Box office belonged to Disney in 2019

NEW YORK — Every movie year offers up a parade of hits and flops. But in 2019, no winner was in the same galaxy as the Walt Disney Co. And the biggest loser might have been anyone less thrilled about the box-office domination of franchise films.

When the year closed out Tuesday, the top 10 films in U.S. and Canada theaters were all intellectual property-backed movies. That, in itself, isn’t new. It’s the third year in a row that the year’s 10 biggest ticket-sellers have all been sequels, remakes and superhero films.

But in today’s IP-driven movie world, one studio is in a league of its own. In 2019, Disney dominated American moviegoing more than any studio ever has before — roughly 38 percent of all domestic moviegoing.

The year’s top five films were all Disney movies, and it played a hand in the sixth. Disney’s Marvel Studios produced the Sony Pictures release “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

Disney banked about $13 billion in worldwide box office in 2019, including a record number of $1 billion releases. Once “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” ($724.8 million through Sunday) inevitably reaches that milestone, it will mark the studio’s seventh such $1 billion movie in 2019. The others were: “Avengers: Endgame” (the highest grossing release ever, not accounting for inflation, with $2.8 billion), “The Lion King,” “Captain Marvel,” “Aladdin,” “Toy Story 4” and “Frozen II.”

Disney’s unprecedented market share includes films from 20th Century Fox, the 84-year-old studio that Disney gobbled up in March in a $71.3 billion acquisition.

Despite Disney’s considerable firepower, overall ticket sales in U.S. and Canada theaters were down 4.4 percent from the year before through Sunday, according to data firm Comscore. The upper echelons of the box office may be stratospheric, but the lower realms — where critics’ scores are rotten and word of mouth is faster than opening weekend — are dismal. The movies are increasingly a zero-sum game. You’re either “The Lion King” or you’re “Cats.”

“There’s plenty of capacity to bring people to the movie screen,” says Cathleen Taff, distribution chief for Disney. “What I think we’re doing is competing for their time. If it’s not great, they do have other options. But when it is great, people show up. And we’ve seen that this year with seven $1 billion movies.”

Disney’s considerable role in today’s moviegoing hasn’t been without critics. They have lamented its mega-blockbusters as products, not cinema.

Before Martin Scorsese’s criticisms of Disney’s Marvel movies sparked headlines, he lamented the monopolizing of the multiplex, disturbed by the sight of “Avengers: Endgame” playing on 11 of a theater’s 12 screens.

If the big-screen experience is narrowing, the small screen is expanding. Streaming services proliferated in 2019 with the launch of Apple TV Plus (although it pushed back its first big movie release ) and Disney Plus.

Amazon also reshaped its release strategy, shortening the theatrical window for some of its movies to just two weeks. Netflix rolled out its most ambitious release slate, including a host of awards contenders, led by Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” that played in only limited theaters. The so-called streaming wars will only grow in 2020 when NBCUniversal launches its service, Peacock, and WarnerMedia debuts HBO Max.

James Bond, Wonder Woman and The Rock are coming in 2020. But greater volatility may be on the way, too.

Maui Scene’s minireviews,

wire service reviews and previews are provided by studios and other sources.


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