The summer season holds significant importance for major studios, traditionally contributing as much as 40% of box office revenue for the entire year. While ‘Barbenheimer’ has dominated the summer screens, 2023 has seen a more diverse offering of top films across genre, family appeal, and representation than previous years.
As the summer comes to a close, we looked at the top 5 summer films of the year to see how moviegoing audiences compare between them and with prior years—across demographics, frequency, and audience visitation recency.
A Diverse Summer Slate
The top five films for 2023’s summer at the domestic box office were:
- Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3
- Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
- The Little Mermaid
Comparing these to 2022, there is an immediate difference in the diversity of titles on offer here. 2022’s top titles (Top Gun: Maverick, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Jurassic World Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and Thor: Love and Thunder) were almost entirely across very similar genres, appealing to similar audiences for bold action and superhero titles.
The diversity of offering for the summer of 2023 is reflected in the audiences that turned up. Using Movio Research’s comprehensive audience data, we specifically looked at the first two weeks of release for each title, comparing moviegoer frequency and demographic breakdowns.
Drawing an Infrequent audience, and increasing moviegoer frequency
Audience frequency has been changing over the past few years. As more moviegoers visit the cinemas more often, especially with the increasing number of films on offer, we see many moviegoers moving from the category of Infrequent moviegoers (defined as those who saw fewer than 2 films in the past 6 months) to Frequent moviegoers (those who saw 5+).
In fact, this summer in the US saw the highest proportion of Frequent moviegoers since 2019, making up 30% of audiences compared to 20% just two years ago in 2021.
Despite this, looking at our top 5 titles, all five films have drawn much higher Infrequent audiences than the 2023 benchmark for all movies recorded in Movio’s Research Console. This audience segment also increases as theatrical runs extend beyond their opening weekend into weeks one and two, particularly visible with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3.
Infrequent moviegoer attendance across the top 5 summer titles on Opening Weekend, Week 1, and Week 2 of their theatrical runs.
The Little Mermaid drew the highest proportion of Infrequent moviegoers, seeing a peak of 49% of its audience as Infrequent by week two.
Although these titles over-index with Infrequent moviegoers, with a continued increase in content available, we are likely to see this proportion of moviegoers decrease on average again next year as these moviegoers become Frequent moviegoers.
Oppenheimer in particular saw the largest influx of Frequent moviegoers with a peak of 25% during its opening weekend. This can partly be attributed to the ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon, which saw many moviegoers attend both Barbie and Oppenheimer—10% of all moviegoers who attended Barbie also went on to see Oppenheimer, and 17% of Oppenheimer’s audience also saw Barbie during the opening weekend.
Diverse choices entice moviegoers to return
The draw of these films is further evident when we examine the average recency of moviegoers in attendance. Across our top 5’s opening weekends, the average number of days since a moviegoer last attended the cinema was 135 days—about four and a half months.
The Little Mermaid and Barbie were stand-out titles in this regard. Both female-led titles drew audiences back to the cinema who hadn’t been back in at least five months. In its opening weekend, The Little Mermaid drew audiences with the longest average recency of any wide release of the summer. By week two, Barbie’s average audience recency was 190 days, meaning the average Barbie attendee hadn’t visited the cinema since January.
Content is key when drawing people off the sofa and into the cinema. The top films for 2023’s summer vary in genre (superhero, adventure, biographical, comedy) and medium (live-action and animation), and the strong attendance from Infrequent audiences suggest there is a large appetite for diverse content that appeals to a wide range of audiences. This summer, there was something for everyone.
Comparing gender demographics
The Little Mermaid and Barbie particularly highlight the difference made by a diverse film slate in the gender demographics that turned out for their individual titles.
While 2023’s summer season overall saw a stronger Male audience than the benchmark for the year—with 61% of moviegoing audiences this summer being Male—this is slightly down from last year’s summer season, and Female moviegoer attendance is up 2% from 2022.
Gender demographics across the top 5 summer titles compared to the benchmark for movies in 2023.
Barbie and The Little Mermaid proportionally drew more than 20% more Female moviegoers across each week than the benchmark. In 2022, all five of the top summer films were Male-led, while both of these titles were Female-led, and others in the top five for 2023, like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, had a more even split of gender in their lead roles.
This, coupled with the increase in Infrequent moviegoer attendance, demonstrates how representation on screen draws audiences. A wider range of titles will draw a broader audience to the cinema, and in doing so, add to the expansion of the box office.
Spider-Verse, Guardians, and Barbie stand out for repeat visitation
Repeat visitation is a strong indicator of a film’s longevity in cinemas. Repeat visits of course increase over a film’s life cycle (as the more people who have seen a film, the more people there are who can be a repeat viewer). Each of 2023’s top 5 summer films, by their second weeks, saw at least 7% of their audience accounting for repeat visits, which was in-line with the benchmark for all films for 2023.
Among the top 5, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse stood out, consistently seeing significantly higher repeat visitation than the benchmark from its opening weekend all the way through its second week. By week two, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was seeing 12% of its audience as repeat viewers, a full 5% above the benchmark.
Repeat visitation across the summer's top 5 films through their Opening Weekends, Week 1, and Week 2 of their theatrical runs.
Looking beyond the summer
The key takeaway of this summer’s top films is that a well-curated content lineup, catering to a wide array of preferences remains essential in attracting a similarly comprehensive range of moviegoers, spanning different attendance frequencies, ethnicities, ages, and genders.
Drawing insights like these is one of the most effective tools to understand moviegoer audiences and empower your movie marketing. With the industry’s most comprehensive audience data, Movio Research allows you to draw insights like these about any films and use them to make data-driven decisions about how to market films most effectively.
While the summer may be coming to a close, the big titles for the end of the year are now beginning to glow on the horizon, and with A Haunting in Venice, The Marvels, and Wonka sure to see activity throughout the Holiday season, it’s important to ensure you make the most of your movie marketing around them.
If you are interested in uncovering more insights about the latest box office titles, check out Movio's Weekend Insights, updated with audience insights every week, or reach out to us today to learn more about Movio Research.