Despite the claims of uninformed keyboard warriors on the internet, film critics are not secretly paid Disney shills. But, if the Mouse House did want to compensate influencers in exchange for good reviews, they sure could afford it. Disney is the most dominant major film studio at the box office—and it’s not even close. So we thought we’d dive a bit deeper into the numbers and suss out the catalysts of its success.
Care for a classic case of Hollywood irony? The 2019 box office is down nearly 10 percent compared to 2018, and yet Disney is on pace for record-shattering totals. In 2016, the studio set a worldwide box office record for annual gross with $7.6 billion. With five new releases in 2019 so far, Disney has already earned $5.7 billion and with The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Frozen II and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker still to come, there’s little doubt it will shatter its own record.
The studio’s domestic market share is an unbelievable 35 percent at the moment, a number that will only rise as it continues to release Fox’s films. That’s more than double their next-closest rival, Warner Bros., which currently sits at 15 percent. Why has Disney frontloaded 2019 with all of its major franchises, opening the door for a come-down in 2020? Great question—it’s because the company wants to round out its forthcoming streaming service, Disney+, with as much blockbuster content as soon as possible.
Generally speaking, Warner Bros. and Universal have rounded out the top three studios in the domestic box office race in some order. Warner Bros. also has a great library of top-tier IP, but it’s going through some internal changes with the recent hiring of a new CEO and the launch of HBO Max. Universal has been incredibly clever and effective at keeping pace without the aid of superheroes, but they lack the laundry list of global blockbusters beyond Jurassic World and Fast & Furious.
Since 2013, Disney has had at least four films in the domestic top-10 in terms of box office gross every single year. Over the last 10 years, they’ve boasted the highest-grossing domestic film of the year seven times. You’d have to go back to 2015 to find the last year Disney didn’t lead the major studios in domestic market share. The studio’s brand power, which is tailor-made for the current multiplex release model that emphasizes opening weekend numbers, has enabled it to require an unprecedented 65 percent of ticket sales from exhibitors for its blockbusters. That’s what the kids today call a major flex.
How has the Magic Kingdom done it? It’s simple—no other studio has the breadth of intellectual property to consistently compete with Disney. Today’s Hollywood marketplace revolves around repetitive cash flow (sequels, franchises), and Disney can churn those out more consistently and effectively than anyone. This is largely due to Disney’s brilliant brand acquisitions over the years—they have the best properties and that’s no accident.
Pixar is a four-quadrant family friendly maestro. Fox is a storied franchise with eight decades of production. Star Wars is arguably the most revered American film franchise in history, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the single-most consistently successful Hollywood creation ever. These are titles audiences wanted to see long before Disney acquired them. Combine them with the studio’s in-house animation and live-action remake divisions, as well as a two-pronged streaming attack with Disney+ and a controlling stake in Hulu, and it’s clear that Disney has a vast amount of powerful resources at their disposal.
But as ancient Roman emperors were often reminded, “memento mori,” which roughly translates to, “remember that you will die.” No kingdom stands forever, and there are looming questions marks hanging over Disney’s empire. But that’s a column for another day. For now, let us simply respect what Disney has managed to accomplish.