Marvel to push its release from February to May.
Verdict: Marvel’s unbroken winning streak will continue unabated — and won’t stop with “Thor: Love and Thunder” (July 8) or “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Nov. 11), either.
“Jurassic World: Dominion” (Universal)
Current Release Date: June 10
What Looks Strong: Despite three decades passing since Steven Spielberg’s original “Jurassic Park” debuted in theaters, Isla Nublar remains a premier destination for moviegoers. The 2015 sequel “Jurassic World” and its 2018 follow-up “Fallen Kingdom” each devoured more than $1 billion globally, cementing the science-fiction action film series as one of Hollywood’s biggest film franchises. The latest installment in the “Jurassic World” trilogy brings back director Colin Trevorrow, franchise newbies (relatively speaking) Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard and veterans Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and BD Wong for another dino-themed brouhaha. The promise of dueling Tyrannosaurus rexes in Imax, as well as the film’s prime summer release date, looks to have the box office sizzling.
Causes for Concern: “Jurassic World: Dominion” was the first major tentpole to resume filming after pandemic-induced shutdowns. Maybe masks and physical distancing made it trickier to take director’s cues? More seriously speaking, the cost of COVID safety protocols added millions to the film’s already enormous price tag. Getting into the black won’t come cheap.
Verdict: Bryce Dallas Howard and her kitten heels will be running toward another billion-dollar box office behemoth.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One)” (Sony)
Current Release Date: Oct. 7
What Looks Strong: The first film in the series, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” was doing the multiverse thing before it was popular, and in the process grossed an unexpected $375.5 million worldwide and won the Oscar for best animated feature. Producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller wrote the script for the multi-part sequel with veteran superhero scribe David Callaham (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”) and tapped a new team of directors — Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson — to bring its eye-popping animation style to life in a new story that will involve Miguel O’Hara, a.k.a. Spider-Man 2099 (voiced by Oscar Isaac), and Jessica Drew, a.k.a. Spider-Woman (Issa Rae).
Causes for Concern: Animation has been a mixed bag at the box office in the pandemic, and, who knows, maybe audiences will decide out of nowhere that this is one Spider-Man story too many.
Verdict: C’mon. Audiences love Spider-Man movies, and the goodwill with fans for “Into the Spider-Verse” — which many consider to be the best Spidey movie ever — has only grown stronger.
Current Release Date: July 22
What Looks Strong: How many directors can sell a movie on their name alone? We will give you a hint… not many. But “Get Out” writer-director Jordan Peele is one of the few filmmakers who can reveal almost nothing about a movie and still convince audiences to turn out in droves. So it likely doesn’t matter that plot details for “Nope,” his next nightmarish vision, are intentionally ambiguous. (A poster vaguely described the film as “a new terror from the mind of Academy Award winner Jordan Peele”). It helps that, pandemic or not, horror is always hot at the box office. And, Keke Palmer will probably (definitely) supply more meme-worthy moments on the film’s press tour. Her co-stars include Daniel Kaluuya (reuniting with Peele for the first time since “Get Out”), “Minari” star Steven Yeun and “Euphoria” breakout Barbie Ferreira.
Causes for Concern: Peele managed to capture the zeitgeist twice, first with “Get Out” and again with “Us,” by delivering horror films that double as powerful social commentaries. Sources close to the film tell Variety that “Nope” is something entirely different than “Get Out” and “Us” — whatever that means, we seriously don’t know — so reviews could play a big factor in box office revenues.
Verdict: All signs point to Peele hitting the moviemaking trifecta. Expect terrified audiences and towering ticket sales.
“Mission: Impossible – 7” (Paramount)
Current Release Date: Sept. 30
What Looks Strong: 2018’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” — the sixth film in Tom Cruise’s, yes, 26-year-old spy thriller franchise — earned some of the best reviews in the series’ history en route to grossing $791.1 million worldwide, a franchise high (not adjusted for inflation). “Fallout’s” core creative team has returned for this one, including writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and co-stars Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Vanessa Kirby, alongside newcomers Hayley Atwell, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, Shea Whigham, Rob Delaney and Cary Elwes. Oh, and Henry Czerny is reprising his role as Eugene Kittridge, the persnickety IMF suit who was last scene verbally sparring with Cruise in 1996’s original “Mission: Impossible.” Deep cut!
