Box Office: Hollywood's High Hopes for Summer End With Bummer
Despite a starry lineup of sequels and remakes, revenue for the season is running 2 percent behind last year, contributing to a 6 percent downturn at the domestic box office so far in 2019.
While a record number of summer tentpoles crossed the $1 billion mark at the global box office — thanks mostly to Disney — the season is headed for a troublesome finish as the Labor Day weekend approaches.
Preliminary Comscore estimates show summer revenue clocking in at $4.33 billion through Sept. 3, a 2 percent decline over the same corridor in 2018. This puts additional pressure on the September-December calendar to close the 6 percent year-to-date gap over 2019, when ticket sales in North America hit a record high of $11.9 billion.
The gap between the haves and the have-nots at the box office has never been greater, and neither has the domination by one major Hollywood studio — Disney.
Only one original summer event feature, Quentin Tarantino and Sony's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, crossed the $100 million threshold at the domestic box office. That compares with only one last year, The Meg ($145.4 million), and three the year before, Dunkirk ($188 million), Girls Trip ($115.2 million) and Baby Driver ($107.9 million).
"The summer of 2019 has been an interesting one with many tough lessons learned and conventional wisdom shattered," says Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.
"There are many examples from box office history where counterprogramming a smaller film against a blockbuster can attract a broader range of the audience," Dergarabedian continues. "There were some exceptions, but this summer a preponderance of match-ups that saw the scrappy upstart getting steamrollered by the sure thing shows that audiences may be choosing to plunk down their hard-earned dollars on well-known franchises and IP rather than taking a risk on a lesser-known property."
Movies that got lost include the Charlize Theron-Seth Rogen comedy Long Shot ($30.3 million), the R-rated comedy Stuber ($22.4 million) and Mindy Kaling's Late Night, starring Emma Thompson, ($15.5 million). In the plus column is the Elton John biopic Rocketman, which almost reached $100 million domestically ($96.2 million) and the Beatles-themed Yesterday ($72.4 million).
Contributing to the malaise this summer was a number of franchise installments that fell short, including Dark Phoenix, Godzilla: King of Monsters and Men in Black: International.
Disney — whose domestic market share is a staggering 40 percent or more when counting Fox films — commands three of the top five performing summer films in North America: The Lion King, Toy Story 4 and Aladdin. Globally, each of those three has earned north of $1 billion as has Sony's Spider-Man: Far From Home, co-produced by the Disney-owned Marvel Studios.
There's also Disney and Marvel's Avengers: Endgame, which hit theaters April 26, one week before the official start of summer. Endgame has earned $858.2 million domestically and $1.94 billion overseas for a worldwide haul of $2.8 billion, making it the top-grossing film of all time, not adjusted for inflation.
"It's difficult to say the summer start is set in stone when for two years running, massive record-breaking Marvel films have been released in late April and generated hundreds of millions of dollars before the first Friday in May rolled around," notes Dergarabedian.
Thanks in large measure to Marvel's Endgame, Warner Bros.' Detective Pikachu and Lionsgate's John Wick: Chapter Three — Parabellum, revenue for the month of May hit a record $1.079 billion, according to Comscore. June, however, was down 13 percent year-over-year. That was followed by $1.29 billion in July, a year-over-year uptick of 7 percent. To date, August revenue isn't setting any records, despite the notable performance of Fast & Furious spinoff Hobbs & Shaw, Good Boys and threequel Angel Has Fallen.
Beyond last year, when domestic revenue for the May-August season clocked in at $4.41 billion, summer 2019 looks to come in ahead of 2017 ($3.84 billion) and 2014 ($4.06 billion), but behind 2016 ($4.49 billion), 2015 ($4.48 billion) and an all-time best of $4.75 billion in 2013.
The record showing of summer 2013 was led by the collective strength of Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, The Heat and We're the Millers, The Great Gatsby and Grown Ups 2.
Historically, summer revenue can account for as much as 40 percent for the year. But that's not always been the case. In 2017, the summer contributed only 35 percent ($3.84 billion), while yearly revenue reached $11.1 billion. And summer 2018 contributed 37 percent of the year's record-shattering $11.9 billion.
The news is far from being all doom and gloom. On paper, the upcoming 2019 calendar is chock-full of promising tentpoles, including It: Chapter 2 (Sept. 6), Joker (Oct. 4), Terminator: Dark Fate (Nov. 1), Frozen 2 (Nov. 22), Jumanji: The Next Level (Dec. 13), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Dec. 20) and Little Women (Dec. 25).