At the start of the decade, Disney’s film business was enfeebled. The studio ran perpetually last or nearly last for domestic market share, and its international grosses were only modestly better.
Cut to the end of 2019, and Disney has hit a stunning, historic milestone, earning 33% of all domestic box office grosses for the year. According to Comscore, it’s the first time since at least 1999 that a single studio has commanded this much box office revenue in the US and Canada.
“We are very proud of our Studios team and the extraordinary slate of films they delivered to fans all around the world in 2019,” Disney Co-Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Alan Horn and Co-Chairman Alan Bergman said in a statement. “This was a year like no other!”
The studio scaled these heights with a murderer’s row of blockbusters from (almost) every single division of the company, shattering the record for the most movies to surpass $1 billion worldwide in a calendar year: Marvel Studios’ “Captain Marvel” ($1.13 billion) and “Avengers: Endgame” ($2.8 billion); Disney live-action’s “Aladdin” ($1.05 billion) and “The Lion King” ($1.66 billion); Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” ($1.07 billion); and Walt Disney Animation’s “Frozen II” ($1.26 billion) — and with $815.7 million worldwide and counting, Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” should soon join their rarefied company.
If Disney’s marketplace supremacy wasn’t already self-evident, this should clinch it: Six of the studio’s films this year — “Endgame,” “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 4,” “Frozen II,” “Captain Marvel,” and “The Rise of Skywalker” — topped the domestic box office for the year. Marvel Studios co-produced the seventh highest grossing film for 2019, Sony’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” The eighth highest was “Aladdin.”
There is simply no precedent for this level of box office domination in modern Hollywood history. No studio has come close.
All told, Disney has to date earned $3.76 billion domestically (an all-time record) and $7.35 billion internationally (an all-time record), for a global take of $11.12 billion — yes, an all-time record. Those totals, by the way, do not reflect the grosses from this year’s releases from 20th Century Fox. But factoring in Fox inches Disney’s worldwide grosses up to $13.15 billion — practically a rounding error, and a stark reminder of how far Disney’s latest acquisition has to go to equal its new corporate cousins.
Granted, there were a couple slips along the way. “Dumbo” didn’t take flight, earning just $114.8 million domestically and $353.3 million worldwide, against a reported $170 million budget. It will lose money for the studio. And “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” was equally middling in the US and Canada, with $113.3 million domestically, though healthier international grosses boosted the global take to $490.4 million.
But Disney’s stacked release calendar — which gave the November launch of its streaming service Disney Plus a more enticing catalogue of major hits — pushed the studio to box office heights never before seen.
And perhaps never again. The next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe launches in May with the comparatively smaller scaled “Black Widow.” Lucasfilm has put “Star Wars” movies into carbonite until at least 2022. The studio’s namesake live action division is running out of A-list animated features it can remake. And the theatrical marketplace remains terribly challenged: Domestic grosses were down over 4% for the year, and Disney, WarnerMedia and Comcast are all shifting resources to support their respective direct-to-consumer streaming services.
Still, Disney looks to dominate the box office well into the upcoming decade, too. In November, the company updated its release calendar with a gargantuan number of titles. Put simply, Disney will open at least one film every month for the next four years — save for April 2023, when apparently the company’s distribution, marketing and publicity teams will finally get to rest.