Causes for Concern: This movie has been pushed and pushed and pushed again thanks to the pandemic and Cruise’s ironclad conviction that it should open exclusively in movie theaters. September 2022 seems like a safe distance from the pandemic, but we were saying that a year ago about movies opening in September 2021, sooo…
Verdict: The “Mission: Impossible” franchise has become America’s answer to James Bond, and as reliable a box office performer. Also, McQuarrie is already directing Cruise in “Mission: Impossible – 8,” so this movie better work.
“The Flash” (Warner Bros.)
Current Release Date: Nov. 4
What Looks Strong: Yet more multiversal shenanigans as a pretext for some deep dish nostalgia, this time in the DC Comics realm. Titular speedster Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) — first seen in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” — runs back in time to prevent his mother’s murder, but in doing so, he splinters his timeline, and finds himself face-to-face with Michael Keaton’s version of Bruce Wayne from 1989’s “Batman” and 1992’s “Batman Returns.” Director Andy Muschietti, fresh from directing the “It” movies to $1.1 billion in global box office grosses, cast Sasha Calle as the first big screen Supergirl since the ill-fated 1984 movie. And some other DC universe stars are set to reprise their roles, including Michael Shannon as General Zod and Ben Affleck as the Bruce Wayne from Barry’s cinematic universe.
Causes for Concern: By the end of the year, audiences actually could be a little tired of the multiverse, and Warner Bros.’ track record with DC adaptations is as hit-or-miss as Marvel’s is just…hit. Plus, Miller has not yet addressed video of him from 2020 in which he appears to choke a woman outside a bar in Iceland, something that will be increasingly difficult to avoid between this film and the third “Fantastic Beasts” movie in April.
Verdict: The Flash’s first solo big screen movie should race to solid box office, but it’s a good this movie will open before “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
“Avatar 2” (Disney)
Current Release Date: Dec. 16
What Looks Strong: Along with director James Cameron, much of the cast from 2009’s “Avatar” is returning, including Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, Sigourney Weaver, CCH Pounder and Stephen Lang. They’re joined by a group of young, largely unknown actors as a new generation of Na’vi, and a bevy of bold-faced names, including Kate Winslet, Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Edie Falco, Cliff Curtis, and Jermaine Clement. A lot of it takes place under water. And, oh yeah, it’s the sequel to the highest grossing movie of all time.
Causes for Concern: When it was originally announced, “Avatar 2” was going to open in 2014. Then it was pushed to 2015. Then 2016. Then 2017. Then 2018. Then 2020. Then 2021. Then 2022. Over the course of those delays, it became commonplace to dunk on “Avatar” as a movie with a shocking lack of cultural impact given its record box office tally, and the theatrical landscape has radically changed since the original became a phenomenon. For one thing, 3D cinema, which boosted “Avatar” to its untold heights, has long since become a shadow of its former self.
Verdict: Just about everyone doubted the original “Avatar” before it opened in 2009, too, and its lack of cultural saturation may actually play to “Avatar 2’s” favor, since audiences will be aware of it without being sick of it. Cameron has never once directed a flop, and with three more “Avatar” movies set to debut through the 2020s, Disney is banking that he won’t start now.
“The Lost City” (Paramount)
Current Release Date: March 25
What Looks Strong: There is arguably no other actor working today with a better romantic comedy track record than Sandra Bullock. In “The Lost City,” she’s playing a romance novelist who is plunged into an adventure much like her books alongside their popular cover model, played, naturally, by Channing Tatum. Brad Pitt also shows up, and Daniel Radcliffe plays the villain. The trailer looks hilarious.
Causes for Concern: After Bullock’s “The Proposal” became the sleeper summer hit of 2009, romantic comedies fell steeply from favor with audiences. Yes, occasionally there’s been a hit like “Trainwreck” or a phenomenon like “Crazy Rich Asians,” but those are rare exceptions to an increasingly dire theatrical landscape for romcoms — a situation made more bleak by their subsequent renaissance on streaming services.
Verdict: Expect this to be a running theme of 2022: As this is neither a major franchise release nor a superhero movie, its box office fate amid the ongoing pandemic remains precarious at best, doomed at worst. If Bullock and Tatum can’t get romcom fans to a theater, maybe they can get them to subscribe to Paramount Plus.
