This summer at the movies, Tom Cruise is back in the cockpit behind those iconic aviators. Doctors Grant, Sattler and Ian Malcolm are returning for another round with the dinosaurs. Natalie Portman is picking up Thor's hammer. And Jordan Peele is poised to terrify us with the unknown. Again.
Hollywood is bringing out some of its biggest and most reliable players for the 2022 summer movie season, which unofficially kicks off this weekend with the help of Marvel and Disney's "Doctor Strange and the Multitverse of Madness" and runs through the end of August. Studios and exhibitors are still making up for losses incurred during the pandemic, adjusting to new ways of doing business, including shortened release windows, competition from streaming and the need to feed their own services, and wondering if moviegoing will ever return to pre-pandemic levels.
Though the pandemic lingers on, there is optimism in the air.
"We're still waiting for older audiences to come back," said Jim Orr, the head of domestic distribution for Universal Pictures. "But it really feels like we've turned a corner."
Last week, studio executives and movie stars schmoozed with theater owners and exhibitors at a convention in Las Vegas, hyping films that they promise will get audiences back to the movie theaters week after week.
Expectations are particularly high for "Top Gun: Maverick," which Paramount Pictures will release on May 27 after two years of pandemic postponements. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer says he never waivered in wanting to release "Top Gun: Maverick" - a full-throttle action film made with extensive aerial photography, practical effects - exclusively in theaters.
"It's the kind of movie that embraces the experience of going to the theater," said Bruckheimer.
Before the pandemic, the summer movie season could reliably produce over $4 billion in ticket sales, or about 40% of the year's grosses according to Comscore. In 2020, that total plummeted to $176 million. Last year recovered some with $1.7 billion, but things were hardly back to normal-many chose to either delay releases further or employ hybrid day-and-date strategies.
This summer, though some slates are slimmer than usual, everyone is refocusing on theatrical. The ticketing service Fandango surveyed more than 6,000 ticket-buyers recently and 83% said they planned to see three or more movies on the big screen this summer. Netflix last month also reported its first subscriber loss in ten years and expects to lose two million more this quarter.
Adam Aron, the Chairman and CEO of AMC Theatres, the nation's largest theater chain, is one who is particularly excited about the steady stream of blockbusters that will be coming to their theaters. He touted franchises like "Doctor Strange 2," "Top Gun 2," "Jurassic World: Dominion," (June 10) and "Thor: Love and Thunder" (July 8), "new film concepts" like Jordan Peele's "Nope" (July 22) and "Elvis" (June 24) and family friendly offerings from "Lightyear" (June 17) to "Minions: The Rise of Gru" (July 1).
And it looks like the summer will start off with a bang: Analysts are predicting "Doctor Strange 2" could open to $170 million this weekend, double that of the first film. Marvel and Disney then follow that with the new Thor, which picks up with Hemsworth's character after "Endgame" and wondering "what now?"
"It's a great, really fun, weird little group of heroes," director Taika Waititi said. "And, in my humble opinion, we have probably the best villain that Marvel's ever had in Christian Bale."
But superhero movies alone don't make for a healthy cinematic landscape. Universal is proud of their diverse summer slate that includes a certain dinosaur tentpole, family animation, thrillers and horrors, comedies and period charmers from Focus Features like "Downton Abbey: A New Era" and "Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris."
"Our business can't devolve into just tentpoles and branded IP," Orr said. "We have something for every audience segment. Audiences are craving that and exhibitors are craving that."
Jason Blum, the powerhouse producer and head of Blumhouse, hopes that Scott Derrickson's supernatural horror "The Black Phone" may be one of those special "not superhero" breakouts of the summer when it opens June 24.
Beyond the franchises, there are a wide array of options: Dramas ("Where the Crawdads Sing," "Elvis"); action pics ("Bullet Train"); romantic comedies ("Shotgun Wedding"); hair-raisers ("Watcher," "Bodies, Bodies Bodies," "Resurrection"); and even a mockumentary about a tiny seashell, "Marcel the Shell With Shoes On."
"Annihilation" writer-director Alex Garland also has an original thriller, "Men," coming to theaters May 20. Jessie Buckley plays a woman who retreats to the English countryside for some peace following a personal tragedy only to be confronted by more horrors from the men in this quaint town.
Garland is a little worried about the movie industry and the seismic shifts that are happening under the surface that are "partly cultural and partly economic."
"Every time an interesting film comes out and underperforms, I get a kind of gnawing anxiety about it," Garland said. "If the only films that make money are for younger audiences, something cultural changes. Something changes about the sorts of films that get financed."
Streaming companies, meanwhile, are still going strong. Netflix has a massive 35-plus film summer slate, including the spy thriller "The Gray Man," directed by the Russo brothers and starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. Other streamers are releasing some of the most interesting titles from this year's Sundance Film Festival, including "Good Luck To You, Leo Grande" (Hulu), "Cha Cha Real Smooth" (Apple TV+), "Emergency" (Amazon) and "AM I OK?" (HBO Max).
"Streaming has a place in the world, but it's not the only thing in the world," said Blum, who is convinced that there is still an appetite for going to theaters.
For Bruckheimer, it's perhaps even more simple.
"It all depends on the movies. It's always about the movies," Bruckheimer said. "If there's stuff people want to see, they're going to show up."
AP Film Writer Jake Coyle contributed from New York.