Theatrical cinema in July enjoyed its highest revenues since pre-pandemic times, with global box office hitting $4.54 billion during the month.

“This is the single highest-grossing month since before the pandemic began. The result sees July 2023 track 17% ahead of the July average of the last three pre-pandemic years (2017-2019),” said research and advisory firm Gower Street Analytics.

“July 2023 also marked the first month since the pandemic began in 2020 that all three key component markets that make up the global picture — North America, China and international (excluding China) — tracked ahead of their pre-pandemic averages.”

The July box office in North America stacked up to $1.36 billion, 11% better than the 2017-2019 three-year average; $1.98 billion in international (excluding China), 7% ahead of the same three-year average; and $1.2 billion in China, some 53% better than its three-year average.

The July surge has most notably been propelled by the “Barbenheimer” duo of “Barbie” (with a $423 million international cumulative and $351 million in North America, of Sunday) and “Oppenheimer” ($226 million international cumulative and $174 million in North America), and “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1” ($309 million in international territories and $139 million in North America), plus the June-released “Elemental” ($250 million international, $145 million in North America). But it has also been lifted by a string of July-released mainland Chinese blockbusters.

These include “Lost in the Stars” ($503 million after 28 days), “Never Say Never” ($310 million after 28 days), “Chang An” ($233 million after 26 days) and “Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms” ($197 million after 14 days).

The hot streak propelled giant screen specialist Imax to its best July of all time. “Last month was the highest-grossing month of July ever for Imax worldwide, in North America and in China,” the company said in a filing this week. “[In China] Maoyan’s ‘Creation of the Gods I’ has earned $20.1 million to date for the company. The film debuted July 20 to an $8.6 million opening weekend in Imax — an Imax-record 16.6% of the debut for a local release and Imax’s biggest ever summer opening weekend for a Chinese film.”

“Oppenheimer,” which was made with Imax-certified cameras, is being given an additional week through Aug. 17 in many territories, and there are plans in some to continue playing the film through late summer and fall.

“Oppenheimer” is set to debut in China on Aug. 30 on conventional and Imax screens, though a potential flashpoint exists if Universal and the film’s famously protective director Christopher Nolan do not agree to cuts expected to be required by China’s censors. In addition to the sex scene that has been blacked out in some territories, communism is a recurring negative theme throughout the movie.

Even without major help from “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” (which opened weakly, but has now rallied to a $30 million running total) the China box office rebound is remarkable. July further accelerated the recovery trend.

Consultancy firm Artisan Gateway says that July (worth $1.28 billion, or RMB8.7 billion, by its calculation) was the second biggest month this year in the Middle Kingdom. Only January, which benefitted from “Avatar 2” and a slew of Chinese New Year tentpoles, was bigger at $1.4 billion (or RMB10.1 billion).

The strong July lifts China’s gross year-to-date box office to $4.9 billion (RMB35 billion). That figure represents a 69% improvement when compared with a heavily disrupted 2022 and sees the running total only 6% behind the January-July total in pre-pandemic 2019.

It was achieved with Hollywood’s contribution largely muted. Artisan Gateway notes that four Chinese films each exceeded RMB1 billion, a notable landmark in China. “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1” was the best performing import of the month with $46.5 million (RMB 330 million). Overall, Chinese-language titles accounted for 81% of the China total box office in July, with all imports (mostly Hollywood and Japanese animation) sharing the remaining 19%.

Nor was China the only international market where July was a box office scorcher. Gower Street data shows several other major markets beat their three-year averages for that month. The U.K. and Ireland market was 18% ahead, France was 14% ahead, Germany was 35% ahead, Spain was 14%, Italy almost double at 98% ahead, Australia was 13% ahead and Brazil was 5% improved. Another big territory, Mexico, was on par with its pre-pandemic July average.

July has lifted the global year-to-date box office total to $20.95 billion. That is fully 31% better than 2022 and only 11% worse than the 2017-2019 average of $23.6 billion.

International markets lead the way. International (excluding China) is 12% behind the three-year average at $10.3 billion to the end of July. Within that, Latin America is the standout, at $1.76 billion, only a 3% deficit to the three-year average; Europe, the Middle East and Africa at $5.23 billion is 12% down and Asia-Pacific (excluding China) at $3.32 billion is 15% down.

The North American total to end of July, at $5.83 billion, is still 18% behind the average, Gower Street calculates.