5 Box Office Takeaways at Mid-Year: ‘Star Wars’ in Trouble, Sizzling Superheroes, and Comedy Fatigue

The box office is booming, and it’s all thanks to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Merc with a Mouth, and everyone’s favorite crime-fighting family. Mid-way through 2018, domestic ticket sales are up more than 8%, topping out at nearly $6 billion through the first six months of the year, according to ComScore. It’s the earliest it’s ever reached that figure.

“If you had to sum up the year so far, you could do it in one word — superheroes,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst of BoxOffice.com.

In fact, the three highest-grossing films this year — “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Black Panther,” and “Incredibles 2” — all feature costumed heroes. There’s a lot of reason for optimism, unless, of course, you happen to hate comic book movies. Box office analysts believe this summer could be the second highest grossing in history and predict that business could end the year with more than $11 billion in revenues. That’s a return to form after a lackluster 2017; a year that suffered declines in grosses and attendance. A big part of the improvement is attributable to the performance of summer popcorn films. Last year, big movies such as “The Mummy” and “Transformers: The Last Knight” collapsed at the box office, dragging down revenues with them. This year, with the exception of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” most of the blockbuster hopefuls have delivered the goods.

“We’re seeing a nice year-over-year recovery,” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “There seems to be more depth this summer. It’s really some terrific results.”

Handler argues that it’s not just the big earners like “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” that are lifting revenues and flirting with $1 billion-plus grosses. Films such as “Oceans 8,” “Book Club,” and “A Quiet Place” are connecting with audiences, often older crowds, and helping to spread the wealth to films that may not feature spandexed protagonists.

“When the movies are delivering, people want to go to the theater,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. “In 2018, Hollywood and studios have given people a really good reason to go out to the movie theaters.”

Here are five takeaways from the first half of 2018:

Comic Book Fatigue is an Illusion
Marvel shows no sign of slowing down. The comic book maker continued to draw big crowds and was able to hit the zeitgeist with “Black Panther” by getting audiences excited to see the first superhero movie featuring a cast that was almost entirely comprised of actors of color. In the process, the company also unveiled a new breakout Avenger, ensuring that the team of costumed vigilantes will be able to endure the departure of Robert Downey Jr. if he decides to hang up Iron Man’s helmet when Marvel enters Phase 4. Not to be outdone: “Avengers: Infinity War” was the global juggernaut everyone predicted it would be, even if some critics griped it was over-stuffed with characters. Next summer’s follow-up will likely be just as big a smash, cementing Marvel’s status as the most powerful brand in movies.

Now all eyes will turn to DC. Marvel’s rival has struggled to produce well-received movies not starring Wonder Woman, but a shakeup in the company’s leadership ranks may signal a new approach in the way it brings its costumed heroes to the big screen. This fall brings “Aquaman,” which will try to banish all thoughts of “Justice League” with its depiction of undersea battles, trident combat, and Jason Momoa’s rippling abs. But DC has a lot of ground to make up if it wants to match the kind of year Marvel has been enjoying. And Marvel isn’t even done yet. July brings the debut of “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which is currently on track to open to a lofty $75 million.

Comedies Aren’t Delivering the Laughs or the Dollars

Once upon a time, studios couldn’t get enough of comedies, particularly of the R-rated vintage. “Trainwreck,” “Bridesmaids,” “Ted,” and “The Hangover” were just a few of the raunchy offerings that translated boundary-pushing jokes into big profits. No longer. The highest grossing comedy of 2018 is “Game Night,” a modest hit that racked up $69 million. That’s a solid result, but it’s a far cry from the $100 million-plus grosses that comedies could once be counted on to deliver. Other comedies such as “Blockers,” “Life of the Party,” and “I Feel Pretty” paled in comparison to past hits, ending their runs with so-so grosses. Some of the problem is that films such as “Deadpool 2” now offer the kind of provocative humor that was once a staple of comic stars such as Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy, but tie them up in a superhero bundle. Perhaps the genre’s downward spiral will reverse this August with “Crazy Rich Asians,” an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name that will make history as one of the first U.S. backed films to feature a predominantly Asian cast.

Disney/Fox Will Tower Over Hollywood

If Disney succeeds in buying most of Fox’s film and television assets the combined company will cast a shadow over the film business landscape. There’s simply no competing with the movie-making machine that will result from the union of the two studios. As it stands, Disney and Fox boast 48.5% of the domestic market share. Their next closest rival, Warner Bros., controls just over 10%. And bringing the studios together means that Disney will control not just Pixar, Star Wars, and the Avengers, but also Avatar, X-Men, and Deadpool. That’s a murderer’s row of blockbuster brands. No wonder Comcast was so desperate to keep Fox out of Disney’s clutches.

Mayday! Mayday! Star Wars in Trouble

Before getting carried away by Disney’s ability to mint money, it’s worth noting that one of the pillars of its film empire is looking mighty wobbly. “Solo: A Star Wars” story isn’t just a film flop, grossing a dismal $354.8 million on a budget of $250 million-plus (not to mention marketing costs). It’s the kind of failure that clouds the long-term outlook of Disney’s attempts to create a Star Wars Cinematic Universe to rival the one established by Marvel. Given that “The Last Jedi” inspired a lot of fan complaints for deviating too wildly from Jedi orthodoxy and for its butt-numbing two hour and 32 minute running time, there’s reason to worry that the glow is fading from the franchise. It’s up to J.J. Abrams to recapture the excitement with the forthcoming Star Wars: Episode IX. As it stands, Disney and Lucasfilm are sending signals they’re pumping the breaks on spin-offs, at least until they can find a way to make the prospect of another Star Wars adventure seem more like an event than a money grab.

Get Ready for a Sizzle Free Holiday Season

The first half of 2018 was one for the record books. The second half may be one to forget. When it comes to the box office, the tail-end of the year is filled with a lot of question marks, and a distinct lack of sure things. “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” “The Predator,” and “The Grinch” may be audience favorites, but they’ll be hard-pressed to match the last four months of 2017. Because last year was considered to be a box office bummer, it’s hard to remember that it ended on a high note. “The Last Jedi,” “The Greatest Showman,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “It,” and “Wonder” were all clustered together in the fall and winter. Barring some unexpected breakouts, 2018 will be hard-pressed to match those kind of results.

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