Box Office: What Drove Summer's $4.4 Billion Rebound Season

Chuck Zlotnic/Marvel Studios

It's a wrap on a near-record summer as Disney claims more than a third of the domestic market, Warner Bros. wins August and (shocker!) attendance grows 9 percent over a dismal summer 2017.

Had the grosses for the first week of Avengers: Infinity War, opening April 27, been included in the 2018 summer tally, domestic revenue would have all but matched the record $4.75 billion collected at the box office in summer 2013.

Still, this year’s summer season, kicking off May 4 and wrapping on Labor Day, made a spectacular recovery from 2017, when revenue limped to $3.8 billion, the worst showing in 10 years. Revenue between May 4, 2018, and Sept. 3, 2018, hit  $4.4 billion, the biggest year-over-year uptick (14 percent) in two decades and the fifth best of all time, according to comScore.

Attendance was up as well, by 9 percent. “This is a substantial rebound,” says John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners. “And this is a historic year for movies appealing to all different demographics. They aren’t a one-off anymore.”

While final international numbers for the summer aren’t yet available, comScore estimates that grosses from the major territories will come in at $8.53 billion, only a slight uptick — less than 1 percent, over last year. A major culprit was the World Cup — which affected grosses over its monthlong run.

Still, Wall Street analysts are so bullish after the summer that they’ve revised their forecasts for 2018, predicting a 5 percent increase that could make for a record year. So far, domestic revenue is running 9.9 percent ahead of 2017; international is up 5 percent.

The U.S. boom is thanks to a slew of franchise home runs exceeding expectations as well as a healthy number of doubles and singles, especially welcome for studios struggling to compete against Disney, the king of tentpoles. For the first time ever, a summer title — Avengers: Infinity War — jumped the $2 billion mark globally, while Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Incredibles 2 both crossed $1 billion.

And in numerous instances, titles that overperformed were fueled by ethnically diverse audiences or women. “There was an underlying assumption that the white man can be the stand-in for all of us. That’s just a racist assumption that has proven again and again not to be true,” says Nina Jacobson, a producer of Crazy Rich Asians, the first studio film to feature an all-Asian cast in 25 years.

Crazy Rich Asians is on its way to earning $140 million or more domestically, the best showing for a rom-com since The Proposal in 2009. Asian-Americans fueled the film’s success, while Hispanics aided The Meg to a surprise $124.4 million to date in the U.S.

Together, the two films, both from Warners, helped energize the August box office (the studio lays claim to roughly 26 percent of all domestic revenue). Elsewhere, Disney's early August entry Christopher Robin and Paramount's Mission: Impossible — Fallout, hitting theaters in late July, also contributed to a flush August, which saw revenue jump 30 percent over August 2017.

BlacKkKlansman, hitting theaters on Aug. 10, is Spike Lee’s most successful film in more than a decade (it has earned $56 million globally to date) and is among a number of summer films benefiting from a strong African-American turnout.

Elsewhere, older females fueled Ocean’s 8 and Book Club to glory in the U.S.

The distribution of wealth among the major Hollywood studios, however, only grew more lopsided. Disney’s unprecedented domination increased: The studio’s domestic summer market share jumped from 20 percent last year to more than 33 percent.

Disney also ruled overseas, collecting north of $2 billion for a global haul of $3.54 billion, compared with $2.2 billion for Universal, its nearest rival, and $1.3 billion for Warner Bros.

Even as Disney ruled, it didn’t escape a flop. Lucasfilm’s Solo: A Star Wars Story topped out at $392.6 million globally, losing more than $50 million for the studio after a $400 million-plus production and marketing spend.

But Solo was the season’s only major big-budget bomb. And several franchise installments outperformed previous outings, including Paramount’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout. The sixth Tom Cruise vehicle is expected to become the top-grossing title in the series.

Notes Imax Entertainment chairman Greg Foster, “When you put all your eggs in one basket, you really have to have the goods."

 A version of this story also appears in the Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.