Will the Box Office Rely on Disney Again This Holiday Season?

The 2019 Christmas box office will likely widen the gap between Disney and its competition

Last Updated: November 8, 2019 @ 10:47 AM

The 2019 summer box office was a bountiful one and increased Disney’s market share domination. With “Frozen II” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” coming, will this holiday season widen the gap between the House of Mouse and other studios?

As TheWrap reported back in September, Disney accounted for 42% of the $4.31 billion grossed in North America between the first weekend of May and Labor Day weekend. When the time frame is extended back to the last weekend of April to include the record-smashing opening of “Avengers: Endgame,” Disney’s share grows to 47%.

Since then, Disney has had a much smaller presence this fall, with its only release being “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” which has underperformed domestically with $88.5 million grossed so far. That has allowed other studios to top the charts, namely Warner Bros. with “Joker” and “It: Chapter Two,” which have combined for over $500 million in domestic receipts.

But even with WB having a strong fall and Universal finding some success in Q3, the annual year-to-date total is still down approximately 5% compared to last year’s record-setting pace. And with less than two months to go in the year, time’s running out for the market to catch up.

“At this point, every weekend we would need to see a new release seriously overperform expectations and set the stage for a strong run in order to make up that 5% deficit,” comScore analyst Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap. “We in the industry thought ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ might do that, but now that it hasn’t, we’ve found ourselves in a holding pattern until the next foolproof hit, which is likely going to be ‘Frozen II.'”

Can any other studio provide a strong box office performance this winter besides Disney? Of all the competitors, the one best poised to do so is Sony. The studio will release “Jumanji: The Next Level” on Dec. 13, one week before “Rise of Skywalker” hits theaters. Two years ago, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” surprised the box office with nearly $1 billion grossed worldwide despite competition from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Putting this sequel before “Star Wars” shows that Sony is confident audiences will want to come back for more of the series and its popular cast led by Dwayne Johnson, even after Kylo Ren and Rey start lightsaber dueling in theaters.

And for those who aren’t interested in blockbuster spectacle this Christmas, Sony is offering Oscar hopeful “Little Women” on Dec. 25, directed by Greta Gerwig and featuring a stacked cast led by Saoirse Ronan and featuring Meryl Streep. While limited release films like “1917” and “Clemency” will provide alternatives for some adult audiences, that pales compared to the potential traffic a wide release like “Little Women” could bring from older female audiences intrigued by the stars taking on Louisa May Alcott’s famed novel.

Universal, meanwhile, will send in the season’s biggest gamble: “Cats.” Like “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman” and “Mary Poppins Returns” before it, Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical will try to draw in the crowd that loves to spend the holidays with a musical. “Cats” will be released on Dec. 20.

But the film’s first trailer, featuring CGI-augmented actors on practical sets, was so widely disliked it turned the film and its promise of “digital fur technology” into an internet meme. That meme status will either turn “Cats” into a can’t-miss event or result in moviegoers abandoning it en masse and leaving it as an end-of-year bust similar to the one Universal suffered with “Mortal Engines” last year.

Even if these films, combined with Disney’s expected explosive profits, don’t push 2019’s totals to last year’s $11.82 billion mark, that’s not in itself a serious concern. As anyone in the movie business will attest, this is a cyclical industry. What is a concern is what caused that drop.

While Disney was the undisputed king of the box office in 2018, its domination was complemented by a wide range of hits from almost every studio in Hollywood, bringing in moviegoers of all types and allowing Disney’s competitors to find their own level of success.

But in 2019, the balance of major moneymaking films has sharply skewed towards Disney. In 2018, there were seven non-Disney releases that grossed at least $200 million domestically, including Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which more than tided over movie theaters in early November until Thanksgiving weekend. That count goes up to eight if you include WB’s “A Star Is Born,” which grossed $199 million.

This year, only three non-Disney releases have grossed over $200 million: “It: Chapter Two,” “Joker,” and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” which was produced through a deal with Disney’s Marvel Studios. Meanwhile, Disney has five films that have grossed over $350 million this year, accounting for five of the top six highest-grossing films of the year.

By year’s end, Disney will have seven of the top 10 releases of the year, as “Frozen II” is expected to easily eclipse $300 million and could pass “Incredibles 2” as the highest-grossing animated film ever. And while “Star Wars” may not be the Marvel-esque annual moneymaker Disney may have hoped it would be, “The Rise of Skywalker” will also have a shot at a $200 million-plus opening and over $300 million by New Year’s Eve, giving Disney an unprecedented market share of at least 35% and possibly even over 40%.

“It’s very unsustainable to be relying on Disney or any one studio to provide so much of the overall gross,” said Dergarabedian. “Next year there should be a leveling out of the market share without an ‘Avengers’ or ‘Star Wars’ film, but without those huge record-breaking hits there’s going to have to be a recalibration of expectations when it comes to how the 2020 slate will perform.”

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