After a rough pandemic, the studio has turned five very different films with different budget levels into hits
“During a time where there’s still a lot we don’t know about how certain films will do at the box office, Paramount was able to make family films, horror films and adult comedies all work,” Comscore’s Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap. “In the process, they’ve given everyone in the film industry a lot of information about audience interest and a lot of confidence heading into the summer.”
In a way, this boom period has been a long time coming. Aside from last year’s “A Quiet Place — Part II” and “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” Paramount moved most of its major releases out of 2021 in the hopes of finding a better environment in 2022.
That reset plan started bearing fruit at the start of the year with two low-budget revivals: “Scream” (which grossed an impressive $140 million worldwide) and “Jackass Forever” ($80 million worldwide). While these two films weren’t able to break the box office at large out of the deep slump that lasted through the Omicron surge of January and February, both were made on the cheap: “Scream” cost a reported $24 million, while “Jackass Forever” was even cheaper at $10 million. So both turned a handsome profit for the studio.
With an established baseline, Paramount stepped up the budget level with the $68 million Sandra Bullock-Channing Tatum action comedy “The Lost City” in March, again turning a modest profit theatrically with a $181 million worldwide gross. In addition, while “Scream” and “Jackass Forever” were predominantly drawn for male audiences like almost all successful films in the COVID era, “The Lost City” made its money from a female-majority crowd. Given that it topped $100 million in domestic revenue, it’s safe to say it did its part in bringing back a segment of the audience with a type of film that hadn’t been offered in the past year.
Then came “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” a $100 million family blockbuster that brought in kids, parents and gamers alike en route to a running total of $185.5 million domestic and $385.5 million worldwide, with the former total being the highest for any video-game adaptation and the best performance for any family film since theaters reopened.
Paramount’s head of domestic distribution Chris Aronson said he was particularly proud of the success of “The Lost City” and “Sonic 2,” since each contributed something new to Hollywood’s ongoing push to rebuild the theatrical business.
“Going into the spring, we all knew blockbusters were working with ‘Spider-Man,’ but no one really knew how a family film or a romantic comedy would work coming out of the Omicron surge,” Aronson said. “But we showed that they could work and that families were ready to go to theaters again. And in the talks that we had around town, there were people from the other studios really rooting for us, and that was really heartening.”
And now, Paramount is set to have its biggest box office hit in years with “Top Gun: Maverick,” a film that broke the standard trend suggesting that younger audiences are the biggest key to scoring a $100 million-plus launch.
With 55% of the audience over the age of 35, the median age of a “Top Gun” moviegoer is proving to be far higher than that of a Marvel or “Fast & Furious” film even as it’s steadily drawing in younger crowds unfamiliar with the 1986 original. Given the film’s incredibly strong start, Paramount may see domestic grosses exceed $300 million on one of its releases for the first time since 2011’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”
As an added bonus, all of these films have been or are set to stream on Paramount+, giving the company’s fledgling streaming platform some much needed popular offerings to give it a foothold in the highly competitive direct-to-consumer space. As “Jackass Forever” and “Scream” hit the platform in Q1 of 2022, Paramount+ subscriber counts nearly crossed the 40 million mark, and the arrival of “Sonic 2” and “Top Gun: Maverick” — combined with original shows like “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” — should help keep that count rising through the summer.
On the theatrical front, the second half of 2022 will be comparatively quieter for Paramount, with just three releases between now and Christmas: the Huayi Brothers-produced animated film “Paws of Fury” (due July 15), the Jerry Bruckheimer family film” Secret Headquarters” (Aug. 5) and the Paramount Players horror film “Smile” (Sept. 30).
But on Christmas Day, Paramount may have an Oscar contender with “Babylon,” a period drama set in Hollywood’s Golden Age from “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle, starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie.
Just as “Sonic 2” provided plenty of fresh info about family moviegoing habits, “Babylon” should help the industry gauge interest in seeing awards contenders after last winter saw several theatrical releases of Oscar hopefuls barely make a dent on the box office charts.
But if the film can find success, it will cap off a resurgent year for Paramount, which has already passed the poor annual domestic total of $563 million that it grossed in pre-pandemic 2019, and should be able to finish the year with a total around the $768 million that it earned in 2018. That year, Paramount had found new momentum with the return of “Mission: Impossible” and the surprise success of “A Quiet Place,” but was unable to keep that momentum going. Now, with a new hot streak under the leadership of CEO Brian Robbins, it will try again.