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CinemaCon: Global Box Office Recovery Accelerated in First Quarter, Says Study

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Global cinema box office recovered strongly in the first three months of the year, driven by the performance of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” in many territories and a bumper Chinese New Year season in mainland China.

The upbeat news was delivered on the eve of CinemaCon Las Vegas by specialist research firm Gower Street Analytics, which has now increased its forecast of the cinema industry’s full year.

The firm now projects that 2023 gross revenues will reach $32 billion, a 10% increase on its earlier estimate of $29 billion.

“A $32 billion global box office in 2023 would represent an approximate +23% improvement on 2022. It remains 20% behind an average of the last three pre-pandemic years (2017-2019), but it shows how post-pandemic recovery of our business continues to improve,” said Gower Street.

The recovery is uneven. In the first quarter, the North American (aka ‘domestic’) market underperformed the firm’s projection, but it has increased its full year forecast from $8.6 billion to $9 billion, justified by a growing release slate.

The China market has picked up quickly since cinemas were derestricted at the end of 2022 and Gower Street has revised its full year forecast upwards by a chunkier $1.2 billion (from $5.6 billion to $6.8 billion). But it says it remains cautious.

After a Chinese New Year period which brought in gross revenues of $1 billion, “figures once again were very low in March, and while more U.S. imports have received a release these have generally not shown the levels of box office success that would be hoped,” the company commented. While “Super Mario” has been a hit in most territories, it has disappointed in China, earning just $17 million in its first 12 days on release (to Thursday).

The firm’s new forecast of $6.8 billion puts China back on a level equivalent to 2021 (at current exchange rates), but Gower Street says it is barely adjusting its China outlook for the second and third quarters of the year “until the market shows more consistent recovery especially on import titles.”

The rest of the world market (i.e. international without China) gets a 10%, or $1.4 billion, upwards revision in Gower Street’s books to $16.2 billion (up from $14.8 billion).

That reflects a first quarter that was powered by strong holdover business for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” local hits, and significant overseas travel for a handful of non-U.S. titles, especially Japanese anime. The swelling release calendar through the remainder of the year also underpins the upgraded rest of the world forecast.

The company also notes that some 13% of the $3 billion revision to its forecast reflects the strengthening of international currencies against the U.S. dollar, between December 2022 and the end of March 2023, thus flattering the total when expressed in the U.S. currency.

Global box office stood at $42.3 billion in 2019, but crashed to $11.8 billion in 2020 under the influence of the first wave of COVID restrictions. In 2021, box office expanded to $21.3 billion and reached $25.9 billion last year.

In both 2020 and 2021 China was the largest single box office market. But in 2022, the North American market regained the top spot.

Gower Street’s current forecast sees North America represent 28% of global box office revenues, mainland China account for 21% and the remaining international market stands at 51%.

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