A ragtag team consisting of the Avengers, a surgeonfish and the Rebel Alliance are teaming up to help Disney claim a bigger share of the annual box-office than any other studio in Hollywood’s modern age.
With its string of monster hits — many of them geared toward kids who often turn into fans for life — and a lack of quality competition from many of its competitors, the Mouse House is gobbling up box office cheese at a record pace.
As of Aug. 21, Disney had a robust 26.9 percent share of this year’s movie market. It also became the fastest studio to hit the $1 billion mark domestically, doing so on May 7 — 37 days earlier than the previous best set by Universal last year.
Overseas, things are even better for Disney. “Zootopia” made $682 million in foreign markets — including $235 million in China, where it became the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. It even drew the ire of a military-backed newspaper, which called the film a U.S. propaganda tool.
Last year, behind smash hits “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7,” Universal set the market share record with 21.3 percent of the U.S. box office and a total domestic gross of $2.4 billion. With nearly $2.1 billion as of Aug. 21, Disney looks like a safe bet to top that, and looking at the rest of the year, it’s hard to come up with any hurdles that might stand in the way of a new market share record as well.
The year began with the afterglow of December’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which has made $285 million in U.S. theaters since Jan. 1 — and $937 million including last year. Also in 2016, Disney put out four films that made more than $341 million at the domestic box office, led by “Finding Dory,” the year’s No. 1 movie with $478.4 million.
While Disney benefited from several massive hits, not every film was a winner. May’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass” significantly underperformed against 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which made $334 million domestically and more than $1 billion worldwide. The sequel, based on another, less popular Lewis Carroll novel, made only $77 million domestically and $290 million worldwide on an estimated $170 million budget.
July’s “The BFG” was a big-budget flop, managing just $141.8 million worldwide on a $140 budget. And in August, Disney released “Pete’s Dragon,” a movie that was conspicuously under the radar in both its budget — $65 million — and marketing. It opened at only $21.5 million.
But Disney kept rolling, as it got off to a torrid start that made it almost impossible for the competition to catch up. Its slow period wasn’t even that slow — during the second three months of the year, its film division took in $2.8 billion in revenue, a 40 percent jump over the same time last year.
Competitors aren’t exactly taking seizing chances to make up ground in a summer littered with big-budget flops. So Disney looks as likely to maintain its lead as a relay team anchored by Usain Bolt.
The foundation for Disney’s golden 2016 was laid years ago. Between 2006 and 2012, Disney acquired three production companies that have become pillars of its current box office domination: Pixar, Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm. Each has contributed to the company’s epic year with “Finding Dory,” “Captain America: Civil War” and “The Force Awakens,” respectively.
As the year comes to a close, Disney will benefit from a “Star Wars” bookend. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” hits theaters Dec. 16. While it won’t cash in on the once-in-a-lifetime anticipation of “The Force Awakens,” “Rogue One” will introduce new characters to a new audience — particularly one in arguably Disney’s most important territory.
“The Force Awakens” was a disappointment in China — leaving fans unfamiliar with the backstory confused and sleeping in the theater — but Disney is doing what it can to ensure “Rogue One” resonates. The film prominently features megawatt Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen.
“Rogue One” hopes to do what “The Force Awakens” could not — make Lucasfilm the consistently bankable draw in China that Pixar and especially Marvel have become. With the non-U.S. box office becoming a bigger part of the picture every year — and China set to have the world’s largest box office as soon as 2017 — success in China might prove to be a bigger deal than breaking Universal’s record.