North American box office fell 2.3 percent in 2017, finishing the year at $11.1 billion. While the year marked the third highest of all time and the third straight year that eclipsed the $11 billion mark, much of that growth comes from increased ticket prices. Domestic movie attendance estimates are expected to hit lows not seen since the mid-1990s. (A final estimate won’t be made until the National Alliance of Theatre Owners provides a ticket price average for Q4 of 2017.)
Outside the U.S., the picture looked brighter. Worldwide box office revenue grew 3 percent, just a beat shy of $40 billion. Overseas ticket sales hit $28.8 billion, up 6 percent from last year as China flexed its moviegoing muscle both with foreign films like “Fate of the Furious” and homegrown blockbusters like “Wolf Warrior 2.”
The overseas market proved to be a powerful force, supporting blockbusters that fell off domestically. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” made 79 percent of its $795 million total outside the U.S., where the Johnny Depp sequel seriously underperformed.
While comic book movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Wonder Woman” were major moneymakers last summer, other longtime franchises like “Transformers” hit their expiration date for many moviegoers. This led to the worst numbers for Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend in nearly two decades — and the first sub-$4 billion summer season in more than a decade.
In total, four films made over $1 billion worldwide, with “Beauty and the Beast” topping the charts with $1.26 billion followed by “Fate of the Furious’ with $1.23 billion and “Despicable Me 3” with $1.03 billion.
However, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is expected to pass all those films very soon, with $1.04 billion grossed after three weekends in theaters. Next year will see several more films aim for the billion mark, including “Black Panther,” “Deadpool 2,” “The Incredibles 2,” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” But the biggest movie of the year is likely to be “Avengers: Infinity War,” which is expected to perform like a “Star Wars” movie and could pass the $1.5 billion total of the first “Avengers” to become the highest grossing comic book movie of all time.
While TV and streaming remain formidable competitors for moviegoers’ attentions, quality movies will continue to be major draws. Films like the awards-season holdover “Hidden Figures” and Universal’s two first-quarter Blumhouse horror films “Split” and”Get Out” scored thanks to strong word of mouth — the latter two combined to gross $313.5 million against a combined $13.5 million production budget. Meanwhile, Sony’s summer action film “Baby Driver,” which made $107 million, proved that the theatrical window can provide exposure that streaming companies like Netflix have yet to emulate on a regular basis for their films.
There were other bright spots. Thanks to “Beauty and the Beast,” the R-rated superhero movie “Logan” and DreamWorks Animation’s “The Boss Baby” March generated a record $1.36 billion, outgrossing the $1 billion produced in July, according to data from Box Office Mojo.
In April, Universal’s “The Fate of the Furious” became only the sixth film to gross $1 billion in overseas receipts alone and added $225 million domestically for a $1.23 billion global total.
Horror continued to perform — particularly outside the summer months. In September, New Line’s “It” became the highest grossing horror movie of all time with $327 million, good for sixth place on 2017’s domestic charts.