Hollywood is an industry built on narrative spin, but here are a few indisputable facts. Fact number one: Disney (DIS) broke its own 2015 record with five films crossing $1 billion at the worldwide box office in 2019, a total that will likely grow with the releases of Frozen II and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Fact number two: Disney broke its own 2016 industry record of $7.6 billion in global grosses back in July and will likely top $9 billion this year when all is said and done. Fact number three: Disney’s Avengers: Endgame is the highest-grossing film in cinematic history (sans inflation) at $2.796 billion.
Yet despite these record-breaking totals, the theatrical film industry is still suffering in 2019.
The year’s summer box office ($4.33 billion) lags behind 2018’s by 2%, while the year-to-date drop is 6%, according to Comscore estimates (per The Hollywood Reporter). That doesn’t sound like much on paper, but when you’re talking about billions of dollars, it all adds up.
Disney is obviously doing back flips over in Burbank. The studio’s domestic market share, counting Fox properties, accounts for 40% of North America’s box office at roughly $3 billion. Second-place Universal (14%, $1.02 billion) and third-place Warner Bros. (12%, $923 million) are doing an admirable job of staying near the top, but every non-Disney studio is struggling to compete with the Mouse House’s war chest of branded intellectual property.
Jordan Peele’s Us ($175 million domestic) and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ($123 million and counting) are the only original features to crack at least $100 million domestic this year and land among the 15 highest grossing films in North America. Elsewhere, it’s been tough sledding. High-profile franchise installments such as Godzilla: King of Monsters ($110 million), Men in Black: International ($79 million) and Dark Phoenix ($65 million) all failed to meet box office expectations. Well-received counter-programming such as Long Shot ($30 million), Booksmart ($23 million), Stuber ($22 million) and Late Night ($15 million) also disappointed despite generally positive reviews.
All-time summer revenue peaked in 2013 at $4.75 billion, nearly 9% more than this year’s projections. That leaves it up to the September to December frame to try and close the 6% gap between 2019 and 2018. That might be within reach given an upcoming schedule that includes It: Chapter 2, Joker, Terminator: Dark Fate, Frozen II, Jumanji: The Next Level and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Then again, theatrical ticket sales have been steadily declining since 2002, so who knows how it’ll all play out?