In May, and for the first time since January 2020, the international market (excluding China) reached the same box office level as the comparable month in 2017-2019 on average, according to a report released by the London-based analytics firm Gower Street. The international box office (excluding China), reached $1.54 billion in May, just shy of the pre-pandemic average at today’s exchange rates. Globally the third part of Guardians of the Galaxy achieved the highest box office in May with around $750 million.
Only once since the start of the pandemic had the international box office previously achieved even a single-digit deficit compared to the average of 2017-2019 – in June 2022 with -4 percent. This is a major milestone in the recovery process.
The global box office reached $2.8 billion in May, following April’s $2.9 billion. It’s the first time since the beginning of 2020 that two consecutive months have delivered over $2.8 billion. Last summer June ($2.7 billion) and July ($3.2 billion) delivered above $2.7 billion in back-to-back months.
After the first five months of the year the total global box office is estimated to have reached $13.7 billion. With a bit less than half a year in, 2023 has already surpassed (+16 percent) the 2020 pandemic peak full year result of only $11.8 billion. 2023 is currently tracking +34 percent ahead of 2022 and more than doubles 2021 (+117 percent) at the same stage! It remains -19 percent (or $3.1 billion) behind the pre-pandemic three-year average, but that has narrowed a bit further from -21 percent a month ago.
A trio of major new releases and a strong holdover title dominated the global box office in May grossing a combined box office of $1.78 billion, 64 percent of the worldwide total. That left only marginal space for other movies to shine.
Despite strong tentpole competition the Guardians Vol. 3 showed great holds especially in light of recent Marvel Comic Universe releases. The May total suggests Guardians Vol. 3 will end between the two prior instalments globally (Guardians Vol. 1: $773m, Guardians Vol. 2: $864 million). Internationally it did $439 million, thus it has the chance to top the trilogy (Guardians Vol. 1: $440 million, Guardians Vol. 2: $474 million). Guardians Vol. 3 has also already surpassed the international lifetime total of the past three MCU releases (Ant-Man 3: $262 million, Black Panther 2: $405 million, Thor 4: $418 million). The $311 million Guardians Vol. 3 earned domestically in May makes it more of a challenge to surpass Vol. 2 ($390 million) and most likely also Vol. 1 ($334 million) by the end of the run.
Fast X was the second highest global grossing title in May delivering approximately $537 million. Over three quarters (78 percent) came from the international market (including China) with $419 million. Internationally it is performing just slightly behind the prior instalment Fast 9 and most likely will achieve a total in the ballpark of that one ($553 million). While still being a massive result, this is significant behind the franchise best $1.2 billion hit by Fast 7. The Domestic market moved even further away. At the end of May, Fast X had earned $118 million and looks unlikely to top any of franchise entry since Fast 3 in 2006 ($63 million).
The Disney live action remake The Little Mermaid was the third highest grossing release in May with a monthly total of approximately $233 million, releasing just in the final play-week. In contrast to the two aforementioned titles, the domestic market has dominated this release so far. Achieving 60 percent of the May total with $139 million, though it should be noted week-2 holds were generally much stronger internationally.
Holdover hit The Super Mario Bros. Movie grossed slightly more than The Little Mermaid globally in May, adding approximately $260 million for a stunning total of $1.28 billion. It’s now the nineteenth highest grossing movie of all time globally. Frozen II is the only animated title ahead at thirteen with a $1.45 billion total.
The phenomenal result of the international market in May was led by the Latin American sub-region. Although being by far the smallest region, it was the one with the highest uplift against the three-year average with +16 percent! This is second only to December 2021 when the sub-region surpassed that with +29 percent. The running year is just -7 percent below the three-year average, reduced from -13 percent at the end of April.
Mexico was again the backbone of that positive development. It was internationally the second highest grossing market for Fast X ($30 million) and The Little Mermaid ($11 million) in May. Moreover, it was number three for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 ($34 million). For Super Mario it’s still number one in the international market with $85 million. That continuing success helped to narrow the territory’s gap to the pre-pandemic box office to just -3 percent at the end of May, down from -7 percent a month ago.
