Hollywood is closing out 2019 on a sour note thanks to a new report showing that North American ticket sales fell an estimated 3.6 percent in 2019 compared to last year, the largest percentage drop in five years.
Audiences shunned the multiplexes despite Hollywood’s continued obsession with superhero blockbusters and digitally animated family movies, both of which are designed to rake in cash domestically and abroad.
For the year, Comscore is projecting that box office revenue in North America will reach $11.45 billion, a drop of 3.6 percent from 2018’s record haul of $11.89 billion, according to multiple published reports.
Even though most of Hollywood relies on it for reporting box office data, Comscore’s credibility took a major hit when the Securities and Exchange Commission charged the media metrics company and its former CEO Serge Matta for engaging in an illegal scheme to overstate revenue by $50 million and for making false and misleading statements about its performance. Comscore ended up paying a $5 million fine in September to settle the case. Matta paid a $700,000 fine. In another sign of internal turmoil, Comscore has seen significant churn in its executive ranks, with its CEO and president abruptly departing the company earlier this year.
That said the 3.6 percent drop-off from last year represents the steepest box office drop since 2014, when box office revenue fell a little more than 5 percent compared to 2013.
Last year’s domestic box office reached a record high, not accounting for inflation, of $11.88 billion, climbing more than 7 percent from the previous year.
The Walt Disney Co. continues to dominate the exhibition landscape, accounting for six of the top 10 biggest grossing movies of the year, including such hits as Avengers: Endgame, The Lion King, and Toy Story 4.
The number could climb to seven with the just-released Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. But the final saga in the Skywalker movie series had a disappointing debut, earning 20 percent less than its predecessor, The Last Jedi, on its opening weekend.
Though the domestic box office tends to fluctuate from year to year, Hollywood continues to struggle with a stagnating market place that must compete with Netflix and a growing slate of streaming options that are keeping consumers at home and glued to their devices.
This year saw the debut of Disney+ and Apple TV+, while next year will bring streaming services from WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal.
Also causing stress among studio executives is the slew of pricey disappointment this year, with DOA titles including Terminator: Dark Fate, Dark Phoenix, and Cats. As Hollywood makes increasingly bigger bets on each title — thanks in large part to expensive visual effects — the downside potential is also growing, making each box office bomb more devastating to the bottom line.
Hollywood is depending on China to an increasing degree to fill the box office gap. China ranks as the second largest box office market in the world, but Beijing puts a strict cap on the number of foreign titles that can be approved for release.