When it came to quality, 2022 had plenty to offer — ranging from critically acclaimed crowd pleasers to Oscar-worthy prestige pictures. (Check out our favorites.)
But when it came to ticket sales, there were clear winners and losers. Established franchises minted money — the top 10 highest-grossing films released in 2022 will all be what Hollywood calls “major IP” once the dust settles and Avatar: The Way of Water completes its run, knocking out the only original in the bunch, Elvis. That has been the pattern developing throughout the aughts. Seven of the top 10 in 2007 were franchises; that total climbed to eight in 2012 and nine in 2017.
The bad news? While blockbusters with budgets topping $200 million dominated, films made in the $50 million to $100 million range struggled for the second year in a row. That mostly includes adult dramas (including many award-minded prestige pics like Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans) and comedies (see Billy Eichner’s Bros and the Nicolas Cage-Pedro Pascal bromance Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent). Analysts have been predicting that such films will eventually abandon theaters and soon be relegated entirely to streaming. Based on the box-office tallies, that point is hard to argue.
In any case, here are this year’s box-office winners and losers:
WINNER: Top Gun: Maverick is 2022’s top grosser (for now), while Avatar 2 remains TBD
You have to hand it to Tom Cruise, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Joseph Kosinski and the rest of the gang. It’s not easy making a follow-up to a cherished movie staple like Top Gun more than three decades later. But they didn’t just make a serviceable sequel, or a good sequel, they made a great one. Audiences responded in kind, flying to movie theaters to the mind-blowing tune of $718 million in the U.S., good for fifth best of all time, and nearly $1.5 billion internationally. Over the weekend, Cruise thanked fans in typical Cruise fashion — mid-air above South Africa while filming the next two Mission: Impossible movies.
Will Maverick remain 2022’s top gun? James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, the sequel to the fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time, could give Top Gun a run. Reportedly produced for upwards of $400 million, and needing to gross $2 billion worldwide just to crack even, The Way of Water still has a ways to go after opening slightly below expectations with “only” $134 million over the past weekend (Maverick, by contrast, opened to $126 million; it’s currently up to over $550 million worldwide, though). Only five films have grossed $2 billion, but two of those were 1997’s Titanic and 2009’s Avatar — which helps explain the saying in Hollywood that one should never bet against James Cameron.
WINNERS: Superheroes continue to save movie theaters, mostly
Spider-Man rode his 2021 hot streak into early ’22, with No Way Home netting $231 this year for a total of $804 million, becoming the third-highest U.S. earner of all time. Spring brought about Matt Reeves’s The Batman reboot, which crusaded to $369 million. May saw huge returns for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ($411 million), while ho-hum fan reactions couldn’t keep Thor: Love & Thunder from hammering home $343 million. November’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever made for an emotional triumph, landing $418 million.
Those successes didn’t stop murmurs of “superhero fatigue,” however. After all, there were a couple super-failures. Unlike the Venom movies, which have mostly prevailed despite horrific reviews, Sony’s latest Spider-verse spin-off, Morbius, flat-out flopped, earning a measly $73 million in the U.S. While October’s disappointing Black Adam still cracked the top 10 with $167 million, and an international haul of $391 million, the film underperformed its Rock-sized expectations. This week, DC confirmed the planned sequel has been shelved indefinitely, and with a production budget of in the ballpark of $200 million, insiders are saying Black Adam ultimately could lose up to a $100 million (figuring in revenue share with theaters, marketing costs, etc), placing it in the bomb zone — even if Dwayne Johnson clearly doesn’t think so.