Current Release Date: April 1
What Looks Strong: “Venom” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” demonstrated that Sony doesn’t need Spider-Man to make a major Marvel hit, and the studio hopes to continue that trend with “Morbius,” starring Jared Leto as Dr. Michael Morbius, a scientist who turns himself into a vampire to cure his fatal blood disease. Along with costars Matt Smith, Adria Arjona and Tyrese Gibson, Michael Keaton is also set to reprise his role as Adrian Toomes, the villain from 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
Causes for Concern: Morbius is not nearly as well known or beloved a character as Venom. And unlike Sony’s recent “Spider-Man” movies, “Morbius” was not produced by Marvel Studios and is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — so despite Keaton’s curious involvement and shots in the trailer that include posters of Spider-Man in the background, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker almost certainly won’t be swinging in to this movie.
Verdict: Marvel comics adaptations have been the most reliable box office performers throughout the pandemic; this movie will either prove their invulnerability or reveal they aren’t as invincible as they’ve appeared.
“Bullet Train” (Sony)
Current Release Date: July 15
What Looks Strong: Director David Leitch assembled a star-studded cast, including the likes of Brad Pitt, Joey King, Brian Tyree Henry, Zazie Beetz, Michael Shannon and Sandra Bullock, for “Bullet Train,” an assassin thriller about five hit people who find themselves on a Japanese bullet train, only to realize their seemingly individual assignments are interconnected. That compelling pitch should be in good hands with Leitch, the director of stunt-heavy films like “Deadpool 2,” “Atomic Blonde” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.”
Causes for Concern: Brad Pitt may be one of the biggest movie stars on planet Earth, but in the age where popular franchises and well-known IP reign supreme, the concept of a reliable box office draw has become somewhat of an oxymoron. With an increased proclivity toward superhero spectacles, original movies have been hit or miss at the box office, and “Bullet Train” doesn’t come cheap. Sony spent $90 million to produce the film, and it will have to spend many millions more to introduce and sell “Bullet Train” to the moviegoing masses.
Verdict: If Leitch can deliver on the film’s high-concept premise, “Bullet Train” could reap big rewards. Otherwise, it may be another strike against investing in originality.
“Don’t Worry, Darling” (New Line Cinema)
Current Release Date: Sept. 23
What Looks Strong: After Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut “Booksmart” scored rave reviews, her sophomore feature film sparked an all out bidding war, with New Line Cinema beating out 18 other companies to make “Don’t Worry, Darling.” It’s safe to say Hollywood has high hopes for Wilde. And who is to doubt the mind of a woman who cast global pop sensation Harry Styles (in his first leading film role) as a morally dubious 1950s-era husband opposite Florence Pugh as his unhappy wife?
Causes for Concern: Wilde’s raunchy R-rated “Booksmart” served as a painful reminder that critical acclaim doesn’t always translate to box office ticket sales.
Verdict: New Line Cinema could succeed where Annapurna and United Artists Releasing, who distributed “Booksmart,” failed by scheduling “Don’t Worry, Darling” as nice counter-programming to Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 7,” which targets males and opens the following weekend. Also, did we mention Harry Styles?
“Death on the Nile” (Disney)
Current Release Date: Feb. 11
What Looks Strong: When they’re done right, moviegoers enjoy a good whodunit. Mystery! Drama! Intrigue! That has been proven with recent murder mysteries, such as “Knives Out” ($165 million domestically) and “Murder on the Orient Express” ($102 million domestically). Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, who directed “Murder on the Orient Express,” could repeat his winning formula with “Death on the Nile,” which sees the return of renowned detective Hercule Poirot, this time aboard a river cruise ship.
Causes for Concern: Will Armie Hammer’s involvement in the star-studded brain-twister sink “Death on the Nile”? That’s the big question surrounding the film since Disney and Branagh opted to not recast Hammer or cut around his role after the actor faced rape and abuse accusations. All things considered, it could be a PR nightmare waiting to happen.
Verdict: Hammer isn’t quite a household name, and accusations against the actor haven’t seeped into the public consciousness in the same nature as other disgraced actors, like Shia LaBeouf. Unless people take the added step to Google the movie and read related articles about Hammer, the scandal surrounding him could fly under the radar. Disney has a marketing machine that’s unrivaled in Hollywood, so it wouldn’t be surprising for the studio to masterfully distract audiences by hiding Hammer and elevating his co-stars Gal Gadot, Letitia Wright, Annette Bening and Russell Brand.
