The Summer Box Office Wars Come to Streaming

Photograph: Ollie Upton/HBO
Julia Alexander
July 28, 2022

The summer blockbuster showdown used to happen in IMAX theaters across the globe. And by used to, I mean all of three years ago. Yes, there was once a time when the competition between franchises, helmed by the biggest studios in Hollywood, was measured in actual ticket sales and culminated weekly in an obsessively-scrutinized Sunday box office report. 

That’s not true this summer. There’s only one blockbuster-style film, Brad Pitt’s Bullet Train, in theaters this August. The real showdown that has industry watchers salivating is happening on streaming platforms, and that’s something truly spectacular considering that Netflix used to be the only major player in the space. Again, by used to I mean three years ago. This summer, five shows will test a number of streaming strategies and theories, delivering key insights not only for their platforms but also for the industry at large: House of the Dragon (HBO), The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Amazon), She-Hulk and Andor (Disney+), and The Sandman (Netflix).

One of those prevailing theories has been that customers in developed markets will pay for 3-5 streaming services per household. Now, with the possibility of a looming recession and continued slowdown for Netflix in the United States, the new hypothesis is that maybe audiences will just toggle back and forth between streaming platforms, flipping their subscriptions on and off based on their monthly interest and what content is on tap.