LOSERS: Oscar-friendly dramas continue to struggle
You know it’s bad when moviegoers fail to turn out for the Spielberg theatrical experience. For the second consecutive year, Hollywood’s top filmmaker has delivered excellent work, and failed to sell many tickets. Last year it was the musical West Side Story. This year it’s Spielberg’s most personal work to date, the $40 million mostly autobiographical drama The Fabelmans, which has yet to crack $9 million. Spielberg’s not alone. Other Oscars hopefuls have struggled. James Gray’s semi-autobiographical drama Armageddon Time was made for $30 million and has collected less than $2 million. The critical Cate Blanchett sensation Tár cost about $35 million and has talled just north of $5 million. The #MeToo case-cracking journalism drama She Said was made for around $55 million and has brought in less than $6 million. Those are scary numbers.
WINNER: Moviegoers were everywhere all at once for A24’s breakout indie hit
Although 2022 was rough for most independent fare, the multiverse-traversing Everything Everywhere All at Once became the lone indie picture to play like gangbusters in two universes: the art house and the multiplex. Beating Doctor Strange’s own madcap multiverse adventure into theaters by two months, the film, jointly directed by the Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), kept on building momentum as the weeks went on, with new and returning audiences cheering and applauding one of Michelle Yeoh’s too-rare star turns and the great comeback of ’80s child star Ke Huy Quan.
LOSER: There’s no silver lining for Margot Robbie and Christian Bale as Amsterdam tanks
What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, David O. Russell’s star-powered Silver Linings Playbook grossed $130 million and scored eight Oscar nominations. Flash-forward to 2022, and Russell assembled another A-list, awards-friendly ensemble for the offbeat comedy Amsterdam, including Margot Robbie, Christian Bale and John David Washington. But history didn’t repeat itself, as the new movie opened to negative reviews, pitiful ticket sales and a slew of thinkpieces about the unlikely future of expensive studio-backed entertainments that didn’t feature capes and tights. The box-office outlook isn’t much better for Paramount’s pricey period picture Babylon, which also features Robbie alongside a variety of bold-faced names from Brad Pitt to Jean Smart.
WINNER: These Jurassic World movies didn’t have to be good to make dino bucks
As the human species, we just really, really love the dinosaur species. How else to explain the massive success of the Jurassic World movies, despite the fact that they’ve been very good? Jurassic World, kicking off the next-gen franchise in 2015, was easily the best (71 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes), earning $653 million, while 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (47 percent) made $417 million. And then came summer’s threequel Jurassic World: Dominion, which scored only 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and still gobbled up a respectable $376 million. Diminishing returns, sure, but still massive hauls, especially once you add international numbers. Chris Pratt and company may be done, but don’t expect Jurassic movies to go extinct.
LOSERS: Pricey art house fare like The Northman got slayed
By any reasonable measure, The Northman looked like a million bucks on the big screen. The only problem is that Robert Eggers’s brawny, brainy Viking epic cost between $70 million and $90 million bucks to make — money that it was never going to win back from the art-house audience to loved the director’s previous movies. Similarly, the Nicolas Cage meta-spoof, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, cost as much as one of the cult actor’s traditional tentpole movies, even though its crossover appeal proved wanting. There’s definitely an audience for movies of this type… at a lower price point.
WINNER: Viva Elvis! Bad Luhrmann’s musical biopic was the year’s biggest original property
Forty-five years after his death, audiences can’t get enough of that hunka-hunk of burnin’ love, Elvis Presley. Despite a divisive critical response, Baz Luhrmann’s frenetic tour of the King’s life and times had moviegoers dancing in the aisles throughout the summer movie season. Released on June 24, Elvis held its own in the face of fierce competition from the likes of Thor: Love and Thunder and Jurassic World: Dominion, eventually grossing $151 million in the U.S. and another $135 million overseas. That’s the best showing for a major studio movie that’s not a sequel or based on previously existing IP, surpassing the likes of Nope and Bullet Train. And the movie is poised to pull in a healthy haul of Oscar nods, too, including a potential Best Actor nod for Austin Butler’s committed star turn.
LOSER: Did Netflix fumble Glass Onion’s release?