Current Release Date: Feb. 18
What Looks Strong: Sony’s “Uncharted” video game series — about dashing treasure hunter Nathan Drake — are among the most popular and well-regarded games of all time. Tom Holland, who plays Drake, is the biggest movie star in the world right now, with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” shattering records and single-handedly rescuing movie theaters’ bottom lines. Add Mark Wahlberg as Nathan’s sidekick Sully, Antonio Banderas as the villain, and filmmaker Ruben Fleischer (“Venom,” “Zombieland”) at the helm, and you’ve got a potent formula to launch a new franchise.
Causes for Concern: For one, video game adaptations, other than some of the “Resident Evil” movies and maybe 2020’s “Sonic the Hedgehog,” have basically never worked. For another, at 25, Holland is at least 10 years younger than Drake in the games; ditto Wahlberg’s Sully. (At one early point in this movie’s decade-plus development process, Wahlberg was actually attached to play Drake instead.) And while Holland’s “Spider-Man” movies have all been blockbusters, like so many of his MCU compatriots, he has struggled to connect in films that have nothing to do with superheroes.
Verdict: The enduring appeal of the “Uncharted” games is making you feel like you’re playing a top tier, wildly imaginative Hollywood blockbuster — think Indiana Jones for the digital age. That is an intimidatingly high bar; clearing it could spark a new film franchise for Sony. Missing it would add yet another movie to the expansive graveyard of failed video game movies.
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” (Focus Features)
Current Release Date: March 18
What Looks Strong: “Downton Abbey,” a big-screen continuation of the popular British TV show, became an unexpected box office hit in 2019, grossing $96 million in the U.S. and Canada and $237 million globally. A sequel brings back much of the Grantham clan, played by Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery, as well as their butlers, maids and other domestic servants, portrayed by Jim Carter, Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle. In a world where the pandemic is still raging, the historical soap opera “Downton Abbey: A New Era” could serve as escapism in the purist sense.
Causes for Concern: In any other environment, it would be silly to consider the moderately budgeted “Downton Abbey” a risk. The only reason it’s in this category is because adult audiences have been more hesitant than most to return to their local cinema since COVID-19 struck. Considering the upcoming “Downton Abbey” installment will be available on the streaming service Peacock 45 days after its theatrical release, older crowds could opt to wait to watch the beloved property’s next chapter from the comfort and safety of their couch.
Verdict: Focus Features spent $20 million to make “Downton Abbey,” and the specialty studio likely shelled out a similar amount for the follow-up. That means “A New Era” doesn’t need “Spider-Man: No Way Home”-level ticket sales to turn a profit. It only needs to bring in modest business to benefit handsomely.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (Warner Bros.)
Current Release Date: April 15
What Looks Strong: The popularity of “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts,” an HBO Max special that aired on New Year’s Day and reunited key cast members, proves that after all this time, audiences still have an affinity for The Boy Who Lived. For the third “Fantastic Beasts” installment, “Harry Potter” veteran Steve Kloves was enlisted to co-write the screenplay with author J.K. Rowling, who wrote the first two “Fantastic Beasts” movies by herself. Kloves’ hand could help recapture the heart of fantastical series, which has struggled to recreate the same charm as the original adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione.
Causes for Concern: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was commercially successful, earning more than $800 million globally. But the series is already experiencing diminishing returns. The second entry, “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” received mixed-to-negative reviews and tapped out with $654 million worldwide, making it the lowest grossing “Harry Potter”-adjacent film by a significant margin. Unless the filmmakers can captivate a wider audiences and grow the “Fantastic Beasts” fanbase, magic could be in short supply for the intended five-film saga. Anyone have liquid luck on hand?
Verdict: Comparatively lackluster turnout for 2018’s “The Crimes of Grindelwald” indicates that Warner Bros. can’t rely on gimmicky premises to keep Potterheads coming back to the big screen. So the third “Fantastic Beasts” chapter — which puts a bigger spotlight on fan-favorite Dumbledore (portrayed by Jude Law) — will rise and fall on the quality of its storytelling. The latter could spell Avada Kedavra for the fantastical franchise.