Never before has one studio so dominated summer at the movies. The Walt Disney Co. accounted for about half of all ticket sales in U.S. and Canada theaters on the season, which came to a close Sunday with the Gerard Butler action thriller “Angel Has Fallen” topping the box office for the second weekend.
Summer ticket sales finished 2% behind last year, according to data firm Comscore, a slight downturn that came despite an unprecedented display by Disney. The studio’s approximate $2.2 billion in domestic summer box office is greater than that of all the major studios combined.
Summer, which for Hollywood runs from the first weekend in May to Labor Day, traditionally ends with a whimper as few new releases seek to draw audiences over the holiday weekend. That was especially true this weekend as nothing new dented the top 10. Lionsgate’s “Angel Has Fallen” came on top again with an estimated $11.6 million.
The final numbers on Hollywood’s summer didn’t add up to the box-office bonanza that some predicted. Instead, the main storyline on the summer came to be the yawning gap between Disney and the rest of the industry. Disney finalized its $71 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox in March, but it was the studio’s own offerings that propelled its market dominance.
Five of Disney’s films crossed $1 billion this summer, including the season’s biggest hit, “The Lion King.” It currently ranks seventh all-time globally with $1.56 billion in ticket sales. “Avengers: Endgame” ($2.796 billion) opened in late April, just before the summer began. “Toy Story 4” and “Aladdin” both easily cleared $1 billion. The only non-Disney film in the summer’s top four was Sony’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” and that film was produced by Disney’s Marvel Studios.
Disney has been the market leader for the last four years in Hollywood as its high-priced acquisitions — Lucasfilm, Pixar, Marvel, and now Fox — have given the studio the intellectual property firepower for a movie world increasingly focused on franchises.
Only one original film this summer ranked among the top 10, and it came in 10th. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” will have made an estimated $130.8 million through Monday domestically, plus sizable ticket sales abroad. It, along with “Spider-Man,” helped lead Sony to its best summer since 2006 — but a distant No. 2 to Disney.
Disney’s success has been a welcome dose of reliability for theater owners in need of sure-hits amid widespread anxiety over the rise of streaming. And it has prompted fears of cultural monopoly.
“For the industry, I think it’s a point of stress, to put it mildly. Other studios are now strategizing around Disney. That’s what you have to do,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. “But lest we think Disney was the only game in town, there were other studios that found opportunities within the calendar.”
Lionsgate was among those that eked out some breathing room. Along with its August successes (“Angel Has Fallen,” ”Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”), the studio’s “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” was, with $170.9 million, one of the summer’s biggest successes.
“For me it’s important to dispel that audiences are only going to see Marvel and Pixar and the big tentpole,” said David Spitz, president of domestic distribution for Lionsgate. “Movies like ‘Scary Stories’ and ‘Good Boys’ and ‘Angel Has Fallen’ prove that there is an audience for that. ‘Good Boys’ was very encouraging because prior to that it was: ‘Comedies are dead. They’re just for streaming.’ And that’s not the case.”
Universal’s “Good Boys,” the first R-rated comedy to land No. 1 in more than three years, proved that conventional wisdom is sometimes wrong. But other acclaimed comedies that were expected to pop — such as Amazon’s “Late Night,” United Artists’ “Booksmart” and Lionsgate’s “Long Shot” — didn’t.
Counter programming often simply didn’t work. And neither did gloomy-looking critically panned movies such as “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and “Dark Phoenix.” They were among the season’s biggest flops.
Music continued to fuel modest hits, including Paramount’s “Rocketman” and Universal’s “Yesterday.” But by the end of summer, as the lackluster performance of Warner Bros.’ Bruce Springsteen-inspired “Blinded by the Light” showed, that trend may be waning, too.
Dergarabedian noted, though, that the summer season isn’t quite what it used to be. Studios now spread their biggest movies around the calendar more freely. Add “Endgame” to the totals and the summer looks a lot better. Next week will bring “It Chapter Two” from Warner Bros, which is expected kick off the fall season with a bang. After it comes, anticipated sequels for “Frozen,” ”Star Wars” and “Jumanji,” along with big-budget originals including “Ad Astra,” ”Ford v Ferrari,” ”Gemini Man” and Netflix’s “The Irishman.”
But after a sluggish spring, overall ticket sales are down 6.3% on the year according to Comscore. And when factoring in inflation and higher ticket prices, not since 1992 have fewer summer tickets been sold.