Glass Onion is great. We shouldn’t have expected any less from Rian Johnson after 2019’s Knives Out. Netflix surely saw the potential, dishing out an astounding $469 million for the rights to two sequels. But insiders are now saying the streaming giant — which had a tough year, marked by some traffic downturns and a number of layoffs — severely goofed in its distribution strategy, reportedly leaving tens of millions on the table by only releasing Glass Onion in theaters for one week, just long enough to qualify for Oscars. But the film racked up more than $13 million in that span and seemed on track to reach its predecessor’s $165 million ($312 million worldwide) had Netflix been wiser in trying to recoup on its massive investment.
WINNER: Jordan Peele has his third straight $100 million original
For all this talks of only major movie franchises earning the big bucks, there’s one filmmaker who defies the odds: Jordan Peele. The comedian-turned-master of suspense released his third directorial effort this summer, and for the third time his feature crossed the $100 million-mark. And all of those movies have been stone-cold originals. First was 2017’s social thriller Get Out ($176 million) followed by 2019’s über-creepy Us ($175 million). His ode to Spielberg, July’s sci-fi adventure Nope ($123 million), didn’t fare quite as well, but that threepeat is still impressive. Here’s hoping Peele never stops.
LOSER: Sorry, bro — the LGBTQ rom-com Bros won critical raves, but not box-office dollars
Like they say: dying is easy, comedy is hard. Despite a rapturous reception by critics and film festival audiences, the raunchy LGBTQ romantic comedy Bros died a quick death at the multiplex, earning just $11 million in the course of its brief theatrical run. The movie’s out-gay writer and star, Billy Eichner, publicly expressed his disappointment with the box-office returns, suggesting in a since-deleted Twitter post that “straight people… just didn’t show up for Bros,” leading to its less-than-expected opening weekend gross. Luckily, many viewers — both gay and straight — can catch up on what they missed now that the movie is streaming on Peacock.
WINNER: Families had to go fast to see the Sonic and Minions sequels
Nothing like a blue hedgehog and yellow… um, things, to bring parents and children together. Minions: The Rise of Gru and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 were the biggest family hits of the year, landing within the top 10 highest-grossing movies of 2022. It helped, of course, that both sequels came with built-in audiences that had flocked to see the earlier movies. And in the case of Sonic, the franchise stretches back 30 years to the launch of the original video game. That means that the same kids who fired up their Sega Genesis consoles back in the day were taking their kids to theater to see him race across the big screen with Tails and Knuckles in tow. Time sure does go by fast.
LOSER: Lightyear and other kiddie cartoons failed to take flight
Not every pre-existing family franchise lit up the box office, though. Pixar’s Toy Story “sidequel” about the “real” Buzz Lightyear proved a costly flop, as the target audience seemed confused about the absence of Buzz’s pal Woody, as well as why Chris Evans was under the helmet instead of Tim Allen. But Lightyear still soared higher than Disney’s original animated adventure Strange World, which became one of the Mouse House’s lowest-grossing movies ever, and is estimated to have lost the studio $100 million. Also crash-landing was the DC Comics-affiliated cartoon DC League of Super-Pets, which eked out $94 million despite the presence of stars like Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. We’re betting that new DC heads, James Gunn and Peter Safran, send that would-be franchise to the doghouse along with Black Adam 2 and Wonder Woman 3.
LOSER: Roland Emmerich no longer the master of that kind of disaster
Roland Emmerich doesn’t like the moniker “The Master of Disaster” that he earned after a track record of successes helming catastrophe-based flicks. Independence Day was the top-grossing movie of 1996 with $306 million ($817 million worldwide); 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow (2004) scored $186 million ($552 million worldwide); and 2009’s 2012 overcame mixed reviews for $166 million (and $791 million worldwide). But Emmerich has now had two tough outings in a row with 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence barely passing the $100 million mark in the U.S. ($386 million worldwide) followed by the mega-bomb that was February’s little-seen Moonfall. Made for an estimated $140 million, the disaster pic tallied only $19 million in the U.S. and $67 million worldwide. That’s an all-time flop.