The second biggest market of the sub-region, Brazil, recorded its highest grossing month of the year so far, and the third highest since January 2020. It was also only the second time it performed above the three-year pre-pandemic average (+8 percent). It was the third highest grossing international market for Fast X ($19 million) and number four for The Little Mermaid ($5 million). Brazil and Mexico were leading the whole Latin American sub-region, which consistently performed at or above pre-pandemic levels in May.
The sub-region of Asia Pacific (excluding China) also performed above the three-year average in May by +2 percent. Bringing down the gap for the 2023 cumulative versus the three-year average to -19 percent, from -24 percent at the end of April. In contrast to Latin America, it was mainly the standout performance of two territories that drove this performance. The rest of the region’s markets we track performed significantly weaker in comparison.
The usual suspect Japan recorded its second highest uplift against the three-year average with +35 percent. Malaysia surprisingly topped that with +43 percent – the highest number this more volatile market has reached so far. Key to Malaysian success, besides very good numbers from Fast X ($6.6 million) and Guardians 3 ($4.2 million), was the impressive launch of local action sequel Polis Evo 3. It delivered the third biggest opening ever for a local title in Malaysia and ended the month with $4.4 million.
Additionally, Polis Evo 3 already surpassed the lifetime of the first two instalments of the franchise.
Japan started the month with its best play-week since August 2019. This was due to a combination of the Japanese Golden Week national holiday period, the phenomenal opening of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the terrific holdover of Detective Conan: The Black Iron Submarine, and the opening of the movie spin-off of popular local drama series Tokyo Mer (Mobile Emergency Room). These three titles also dominated the rest of May. Super Mario just needed 31 days to cross ¥10 billion ($72 billion), the fastest ever for a non-local animated title in the market. Detective Conan is at the same time already the highest franchise entry yet, as the 26th released title in the series. It’s also currently the 12th highest grossing animated title in Japan. Finally, Fast X further helped to build confidence in US-studio releases in the market by opening to franchise-best numbers.
The fabulous month pushed the market to be +2 percent ahead of its 2017-2019 average at the end of May. This saw Japan leading the top ten international markets at that point.
Among the sub-regions Europe, the Middle East, and Africa had the biggest gap to the average pre-pandemic May performance with -9 percent. Nevertheless, it was just the fourth time the variance dropped into single digits, and it was the second month in a row with that number. Multiple major markets achieved even levels around the three-year average like Austria (+3 percent), Netherlands (0 percent) and France (-1 percent). Italy (+4 percent) and Spain (+0 percent) particularly stood out, given neither had never previously even achieved a single-digit deficit in comparison to pre-pandemic levels. Spain saw a franchise-best opening for Fast X. Italy is currently number three in the international market for The Little Mermaid.
The international market (excluding China) had a higher share of the global box office with 55 percent compared to a three-year average of 50 percent in May. At the same time the Domestic market fell short, with only a 28 percent share of the global box office, down from 32 percent before the pandemic. The solid $785 million the market generated in the month was -21 percent below the pre-pandemic average. Nevertheless, it was the second highest grossing month since July last year and the one with the second lowest gap to the pre-pandemic average as well, after April. It further stayed at the same level as May last year (-2 percent).
It was the first time since July last year, that three titles grossed over $100 million domestically within a month. Simultaneously just 8 titles grossed more than $10 million, by far the lowest number since January this year, preventing a better result for the market in May.
Like the domestic market, China was not shining as bright as the international market but had a stable month too. The monthly total of $494 million was -12 percent below the three-year average, the second-best percentage since February last year. The month was dominated by Labor Day holiday releases like Godspeed ($118 million), Born to Fly ($77 million) and All These Years ($24 million).
Additionally, two U.S. studio releases helped to lift the month. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 contributed $81 million in May, making it the number two global territory. Fast X delivered $115 million, putting it neck-and-neck with Domestic in the race to be the #1 global market for the title. While both performed below franchise peaks, they gave hope to observers that Chinese audiences were once again receptive to import titles. A shockingly low $2.5 million start for The Little Mermaid at the end of the month was quick to remind them that import successes in China have become the exception in the past two years rather than the norm they once were.
Globally, May was an encouraging summer season kick off. June offers at least one wide release every week. This should secure that domestic and international box office won’t fall back to lower levels. Even if records are not broken every week and some releases fall below expectations, the current release calendar is strong and dense enough to overcome. More titles with, ideally, more diversity will help to grow the markets. The full capability of the markets is still to be reached in most territories.