As of this writing, Walt Disney has already set a box office record for worldwide gross in a single year with upwards of $8 billion. The studio controls roughly 35% (!) of the domestic box office, including Fox releases, with more than $3 billion in North America. Avengers: Endgame is the highest-grossing film ever with nearly $2.8 billion and Disney still has Maleficient: Mistress of Evil, Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to come this year. So why, amid a record-shattering year, is the studio heading toward a slow-down of sorts in 2020?
By year’s end, Disney will have released 10 theatrical features yet it only has nine new movies scheduled for 2020. This includes just two Marvel Cinematic Universe features (Black Widow and Eternals), the lowest annual output for Marvel since 2016, and zero Star Wars films. Instead, Disney will roll out two original Pixar movies (Onward and Soul), a live-action adaptation (Mulan), Kenneth Branagh’s untested Artemis Fowl, Dwayne Johnson’s Jungle Cruise, and a pair of movies no one seems to know much about in The One and Only Ivan and Raya and the Last Dragon. A formidable release slate to be sure, but one lacking in the same franchise bow office power that has propelled the studio to new heights this year.
Disney is frontloading 2019 with its best and brightest—the studio boasts four of the year’s five highest-grossers and played a direct role in Sony’s Spider-Man: Far From Home—in order to roster as many high-profile blockbusters on its forthcoming streaming service as soon as possible. March’s Captain Marvel was the first feature film Disney withheld from licensing partners so it could join all of the studio’s subsequent releases exclusively on Disney+, launching next month. Every Disney movie released between January 2016 and December 2018 will eventually move from Netflix to Disney+, but the powerful 2019 slate will be the first crop of new films to grace the platform.
This provides the streaming service with a murderers’ row of high-profile branded content unmatched by rival streamers. The average consumer with even a passing interest in Disney+ will see Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 4 and The Rise of Skywalker as a strong starting point for the $7 monthly expenditure, especially compared to Apple’s slim library. It also swipes away potential assets from a direct competitor as Netflix is set to lose valuable Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars content. Disney CEO Bob Iger understands that streaming is a long game, but stockpiling the studio’s biggest films into 2019 is one way to push Disney+ into a fast start. That’s worth the relative theatrical come-down arriving in 2020.