After Oscars party, Hollywood faces a strike-slimmed movie slate

March 12, 2024 - 9:30 AM
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"Deadpool and Wolverine" (Marvel Studios/Released)

 The movie industry celebrated “Oppenheimer” and other successes at the Oscars on Sunday, but the coming months at the box office will likely offer less to cheer about.

Strikes by actors and writers last year forced filming and post-production work to shut down for months, leaving gaps in this year’s movie schedule.

Industry executives and analysts say the release calendar for April lacks an obvious blockbuster on a par with last year’s box office hit, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” The summer box office will likely rebound, buoyed by such releases as “Inside Out 2” and a third “Deadpool” movie, though the Christmas cinematic offerings look sparse.

“I think ’24 is going to be probably one of the worst of the last three years globally,” said Tim Richards, CEO of Europe’s Vue cinema chain.

So far this year, ticket sales in the United States and Canada have been tracking 9.8% behind 2023, according to Comscore. Analyst B. Riley Securities forecasts domestic box office revenues would fall to $8.5 billion this year, a decline of 5% from 2023.

At Walt Disney DIS.N, CEO Bob Iger recently spoke about the studio’s renewed emphasis on quality over quantity. The company has 10 movies on its release schedule this year.

Disney’s Marvel Studios, which had been releasing two to three movies per year, has just one set for 2024. “Deadpool & Wolverine” will hit theaters in July.

Comcast Corp’s CMCSA.O Universal Pictures plans a dozen releases, including the fourth installment in Illumination’s $2.6 billion animated film franchise, “Despicable Me.”

It is possible other films could be announced when theater operators gather in April at the annual CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas.

“I think it’s going to be a catch-up game,” Box Office Pro senior analyst Shawn Robbins said of 2024. The industry is still trying to claw back to the pre-pandemic record of close to $11.9 billion set in 2018.

Not everyone is convinced of the box office’s downward trajectory.

“The outlook by the prognosticators is overly negative,” said IMAX IMAX.N CEO Richard Gelfond. “I think that if you line up the ’23 slate against the ’24 slate, it looks very similar to me.”

Gelfond said he sees a number of films with strong box office potential, including “Deadpool & Wolverine,” “Despicable Me 4,” “Joker: Foile a Deux” and “Wicked.”

Richards said European theaters would benefit this year from locally made films.

“We’ve seen some record-breaking films in Italy. We’ve seen the same thing in Poland and Germany and even the Netherlands. But it’s not enough to compensate for what’s missing from Hollywood,” Richards said.

Cinema operators and studios are optimistic about 2025, when many strike-delayed films will be ready. Richards noted that Apple TV+ AAPL.O and Amazon AMZN.O have made major commitments to theatrical films alongside the traditional studios.

“It’s looking like it’s going to be a very interesting ‘25 and ’26,” Richards said.

— Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis