Is Endgame just the beginning?
Even after the Avengers extravaganza snapped its metaphorical fingers and obliterated opening-weekend box office records, North American revenue is still down 13.3 percent year-over-year during the January-to-April corridor, throwing cold water on predictions that 2019 could eclipse the best-ever $11.9 billion of 2018. (Before Disney’s Endgame unfurled April 26, revenue year-to-date was running nearly 17 percent behind last year, its lowest clip in at least six years.)
Nonetheless, analysts remain cautiously optimistic that Hollywood can at least match, if not best, 2018’s mark by Dec. 31, with predictions for the global haul setting a new benchmark of north of $41 billion. That’s based on a bullish assessment of the summer slate, which is populated by as many promising tentpoles as Endgame has latex suits.
Disney alone will unleash remakes of Aladdin (May 24) and The Lion King (July 19), as well as Toy Story 4 (June 21), whose previous installment made $1.07 billion in summer 2010. They’ll be joined by The Secret Life of Pets 2 (June 7) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (Aug. 2) from Universal, new installments of Men in Black (June 14) and Spider-Man (July 2) from Sony, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31) via Warner Bros.
But the pressure is on. “We’ll need a lot more than this past weekend with Avengers to get us out of the red and into the black,” says Paul Dergarabedian, analyst at Comscore. “But I think it will happen.” Tickets sold during the summer season usually amount to about 40 percent of total yearly revenue. But this year, to make up for the poor winter and spring, the summer domestic revenue would have to hit $5 billion — $500 million more than the all-time best season, summer of 2016. In 2018, the May through Labor Day haul made up only 37 percent of the year’s total, thanks to an unusually strong February with Black Panther.
Moviegoing begets moviegoing, though, and studio insiders hope the staggering returns for Endgame will kickstart a recovery. Heading into 2018, for example, analysts thought domestic revenue would, at best, match the record $11.4 billion collected in 2017. Instead, combined ticket sales almost crossed the $12 billion ceiling for the first time as movie after movie overperformed, including surprise smash Bohemian Rhapsody ($902.3 million worldwide).
A strong summer and fall could create a compelling narrative for the lingering power of movie theaters as new streaming services from Disney, WarnerMedia and Apple jockey for attention. “The momentum that begins with Avengers is key,” says Dergarabedian. “People are getting exposed to trailers. That’s what will get the ball rolling.” Adds Imax Entertainment president Megan Colligan, “The summer looks exceptionally strong. It feels like there is good, sustained range of product.”
Analysts seem unanimous in putting Lion King, Toy Story 4 and Pets 2 as the best bets to be mega earners. When combined with Dark Phoenix (June 7) and Brad Pitt’s Ad Astra (May 24, via New Regency) from its newly acquired 20th Century Fox studio, the Alan Horn-led Disney could command an unprecedented 50 percent of summer market share (Ad Astra, however, currently shares a release date with Aladdin and may get pushed).
“Avengers could do $750 million to $800 million domestically, and Lion King $600 million to $700 million,” says Eric Handler of MKM Partners. “The big pictures get most of the attention, and that’s what Disney has, even though Warner Bros. and Universal are having a great run with more mid-range films.” (New Mutants, another superhero Fox pic set for August, also could be bumped out of the season.)
The summer’s biggest challenge might be the potential for too many tentpoles. Late May and early June are particularly crowded, although most are betting on Disney and New Regency moving Ad Astra out of summer. And only one week separates Aladdin and Godzilla. To boot, insiders are still unclear as to just how big Aladdin will be. (Reaction to Will Smith as the blue Genie has been mixed.)
Aside from the mega tentpoles, Colligan suggests that titles such as Warners’ Detective Pikachu (May 10) or Lionsgate’s John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum (May 17) could goose the pot by drawing out younger males. And for adults — young and old — there’s Paramount’s Elton John biopic Rocketman (May 31; it will get a big international boost by debuting at Cannes on May 16), starring Taron Egerton; and Quentin Tarantino’s star-studded Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (July 26) from Sony and starring Pitt opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie.
Adds Colligan: “Lulls do happen, and the business is cyclical. But confidence inspires confidence and brings people back to the theaters en masse.”
This story first appeared in the April 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.