September Box Office: Barbarian, The Woman King, and Spider-Man

Disney’s “Barbarian” could be the month’s best new title, but theaters are grateful to see the return of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Avatar.”

In most years, September has the lowest box-office grosses of any month and 2022 will be no different. What is different this year: September could be the first month of 2022 that might be worse than 2021.

Our pessimistic August projection was $550 million; all in, this month will gross about $470 million. Our estimate for September 2022 is less than $300 million; September 2021 was $367 million.

Blame the lack of product: There will be four titles from major studios, one from A24, a handful from smaller companies; none are expected to do major business. Two of those studio titles — “Bros” from Universal and Paramount’s “Smile” — open September 30, so any impact will have to wait for October.

A couple of date changes made back in June might have had an impact: Lionsgate’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is now April 28 and Universal Pictures’ sci-fi-action film “Distant” moved to January 27. Both were originally dated for September 16. That would have been two weeks of grosses from films with wide releases and modest expectations, but in this environment everything counts.

After a strong July, where grosses cam to 88 percent of the same month in 2019, this August fell way back to 55 percent. That sort of regression is not what theaters need right now.

August was a month where earlier releases outpaced new ones. After Sony’s “Bullet Train,” “Dragon Ball Hero” (Crunchyroll) was the best new release, a bit over $30 million. Beyond that, only “Beast” (Universal) reached $20 million.

After July, the box office total represented 69 percent of 2019; it will be 68 percent after August and that’s probably where it will stay. November and December, which have fewer films than usual and will be led by Disney’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” should give the year a shot at $8 billion — 70 percent of 2019. Through August , the total is $5.27 million.

However, any gross comparisons should acknowledge that average ticket prices have increased 20 percent or more since 2019. On that basis, 70 percent of 2019’s gross would mean total attendance is more than 40 percent lower.

“The Woman King”


Other September titles include Disney’s “Barbarian,” a horror film with good advance word; it opens September 9. Sony has “The Woman King,” a historical epic with Viola Davis leading a group of 19th century African female warriors. It opens September 16, after its Toronto International Film Festival premiere. A24’s “Pearl,” the latest genre film from Ti West, also opens September 16.

It’s possible that the biggest films for the month will be ones already available on streamers. This weekend will see a wide reissue of the 2021 hit “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (with additional scenes); a remastered “Avatar” opens September 23.

Something among the new titles could break out, but given dwindling holdovers as well as grosses from smaller releases, it’s unlikely that September can cross $300 million. September 2019 grossed $687 million.

Theaters know this, of course; it’s why they’re participating in this Saturday’s stunt discount of $3 for all films. That’s not where the business hoped to be at this point.

Film-by-film basis, top releases appear to be grazing pre-Covid expectations and sometimes surpassing them. As September shows, that only goes so far. Only blockbusters have the power to hold bad news at bay.

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