Heightened inflation has seen many households forced to cut down on non-essential spending, meaning the global box office is still struggling to recover its pre-pandemic levels. According to new analysis from Indy Film Library, however, independent productions are continuing to find an audience, with international demand pushing the takings of the 10 top grossing indies to the highest point in a decade.
Leisure and entertainment markets took a hammering during the early months of the coronavirus crisis, with lockdowns seeing footfall evaporate through the majority of 2020. The film industry was no exception to this – with physical cinema attendance hitting historic lows around the world.
Over the last two years, the relaxing of lockdown has seen box office receipts gradually recover. With moviegoers having spent the best part of two years unable to leave the house, 2022 was seen by production companies as a major opportunity to make up for lost time. A glut of major blockbusters from established properties hit theatres throughout the year – including Avatar: The Way of Water, Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World: Dominion, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
While studios enjoyed colossal returns from those films, however, many more big-budget Hollywood films floundered. With consumer spending power crippled by the highest rate of inflation in four decades – while average income continued to stall – punters were less willing to simply hand over their cash to studios offering them familiar faces and well-worn IP. As a result, Disney and Marvel were unable to market Morbius effectively, either as a legitimate feature or so-bad-it’s-good fodder. Meanwhile, the latest Fantastic Beasts movie, The Secrets of Dumbledore, was the lowest-grossing Harry Potter-related movie in the franchise to date, despite its hefty $200 million production cost.
The concerted efforts of one transphobic author to alienate her fan base, or the cynical attempts of a comic tycoon to force-feed dedicated supporters garbage as ‘ironic entertainment’ clearly left bad tastes in the mouths of potential viewers. Along with a number of other factors, including several critical maulings, many cinema-goers looking to save money clearly concluded they really had little reason to invest in properties which held them in such contempt.
While this meant that even as several mainstream movies set new, astronomical, records at the box office, Hollywood’s studio system did not enjoy the 2022 it had hoped for. The global box office remains below that of 2019 and Gower Street Analytics estimates that it will not hit those heights in 2023 either. The box office figures are not bad reading for everyone, though.
2022’s $26 billion haul included a promising rise in popularity for independent cinema. Looking at the 10 best performing indy films globally, the films accrued box office takings of a combined $1.26 billion by the end of the year. This represents the highest taking of the indy top 10 in more than a decade; hitting heights not seen since 2012.
In particular, this was driven by the continued power of independent horror to punch above its weight. For example, Nope and The Black Phone brought in combined global box office receipts of more than $330 million.
Other major hits included the delightfully unhinged, non-linear, sci-fi, martial arts extravaganza Everything Everywhere All at Once, which enjoyed a global taking of more than $100 million. And the UK’s apparently unsinkable franchise Downton Abbey also churned out another $92 million success with its latest sequel A New Era.
Estimating the exact size of the independent film market remains an impossible task. The size and scope of the segment, alongside debates around what constitutes an ‘independent’ production – and a lack of data for short films and festival performance – mean Indy Film Library’s own attempts are constrained to reported box office figures for feature films which gain a theatrical release. However, if the performance of the 10 most successful independent films is taken as an indicator of the popularity of indy films more broadly, it seems that the sector is enjoying a healthier recovery than the studio system.
To that end, for the second year in a row, Indy Film Library believes that independent box office receipts outpaced the growth of studio productions. Of the $25.9 billion global box office haul from 2022, an estimated $5.6 billion – or 21.6% – came from independent productions around the world. As the film industries and audiences of a number of key international markets continue to develop, this may well grow further in the future, too.
Gower Street Analytics estimates that the global box office will be worth around $29 billion for 2023 – still some way from fully hitting pre-pandemic levels. However, independent films may still outperform their studio counterparts in spite of this. In the last year, the rate of growth for independent film consumption did slow by about half. But even estimating that trend to replicate again through 2023, independent film could still bring in around $7.6 billion around the world – making up a quarter of the market. As with our previous estimates, that should be taken with a pinch of salt – our resources are far from exhaustive, after all. But from here at least, even as the global economy heads into recession, it does look as though there is a real cause for hope in the indy sphere right now.
Note: This article originally stated that $7.6 billion was a third of the market. As correctly noted by Ken Droz, it is actually a quarter.