Movie theaters have benefited from a pair of unlikely heroes.
Once written off as also-rans in the battle for ticket buyers, Sony and Paramount have been flexing their muscles at the box office lately with a wide range of offerings. The two studios are responsible for seven of the 10 highest-grossing films of 2022 and currently represent more than 46% of all domestic revenues, according to Comscore. This is a marked turnaround from a year ago: At this point in 2021, Paramount and Sony represented roughly 5% of domestic revenues.
Analysts say that Paramount and Sony have been adept at scheduling their movies as the business recovers from COVID-19. With rivals such as Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal choosing to hold off many of their major tentpoles until summer or the holiday season, the two studios pushed many of their top titles to the first half of the year. Sony’s blockbuster success with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” late last year has continued with the video game adaptation “Uncharted,” while Paramount has recently found favor with films including “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and “The Lost City.”
“Those two companies have been the saviors for moviegoing in the past five months or so,” says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “They stuck with a strategy of releasing their films exclusively in theaters, and they both kept those movies in theaters for a long time. They didn’t just release them on streaming a few weeks later.”
Moreover, the titles that Sony and Paramount produced cover a range of genres. Pointing to the horror reboot “Scream” and family friendly “Sonic,” Paramount domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson says, “We were targeting an audience we thought we could get.” He adds, “The bigger gamble was ‘The Lost City,’ because it targeted mostly older women. Research showed that group had been reluctant [to attend theaters], and we got them to go.”
Pandemic or not, Sony and Paramount have been seen as punching up against the likes of Disney, Warner Bros., and Universal, all of whom boast vast libraries of franchises and are part of much larger media conglomerates. But as the business recovers from COVID-19, Sony and Paramount “definitely benefited from timing,” says Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “A lot of movies got pushed back deeper into 2022 when omicron was a big problem. That meant there wasn’t as much competition. They were able to capitalize on the fact that people are really craving out-of-the-home entertainment.”
When the credits roll on 2022, Disney will probably retain its box office crown in 2022, thanks to upcoming blockbuster-hopefuls such as “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and the “Toy Story” spinoff “Lightyear.” And Universal will gain from the debut of sequels to its “Jurassic Park” and “Minions” franchises. But Paramount still has “Top Gun: Maverick” waiting to touch down in May, while Sony could get a lift from Brad Pitt-starrer “Bullet Train” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: Part 1.”
“When studios start releasing theatrical movies and believing in them, the audiences will come,” says Josh Greenstein, Sony’s Motion Picture Group president. “I’m very bullish this summer for all studios. You’re going to see a big resurgence.”
Any lasting movie theater revival will be dependent on convincing audiences that watching blockbusters on the couch is so last year. (After all, many of 2021’s biggest films premiered day-and-date on streaming services.) Expect all-out promotional efforts to remind people that hotly anticipated titles are playing “only in theaters.”
“The days of just relying on TV spots are over,” Greenstein says, “Movies need complete 360 [marketing] campaigns. People are consuming a tremendous amount of entertainment, and there’s so much more ground to cover.”