The Year in Review 2022

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It wasn’t that long ago — five years ago, okay, an eternity ago — that Tom Cruise’s status as a big movie star was far from assured. The Mission: Impossible movies continued to be a reliable ATM for him, but never bigger than $220 million domestic. Other than that franchise, Cruise spent much of the 2010s either trying other franchises that sputtered out (The Mummy, Jack Reacher) or making big whiffs in relation to cost (example: Oblivion, which made $89 million domestic against a $120 million budget). Then, two years into the pandemic, Cruise released a much-belated (and delayed) sequel to a hit from 36 years ago. Result: biggest hit of the year (unless it gets Avatarred in the weeks to come), fifth biggest domestic hit of all time.

Paramount, which has the next two Mission: Impossible movies (and of course Top Gun: Maverick, the success story noted above), must be breathing easier as we trudge into 2023. And Disney can’t complain — their Marvel shingle gave them three of the year’s top ten domestic hits. Four, if you count Sony’s Spider-Man: Far from Home that debuted in late 2021 and played well into the new year of 2022 — it’s a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, and Disney gets to wet their beak a little for that. The other majors had successes here and there. As usual, though, the ultimate loser was the moviegoer looking for originality and/or smaller films for grown-ups.

As seems to have become the annual reality, every film on the year-end top-ten domestic box office list is … well, I used to say “either a sequel or based on an existing popular IP in another medium,” but this year they’re all sequels* (and some are also adapted from another medium — all those comic-book flicks). You have to move down to #12 for a movie that isn’t a sequel or based on another popular work — and it was Elvis, nobody’s idea of an indie film about an obscure musician. A couple of notches down, at #14, was Jordan Peele’s Nope, which went the distance on the power of Peele’s name and the usual what-is-it-about? marketing. It’s good, I guess, that such an anti-genre movie could make it into the top twenty, and also that the Boomers had a movie they could enjoy in Elvis.

The Oscars this year, as has also become the custom, will be loaded with nominations for movies that used to be good for at least $40 or $50 million but have stalled at below $10 mil. Expect to see things like The Banshees of Inisherin ($8.9m, #83) and Tár ($5.5 mil, #96) among the honorees, but don’t rule out Top Gun, which may get a bunch of nods including Best Picture just to ensure ratings and a rooting interest for the mass audience. Then there’s Everything Everywhere All at Once, a sleeper word-of-mouth hit in relation to cost that nonetheless came in at #27, right below Morbius, everyone’s favorite thing to laugh at in 2022. Nominations might goose some or all of these up the chart a little, but only a little, since many of them are already streaming or will be by January 24, when the nominees are announced.

Streaming, Disney will say, killed the box-office prospects of their theatrically-released efforts Lightyear and Strange World. Those movies, other folks said, were the kind of shrugged-at bowls of oatmeal that now go directly to the Disney+ streamer. Increasingly, people just want to stay in and binge-watch things; Netflix’s Wednesday and Disney+’s Andor, to name just two, got the kind of buzz, engagement, and watercooler chat (social-media chat, now) that most new movies can only wish for. The rare event that can bestir the recalcitrant American butt, like Top Gun or, at the other end of the spectrum, Everything Everywhere is to be valued, studied … and feared. Every year we get closer and closer to art in general becoming solely (rather than mostly) a popularity contest, and every year we see fewer and fewer exceptions to that rule. There was a time when Steven Spielberg owned the box office. Now? You couldn’t pay people to get out of the house for West Side Story last year or The Fabelmans this year. But you never know. This time last year, Tom Cruise was sitting pretty, but now he’s sitting pretty on the box-office throne. (Cruise hasn’t been in a #1-of-the-year hit since 1988’s Rain Man, and he wasn’t even the star!) Spielberg might go back there. Or he might not. It’s up to you, isn’t it? 

*Okay, The Batman is a reboot, not a sequel; still, it’s the umpty-umpth goddamn movie featuring Batman, and I think of it as a non-sequel that, in the context of familiar and popular characters that people want to see over and over again, might as well be a sequel.

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