Box Office year in review 2019: the force is not with Star Wars

Cairns on Cinema

John Cairns

Welcome once again to my annual Cairns on Cinema Box Office Year in Review, where we look back upon all the hits from the past year.

As usual, I am sitting here doing a Year in Review when the final numbers are not even in. Still in release is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which continues to rake in big dollars. Its latest domestic total sits at over $390 million at the moment.

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However, this haul is way short of expectations. People were thinking the Star Wars franchise would again topple, or at least threaten to topple, no shortage of all-time box office records. That isn’t happening. For instance, this movie’s domestic opening weekend was a $175 million haul when people were predicting over $200 million.  

What happened? It’s obvious. Disney got greedy and opted to make a quick buck when they should have waited another year or so to release a decent movie. That’s what Scott Mendelson was basically saying in his Forbes column, titled “Disney Should Have Delayed ‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’ to 2020.” 

I would have considered waiting until 2021. By then, Star Wars fans would have been truly excited to see their favorite characters again, and several all-time records would have been under threat. But that approach would have meant sacrificing sure-fire short-term revenue for the Walt Disney Company.

Disney’s mistake is thinking the Star Wars franchise is a sure-fire money train they can roll out at will. It’s not that simple and it’s not so easy. Yes, Disney does make a quick buck short-term, but they are going to lose long-term. This strategy risks burning out the Star Wars franchise both exposure-wise and creatively as well. If that happens, Disney won’t make money on Star Wars in the future. Period. And what good will that be to them?  

I don’t feel like going on and on about this topic. The bottom line is the box office champion for 2019 is NOT Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Instead, it is Avengers: Endgame, whose worldwide gross of $2.797 billion toppled Avatar’s record as the biggest of all time.        

Here are the total domestic gross numbers as of Jan. 2, 2020 according to Box Office Mojo:

1 Avengers: Endgame $858,373,000 (Disney) 

2 The Lion King $543,638,043 (Disney) 

3 Toy Story 4 $434,038,008 (Disney) 

4 Frozen II $430,098,939 (Disney) 

5 Captain Marvel $426,829,839 (Disney) 

6 Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker $390,602,536 (Disney) 

7 Spider-Man: Far from Home $390,532,085 (Sony)

8 Aladdin $355,559,216 (Disney)

9 Joker $333,494,002 (Warner Bros.)

10 It Chapter Two $211,593,228 (Warner Bros.)

Total worldwide grosses as of Jan. 2, 2020 according to Box Office Mojo:

1 Avengers: Endgame $2,797,800,564* (new record for biggest gross of all time) 

2 The Lion King $1,656,821,650

3 Frozen II $1,228,494,815

4 Spider-Man: Far from Home $1,131,927,996

5 Captain Marvel $1,128,274,794

6 Toy Story 4 $1,073,394,593

7 Joker $1,062,994,002

8 Aladdin $1,050,693,953

9 Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker $774,829,514

10 Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw $758,910,100

I should point out the hauls for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker are not yet final. The expectation is it will finish second in domestic gross and as high as third in the worldwide gross when all is said and done, based on current totals.  

With respect to the overall box office, Deadline Hollywood was reporting the total domestic box office for 2019 stood at $11.4 billion, down four percent from a year ago. The global box office for the year is $41 billion.

Again, there are a lot of reasons to point to for why the box office is down, but there’s a lot of “franchise fatigue” out there with people fed up at seeing the same old product at theatres all the time. How many more Spider-Man movies can one stand? You get the picture.

The top studio in 2019 was, of course, Disney. Seven of the top 10 domestic releases belonged to Mickey Mouse’s studio, fresh on the heels of its major acquisition of 20th Century Fox. AP reported that Disney’s worldwide box office was $13 billion this past year. 

Since the 2010s are now over, we might as well provide numbers for the top grossing movies of the past ten years. Once again, these numbers were the ones posted at the Box Office Mojo website. 

Top five grossing movies of the 2010s:

Domestic

1 Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens  $936,662,225 (2015 release)

2 Avengers: Endgame $858,373,000 (2019)

3 Black Panther $700,059,566 (2018)

4 Avengers: Infinity War $678,815,482 (2018)

5 Jurassic World $652,270,625 (2015)

NOTE: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will likely bump Jurassic World out of the top 5 list once its run is complete.

Worldwide

1 Avengers: Endgame $2,797,800,564 (2019)

2 Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens $2,068,223,624 (2015)

3 Avengers: Infinity War $2,048,359,754 (2018)

4 Jurassic World $1,670,400,637 (2015)

5 The Lion King $1,656,821,650 (2019)

NOTE: Again, this is pending final numbers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but the latest projections out there have it finishing at around $1.2 billion.

That will do it for now as far as the 2019 box office is concerned! We’ll see how things go in 2020 and where Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker finally ends up.

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