The biggest blockbusters aren't in movie theaters right now — they're on TV: from 'The Rings of Power' to 'House of the Dragon'

The biggest blockbusters aren't in movie theaters right now — they're on TV: from 'The Rings of Power' to 'House of the Dragon'
Morfydd Clark as Galadriel in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."Amazon
  • The blockbusterization of TV has reached a peak with "The Rings of Power" and "House of the Dragon."
  • The shows cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make — and have attracted millions of viewers.

Even as the movie business slowly recovers from the pandemic, it's not the big screen where most of the action is: It's on TV.

One example: Around 8 million people came out to movie theaters across the US on Saturday for "National Cinema Day" when thousands of theaters throughout the US offered tickets at $3 or less.

But six days prior, more than 10 million viewers watched the second episode of HBO's "House of the Dragon," the new "Game of Thrones" prequel.

Theaters managed to goose turnout on Saturday with their one-day promotion — an impressive accomplishment given that there were few options for moviegoers to choose from. Case-in-point: "Top Gun: Maverick" topped the weekend box office in its 15th weekend of release.

But more people still tuned in for the second episode of HBO's "Dragon."


The numbers illustrate how the movie business is desperate for new releases. The only franchise tentpoles on the schedule for the remainder of the year are DC's "Black Adam," Marvel's "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," and "Avatar: The Way of Water."

For the most part, the movie business is suffering from a dire movie drought. And the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, John Fithian, doesn't think movie supply will be back to pre-pandemic levels for another 12 to 18 months.

Meanwhile, we're in an age of blockbuster TV, as The New York Times' Ross Douthat wrote last week.

The biggest blockbusters aren't in movie theaters right now — they're on TV: from 'The Rings of Power' to 'House of the Dragon'
"House of the Dragon."HBO

The blockbusterization of TV will likely continue

And it's not just "House of the Dragon." Amazon debuted its expensive "Lord of the Rings" series, "The Rings of Power," over the weekend, and the company said that 25 million people globally watched the first two episodes in their first day. (It did not break out US numbers).

Meanwhile, Disney+ is churning out countless Marvel and "Star Wars" shows, including "She-Hulk" (currently streaming), "Andor" (which debuts later this month), and the third season of "The Mandalorian" (which is expected to debut by year's end or early 2023).


In fact, the future of "Star Wars" is largely streaming TV — a big loss for movie theaters. Several film projects have been put on the back burner, and the next movie in the franchise is likely years away. Meanwhile, shows about Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett — which would have been movies before Disney+ came along — have already debuted, and there are a dozen shows in the works.

Last year, I wrote that the cross-platform future of franchise building was starting to take shape, as media companies shifted priorities to their streaming businesses. This battle for genre content has led to inflated TV budgets that rival Hollywood's biggest movies.

"The Rings of Power" is the most expensive TV series ever made, with a production budget of $465 million for the first season. "House of the Dragon" cost "under $20 million" per episode, according to Variety, which would amount to almost $200 million for season one.

And over the last six months, "House of the Dragon" has topped some of the year's biggest movies in social-media engagement, according to the analytics company Diesel Labs, from "Top Gun: Maverick" to "The Batman" to "Thor: Love and Thunder."

That means the blockbusterization of TV will likely continue as long as it keeps getting results.


Some examples: Apple is making a TV series set in the same universe as "Godzilla vs. Kong," and Disney is readying its own King Kong series.

The directors of "Avengers: Endagme" and Netflix's "The Gray Man" are making a global spy thriller called "Citadel" that is expected to spawn local spinoffs — and it's costing over $200 million to make, The Hollywood Reporter reported last week, making it the second-most expensive TV series ever, behind "The Rings of Power."