Box Office: 'Lion King' Nudges Disney Toward Record Year of $1B Hits

The Lion King Live-Action Still 9 - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The Mouse House could see six or more of its 2019 releases become members of the elite club.

What a weekend for Disney.

As if it didn't already have enough to crow about, Jon Favreau's The Lion King opened to a record-breaking $185 million domestically for an early global total of $531 million; Avengers: Endgame passed up Avatar to become the top film of all time not adjusted for inflation; and Aladdin is on the verge of magically jumping the $1 billion mark globally. 

Disney's film empire accounts for $7 billion in ticket sales at the 2019 worldwide box office — or as much as 46 percent of the $15.9 billion collected by movies released on more than 1,000 screens, including revenue from titles inherited following the Disney-Fox merger.

With five months left to go in 2019, Disney is just days away from eclipsing the industry record set in 2016 when its movies collected $7.6 billion for the full year. Its revenue for all of 2019 could clock in at $10 billion or more, considering six of its movies are likely to cross $1 billion globally, a first for any Hollywood studio (in 2016, Disney set a new bar with four).

The dominance of Disney has left Hollywood reeling, particularly now that 20th Century Fox is no longer a stand-alone studio, but part of the Mouse House fold. The disparity between Disney, run by veteran executive Alan Horn in tandem with Alan Bergman, and the four remaining major studios is startling: Warner Bros. currently accounts for roughly $1.8 billion in global ticket sales year to date, followed by Universal with $1.7 billion and Sony with $1.5 billion. Fox is at $770 million, and Paramount, $540 million.

"The upside of Disney hogging the pot at the box office is that it does put one hot-button misnomer to rest — the whispers that audiences aren't going to movies in theaters anymore. Or, at least not as often. That's just plain erroneous, at least where the Magic Kingdom is concerned," says box office analyst Jeff Bock with Exhibitor Relations.

Avengers: Endgame's current gross stands at $2.90 billion, followed by $1.23 billion for Captain Marvel, both from Marvel Studios. Aladdin finished Sunday with a total $988.8 million. The live-action remake is from Disney's homegrown studio, run by Sean Bailey and also home of Lion King, which is now virtually assured of becoming a member of the billion-dollar club.

Pixar and Disney's Toy Story 4 is another potential club member, considering that animated pics can enjoy especially long legs. Its total through Sunday is $859.4 million. Frozen 2, which opens at Thanksgiving, is likewise a candidate.

On Dec. 20, Disney and Lucasfilm open Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Two years ago, Star Wars: The Last Jedi earned $1.33 billion globally, preceded by a massive $2.07 billion for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released in December 2015. Box office analysts say it's almost a given that the new Star Wars film — the ninth and final installment in the Skywalker saga — will earn north of $1 billion.

"This year is a perfect storm for Disney. Its philosophy has been all about building massive brands. That’s what we are seeing this year," says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners. "It will be interesting to see next year when Disney likely has a very good year, but its film revenue will likely be down. It will likely be a victim of its own success."

The 2019 slate of mega blockbusters will help feed Disney's new streaming service — the latest frontier that Disney CEO Bob Iger hopes to conquer after strategically buying up Lucasfilm, Pixar, Marvel and much of the 21st Century Fox empire.

"Now, that brings us to the larger question: Why can't rival studios keep up? Well, it's a tale as old as time. Lazy filmmaking, underwhelming movies and misguided sequel-hype," says Bock. "The real roadblock is that a lot of the great creative minds in Hollywood are being swept up by streaming juggernauts, where artisans seemingly have more room to unpack their imagination and less infiltration by studio execs with bottom-line binders."

Despite Disney's success, the 2019 box office is still trailing 2018 by 7 percent, at least in North America. Nevertheless, Disney won't be the only studio contributing to the billion-dollar boon. Sony and Marvel Studio's Spider-Man: Far From Home is days away from crossing $1 billion globally. Sony's Jumanji sequel, due out in theaters in December, is a potential club member as well.