2023 State of Cinema Report: Movie Ticket Sales Increase 23% Despite Industry Challenges

Taking a look at our cinema measurement and admissions data from the past year, The People Platform provides a comprehensive analysis of the industry's performance throughout 2023.
The People Platform
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Ticket Sales Grow 23% Year-Over-Year

While 2023 was a challenging year for the cinema industry, considering the more-than-100-day strike by the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild impacting release calendars, the year ended on a good note, with 23% more people going to the movies than the previous year.

Bar graph showing 23% increase in ticket sales at movies from 2022 to 2023

That's a great number, and a considerable increase compared to 2022. The second half of the year started off strong with Barbie and Oppenheimer (which combined to account for 10% of all admissions for the year). While the rest of the year did face some challenges, there were bright spots that allowed lower budget movies to stand out like Past Lives & The Boy and The Heron.

In a post-pandemic environment, the challenge for the film industry is to adapt to the shifts in the cinema landscape and figure out what drives people to theaters nowadays.

A novelty of the year was that audiences themselves played a larger role in film promotion than ever before. Movies that allowed audiences to connect with the subject matter and content of the film proved to be the most successful. After all, it was the moviegoers who created #Barbenheimer.

#Barbenheimer graphic featuring Barbie and Oppenheimer leads

Sound of Freedom performed well at the box office based primarily on word of mouth and some creative marketing tactics (they asked viewers to pay it forward and buy tickets to the film for other people at the end of their movie). Swifties took over theaters when Taylor Swift released Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, taking Swifty mania to new places even before she appeared at an NFL game.

Dollars Made Does Not Always Tell the Whole Story

Ask anyone what the #1 movie of the year was, and they’ll most likely say Barbie. And in terms of dollars made, it was. But, surprisingly, more people went to see The Super Mario Bros: Movie than Barbie.

Chart showing the top 10 movies of 2023 based on tickets sold

This type of dollars made vs. tickets sold narrative continued for Taylor Swift’s in-theater concert experience as well. The pop star’s movie was certainly a huge success, earning $181M and ranking at #11 in revenue for the year. Having that $181M thrown into the mix at a time when the industry needed some content due to the strike was certainly welcoming. But with a hefty ticket price of $19.89, it ultimately sold fewer tickets than a movie with similar revenue. Taylor's movie was a big success for exhibitors and highlights that if the right type of content is available, people will show up to their neighborhood movie theater.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny delivered slightly less dollars than Taylor’s in-theater experience but also claimed a whopping 40% more tickets. Both are strong performers, but with different measures of success.

Revenue alone doesn’t always tell the entire story and admissions data is more accurate when it comes to understanding the number of people that actually went to the movies.

Indiana Jones sold 40% more tickets despite similar revenue to Taylor Swift The Eras Tour

Movies Below the Top 50 Are Still Relevant

There are hundreds of titles released each year, but the top 25 titles typically make up the majority of all admissions. This year was no exception as 63% of admissions went to the top 25 titles, with 39% coming from the top 10 films. But it’s important to never underestimate the value of the films below the top 50 considering that, combined, they equate to 17% of the box office. That equals more than one billion dollars in revenue!

Chart comparing tickets sold based ranking

MPAA Rating and Its Impact on the Box Office

As we pointed out in our mid-year recap, family-friendly films help keep the box office thriving. There needs to be content that appeals to a wide variety of demographics for the box office to be successful. 77% of admissions in 2023 were to PG or PG-13 titles. R-rated movies delivered 22% of all admissions, and of those R-rated admissions, Oppenheimer accounted for an explosive 15%. That’s a significant chunk of R-rated ticket sales going to one title. Oppenheimer certainly helped 2023’s R-rated admissions best the 19% ticket share from 2022.

Chart showing admissions based on MPAA rating

Moviegoing Audience Composition in 2023

The movies continue to attract a young audience. More than half of all moviegoers are aged 18-34. That demographic is just as likely to be seeing a PG or PG-13 film as they are to be seeing an R-rated movie.

Table showing audience composition of movies by MPAA rating

The Impact of the Strikes

2023 presented unprecedented challenges for the film industry. The Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild strikes took some steam out of the second half of the year, with just 44% of admissions coming from July through December.

When we look at the top 10 titles of 2023, 70% were titles that were released in the first half of the year. Only 3 of the top 10 titles were released in the second half of the year, showing the tremendous impact that the strikes had on the industry.

Titles originally slated for a fourth quarter release were moved to 2024 and some even got punted into 2025. And ultimately, the titles that were released in fourth quarter didn’t perform as people had hoped.

2024 and the Future of Cinema

The first half of 2024 will be a soft start, as noted by many cinema reviewers and critics. There were no strong holiday holdovers helping to prop up what is already a traditionally quiet time for cinema. The lingering effects of the strikes from 2023 will be felt throughout the year with titles moving out of 2024 and into 2025. However, the fact that ticket sales ultimately increased year-over-year despite an 118-day industry-wide strike is a sign that the cinema industry is alive and well.

It’s important not to underestimate how much people still like going to the movies as witnessed by the cultural phenomenon of #Barbenheimer. If we look at any given weekend during Barbie & Oppenheimer being in theaters, well over 7 million tickets were sold. And on high volume weekends, that number went upward of 15 million tickets across the country in a three-day span. There's no questioning that when great movies are released and audiences connect with the subject matter, the cinema industry is a force to be reckoned with.

The movie business is certainly evolving right before our eyes, but it isn't going anywhere. It might look different than it has in the past, but it’s still a communal experience that people continue to love.

At the end of the day, moviegoers love the quality picture, incredible sound, spectacular performances, and social discourse that movies create. And, of course, we cannot forget the giant, buttery buckets of popcorn that make the experience of going to the theater so worthwhile.


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