Nolte: Dismal Summer Box Office’s Winners and Losers

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2019)
Sony Pictures Entertainment

According to the entertainment media, the 2019 summer box office was down two percent compared to last summer. Box Office Mojo, however, which has been using the same standard for 27 years, shows a six percent decline and the second worst summer since 2006 — in 13 years!

Regardless, what everyone agrees on is that the overall year is down six percent compared to last year, down three percent behind 2016, and is unlikely to rally.

To say no one expected this would be an understatement. All the post-Labor Day hot takes were supposed to be about how Movie-going is back, baby! Well, it’s really not, and whether it’s two or six percent, even that number is deceiving…

One studio — one — completely dominated the summer with five of the top 6 movies for the year, three released during summer, and one — Avengers: Endgame, which was released a week before the official start of summer — still made most of its gazillions over the summer.

Winners:

  1. Disney

Disney’s captured 40 percent of the market share this year, and after dominating last summer, Disney’s 2019 summer was still up 16 percent.

Disney grossed $1.7 billion domestic this summer, and beat its closest competitor, Sony, by a cool billion dollars. On top of that, Sony’s biggest hit was Spider-Man: Far From Home, which was co-produced by … Disney!

Disney’s domination this year and this summer is ridiculous. Compared to last year, Warner Bros. is down seven percent, Paramount is down 28 percent, 20th Century-Fox (which Disney now owns) is down 62(!) percent, and Fox Searchlight is down 83(!!!) percent.

And the Mouse House still has Frozen 2, Maleficent 2, and Star Wars 9 on deck.

  1. Fast & Furious

This 18-year-old franchise shows no signs of slowing down. After eight chapters from the mother ship (and two more announced), the spin-off, Hobbs & Shaw,  has so far petered out at just $160 million domestic, but grossed another $530 million overseas.  Incredible.

  1. Quentin Tarantino

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a totally original movie without capes or spandex,  was released in the heart of the summer and has so far grossed $132 million domestic and another $153 million worldwide. After 27 years of making movies, Tarantino’s brand is hotter than ever. And Hollywood was not only the precise comeback needed after the disastrous Hateful Eight, it will almost certainly win some Oscar love.

  1. John Wick

John Wick: Parabellum, the third chapter in a story that began five years ago, grossed $170 million domestic and another $150 million overseas. In both cases, that is more money than the previous two chapters made combined.

  1. Angel Has Fallen

The third chapter in the continuing saga of U.S. Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) had its budget slashed because it was supposed to disappear at the box office and make back its money on home video. Instead, it not only opened at number one, well ahead of projections, and held that spot in week two, it is on pace to earn more money than its predecessor, London has Fallen.

This unashamed right-leaning franchise is a lot more popular than out-of-touch Hollywood and its bubbled media minions ever imagined.

  1. Spider-Man

The latest chapter in a desperately-needed franchise for Sony paid off with $1.1 billion in worldwide ticket sales, beating the previous chapter by almost $250 million.

  1. Lionsgate

After a few early stumbles — Hellboy, Long Shot, Cold Pursuit — the little studio that could brought us the still-humming Angel has Fallen and John Wick 3, and a possible new franchise in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Compared to last year, Lionsgate is up a whopping 83 percent in 2019. Warming up in the batters’ box are Rambo 5 and the big-budget WWII actioner Midway.

  1. Keanu Reeves

On top of John Wick 3, Reeves’ voice work in Toy Story 4 pretty much stole the show in that massive blockbuster. And so, at age 55, Reeves is hotter than ever. John Wick 4 is a certainty, Bill & Ted 3 is already in production, and Matrix 4 has been announced.

Losers:

  1. Every Major Studio Not Named Disney

Unbelievable and not healthy. Never before has a single studio dominated like this, and who wants to live in a movie world dominated by one studio, much less Disney? What’s more, Disney’s mammoth and disproportionate success is helping to paper over the struggles in the overall movie business. Everyone else is in trouble. This could mean more mergers, which would mean even less competition and more generic Disneyfication.

  1. The X-Men

Between its production and promotion budget, Dark Phoenix easily cost somewhere between $350  and $400 million. Its worldwide gross stalled at $252 million. Disney’s gobbling up of 20th Century-Fox means the X-Men are now back in Marvel’s camp, but it will be years before this golden goose starts laying its golden eggs again.

  1. Godzilla

Let’s assume a $300 to $350 million budget all-in… With a $385 million worldwide gross, what we have here is  a franchise in very serious trouble, and there is still one more title to go: Godzilla v. Kong arrives next March and Warner Bros. must be sweating.

  1. Woke

Every title with even a whiff of woke, with the stench of a social justice lecture, took a horrific beating, even those our bubbled critics tried to rally support for. Late Night, Poms, The Kitchen, Stuber, Booksmart, Blinded by the Light, Dark Phoenix, Rocketman, Men in Black: International, and The Hustle, were all wiped out.

Woke and woke alone has even put the once-thriving Annapurna Pictures on the brink of bankruptcy. 

The only exception was Captain Marvel, but let’s see how that saga does when it’s not the crucial chapter before Endgame, the last entry in a wildly popular decade-long saga.

  1. Comedy

The biggest R-rated comedy hit in years is Good Boys, which has so far grossed an okay $60 million. But no one is looking at Good Boys and declaring a comeback for a genre that has been ruined by too many gross-out gags, too little wit, and all this obnoxious social justice preening that takes the joy out of everything.

  1. Shaft

Damn.

  1. Spider-Man

A winner and a loser.

On its own, Sony produced three terrible Spider-Man movies in a row: Spider-Man 3 and both of those Amazing Spider-Man duds. The web-slinger’s comeback had a lot, if not everything to do with Sony and Marvel making a deal to bring Spider-Man into the Avengers family, which gave it something to bite into creatively and undoubtedly boosted its box office. Well, Sony and Marvel just went through a bitter divorce, which means Sony is on its own again.

If past is prologue…

  1. Indie Movies

Total wipeout.

  1. Child’s Play

Houseflies lived longer than this reboot.  Why they released a fall title in the middle of summer is anyone’s guess.

  1. Sure-Things

Dark Phoenix, Men in Black: International, Secret Life of Pets 2, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Angry Birds 2 …  These are all brands, all sure-fire, all golden geese, and they were all DOA. Used to be that with a brand and a ton of advertising you could fool people into a bad movie on that first weekend. Not anymore.

Last year, when Solo: A Star Wars Story flopped, I said that was the biggest entertainment story of the decade, even more seismic than the #MeToo scandal, which is already burning itself out. What won’t go away is a savvy audience that can no longer be fooled by brands — even Star Wars —  and $200 million in Disney’s magic marketing. 

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.

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