Coming off a record-breaking 2018 at the box office, which was fueled by a summer season where every title didn’t just do incredible business at the multiplex but often times surpassed industry expectations, many in Hollywood looked at the summer 2019 slate and saw dollar signs.
“Avengers: Endgame,” “Aladdin,” and a slew of sequels from X-Men to Godzilla. Heck, this year’s summer season could be bigger than 2018!
Everyone has come back to Earth.
Outside of “Endgame,” a few other Disney releases, and “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” there hasn’t been much motivation to go to the theaters this summer. There were sequels from stale franchises like “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” “Men In Black: International,” and the final X-Men release for Fox, “Dark Phoenix.” And offerings from the independent film space, like “Booksmart” and “Late Night,” also were busts. It has all led to a 7% drop in ticket sales compared to last summer, according to Comscore.
Though there may be brighter days ahead — as “Spider-Man: Far From Home” looks to do big business over the long 4th of July holiday weekend, and titles like “The Lion King,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” coming out in the coming weeks — so far the 2019 summer season has been a big letdown.
Here’s a breakdown of the six big winners and losers of the summer box office so far:
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Winner: “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”
The third movie in the Keanu Reeves franchise proved that it isn’t going away anytime soon and it can go up against any other franchise.
The movie, made for $75 million, came on the scene in the middle of May, and with a $56.8 million opening weekend, dethroned “Avengers: Endgame,” which had been at the top of the domestic box office for the previous three weeks. Since then, “Parabellum” has been in the top 10 at the US box office and worldwide has earned over $300 million. Neither of the previous titles in the franchise broke $200 million worldwide.
Lionsgate has announced that “Chapter 4” is in the works.
Loser: Indie Movies
What this summer has proven is that audiences are only going to the movies that are sure things. And that has hurt the independent film space.
Annapurna Pictures decided to go against the grain and release its coming-of-age tale “Booksmart” on 2,500 screens. Hoping that its close to 100% Rotten Tomatoes score and feel-good backstory of an all-female creative team would cause the movie to be the must-see title of the summer. Sadly, that didn’t happen. The movie had a $7 million opening, and since its May 24 release has only earned $21 million.
For “Late Night,” Amazon Studios went with the usual playbook for an indie, doing a small limited release and then go wide. But the Mindy Kaling-scripted/starring Sundance fest darling that Amazon paid $13 million for US rights didn’t do any better than “Booksmart.” It brought in $246,000 on four theaters in its limited release and then only brought in $5.2 million when it went wide on 2,200 screens. To date, it has only earned $13 million domestically.
There are three things you can’t avoid in this world: Death, taxes, and Disney’s hold on the box office.
The studio has been the life blood for the movie theater business in the past, but this year it is literally carrying the biz on its back. Disney has the top four highest-grossing movies of the year, domestically (three of them — “Endgame,” “Aladdin,” and “Toy Story 4” — are summer releases) and an incredible 36% of the domestic market share.
The studio kicked off the summer with “Avengers: Endgame” and broke numerous box office records in the process. Even Aladdin, a movie that didn’t work for critics (56% on Rotten Tomatoes), made over $800 million worldwide. And Disney isn’t done — it still has the live-action remake of “The Lion King” coming out before the summer ends.
Loser: Lame Sequels
Sequels have been a hallmark of the summer movie season. In some years, like 2018, they generate major coin (“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”), while in others, like this one, they just stink.
From “Men In Black: International” to “Shaft,” studios aren’t just putting out bad sequels this summer, but sequels to IPs that have been dormant for years. Sorry, but I don’t know anyone who has been asking for another “Shaft” movie since the last one was in theaters 19(!) years ago.
Some were calculated gambles. Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is part of the studios’ MonsterVerse and will next face off against King Kong in “Godzilla vs. Kong” in 2020, s o Warner Bros. had to release the movie and keep its fingers crossed. Disney had its hands tied with “Dark Phoenix;” when the studio bought Fox, the X-Men title came with it. Its poor performance just confirms that Disney has to press pause and figure out how to fit the mutants into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For moviegoers, all these bad movies let them ditch theaters and stay on their couches watching their favorite streaming services.
Want to know how lame the summer movie season has been? According to Netflix, nearly 31 million accounts watched Adam Sandler’s new movie (“Murder Mystery”) the weekend it launched on its service in mid June.
Streaming continues to fill the void when going to the movies isn’t worth it. And streaming’s role is only going to increase with the launch of services like Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, and others coming soon from WarnerMedia and Comcast.
Loser: Movie Theaters
Though theaters were riding high at the beginning of the season with the incredible business “Endgame” gave movie chains, things have slowed. In fact, the box office is down 10% compared to this time last year, according to Comscore.
The big three — AMC, Regal, and Cinemark — can sustain the roller-coaster ride that is exhibition, but smaller chains can’t. Dull titles keep people home and have movies playing to barely full theaters, which is death for an exhibitor. The only solace is that help (hopefully) is on the way.
After the summer, there are still big titles on the way, like “It: Chapter 2,” “Joker,” “Gemini Man,” “Jumani: The Next Level,” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
It’s still possible that 2019 could be a big year for the movies.