Movies

From A Rough September To A Tough October: The Movies Are Playing An Insiders’ Game

Predictions are always a hazardous thing. And I truly hope this one is wrong. But it sure looks like the movie box office, disastrously low in September, will be stuck on the bottom again this month.

September is rarely a great month for ticket sales, but last month is better left undiscussed. Putting aside the first Covid year, 2020, when theaters were mostly closed, this year’s September take, about $319 million, was the worst in recent memory. The monthly total was down more than 13% from last year’s, and was less than half of the month’s box office in 2019. It ranked as the lowest since 1996, when ticket sales were just $303.6 million, according to the numbers so conveniently sliced and diced by Box Office Mojo.

And that’s without adjusting for ticket-price inflation. Adjust the numbers, and this September’s performance, led by some $41.5 million in monthly sales for The Woman King, was actually much worse, matching low points in the 1980s, when the month was treated as a dumping ground for the unreleasable and a convenient receptacle for summer spill-over.

Now, with the collapse of Bros and the fair-to-middling performance of the horror flick Smile, the industry is marching toward mid-October with its prospects hanging on a modest kid pic from Sony, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, and a tricky dark comedy from 20th Century/Disney, Amsterdam.

As Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro politely suggested in his box office preview, “Hopefully, something overperforms this weekend.”

But even if that happens, we could be staring at another 26-year low, barely beating the $314.3 million take from 1996, when the top-selling October film was a September left-over, First Wives Club, with about $51.7 million in ticket sales for the month.

Black Adam, due on October 21 from Warner, could toss $100 million into the monthly bucket, but only if it opens as well as its DC predecessor Shazam!, which had $53.5 million in first-weekend sales back in April 2019.

It could happen, or Halloween Ends, due October 14 from Universal, could match the nearly $86 million October take from Halloween Kills in 2021.

Or Prey For the Devil from Lionsgate, set for release on October 28, could somehow cram a week’s worth of sales into those last four days of the month.

Or Ticket to Paradise could become the first George Clooney film to explode out of the gate since Gravity, in 2013. It’s possible.

But there’s no promise of an October blockbuster, like Venom: Let There Be Carnage or No Time to Die in 2021. Instead, the release schedule is peppered with tough little films of the sort that light up festivals, win awards and make critics fight — Tár, Till, The Swimmer, Call Jane, The Banshees of Inisherin, Armageddon Time and such.

These are movies for insiders, to which outsiders — mass consumers — are invited on a very limited basis. That’s how the seasonal game is now played.

So it looks like another rough month for the industry, pointed toward half or less of the take in October of 2019, when Joker led the field, or 2018, when Venom was on top.

Unless, hopefully, as Deadline’s box-office maven D’Alessandro says, “something overperforms.”

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