U.S. Box Office Revenue Falls 4 Percent in 2019, Sharpest Decline in 5 Years

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Still Costumes- Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Many had predicted that the year would match 2018's record domestic haul of $11.88 billion, but audiences rejected a number of studio films as home entertainment options grew.

There were cracks in The Force at the 2019 box office as the Age of Streaming strengthened its foothold and the number of major Hollywood studios decreased from six to five following the Disney-Fox merger.

With Dec. 31 fast approaching, industry leader Comscore projected Sunday that box office revenue in North America will hit $11.45 billion for the full year, a decline of 3.6 percent from 2018's record bounty of $11.88 billion.

If Comscore's rough estimate is correct, that would be the biggest year-over-year decline since 2014, when domestic revenue tumbled a steep 5.1 percent over 2013 to $10.36 billion. The North American box office rebounded in a major way in 2015, rising 7.5 percent to $11.13 billion.

The good news: $11.45 billion would represent the second-best showing of all time, besting the $11.38 billion collected in 2016 (a 2.2 percent uptick). Underscoring the cyclical nature of the film business, revenue was down 2.3 percent in 2017, followed by last year's dramatic 6.9 percent jump.

While international box office numbers aren't yet tallied for 2019, analysts expect worldwide ticket sales to match, or best, last year's all-time high of $41.1 billion.

"Given the level of competition from a plethora of options across multiple platforms on an incalculable number of devices, it should be actually heartening to the industry that 2019 will deliver the second-best annual box office revenue in history," says Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.

"But clearly movies have to seem fresh and original to draw today's audiences, who have a massive level of choice for their entertainment diet," he added.

Heading into 2019, most box office analysts predicted another record year. But a virulent case of sequelitis infected a number of event pics, resulting in a topsy-turvy ride that saw revenue dip by as much as 9 to 7 percent at certain points on the calendar.

Not even Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was immune to some franchise fatigue. The Disney and Lucasfilm tentpole debuted in North America over the weekend to $175.5 million, 20 percent behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 2017, and despite being billed as the final title in the 42-year-old "Skywalker" saga.

Nevertheless, $175.5 million is a huge number, and Rise of Skywalker helped to stem the bleeding. Before the holiday event pic opened, domestic revenue was down by more than 5 percent. By Sunday, the deficit had dipped to roughly 4.5 percent.

It's been Disney's year, to be sure. The studio accounts for more than 35 percent of domestic market share, an unheard-of statistic. Presently, seven of the top 10-grossing titles domestically belong to the Disney empire, while six of its releases have grossed north of $1 billion globally. The all-star team includes Avengers: Endgame, which supplanted Avatar to become the top-grossing film of all time with $2.79 billion in worldwide ticket sales.

One reason Disney stacked its slate is because of the company's new streaming service, Disney+, which is relying on a flurry of high-profile titles to lure subscribers and serve as a rival to Netflix.

Comscore's forecast includes estimated ticket sales for the upcoming holiday corridor, when moviegoing spikes and every day becomes like the weekend.

Holdovers Rise of Skywalker and Jumanji: The Next Level will be major Christmas players, while there are also high hopes for Little Women, which is set to debut Christmas Day alongside the kid pic Spies in Disguise, among other titles.

The event film Cats, which opened opposite Rise of Skywalker over the weekend to a dismal $6.5 million, will have trouble contributing to the yuletide bounty if it can't connect with families.