From Avengers: Endgame to Yesterday, here are the winners and losers of the summer 2019 box office. For the past few years, Hollywood has struggled to deal with the changing tides of the film industry and audiences' changing tastes in how they consume entertainment. As Netflix becomes a dominant force and higher ticket prices put a greater squeeze on consumers, major studios have increasingly turned to tent-pole franchises and event movies to balance the scales.
Unfortunately, this hasn't really helped matters. The lackluster summer has dragged down 2019's overall domestic box office revenue by roughly 9% from the same point last year. This is in spite of this summer turning one movie into the highest-grossing film of all-time, along with several films grossing more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office. To put it bluntly, it's been a very tough summer at the box office for studios other than Disney, though they themselves have been hit by already-scheduled Fox movie.
There are greater nuances to be extracted from the season than that one point but it is worth noting just how powerful Disney has been in 2019 and how their dominating business model impacts the rest of the industry. With that in mind, here are the winners of the summer 2019 box office, along with the losers and the bigger picture of things to come.
WINNER: AVENGERS: ENDGAME
One of the things Disney has been particularly responsible for is the widening gap in the calendar that now constitutes the summer box office season. For some experts, it now technically kicks off in April, thanks to major Marvel releases that would typically still be considered spring. Whether or not you consider the April 26 release of Avengers: Endgame to be part of summer, it's undeniable that the movie completely dominated the season.
The numbers speak for themselves: a worldwide gross of $2.795 billion, overtaking Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all-time; the second highest-grossing movie of all-time domestically; the highest opening day gross; the fastest to gross $100 million all the way through to $500 million. Avengers: Endgame is a gargantuan achievement that managed to surpass even the loftiest expectations. And now the challenge has been set for future generations: Can any movie ever make more money than Avengers: Endgame?
LOSER: DARK PHOENIX
Once Disney finalized their acquisition of 21st Century Fox, they were left with one of the most culturally rich and economically powerful back-catalogs any studio could ask for. They were also left to deal with the completed films that required a release. One of them was the already maligned fourth movie in the rebooted X-Men series, Dark Phoenix, a film that had been elbowed around the release calendar several times before finally settling on a date.
Dark Phoenix was never going to be a top priority for Disney, who wanted the brand more than the pre-existing series. Still, this was a title in a major franchise with a reported budget of $200 million, one that fans had increasingly lost interest in, and it was Disney’s problem to deal with. It ended up making around $66 million domestically and over $252 million worldwide. On its opening weekend, it barely scraped past a $32 million gross. Dark Phoenix has been singled out as a major contributor to Disney's quarterly losses and is alleged to have an overall $170 million operating loss.
WINNER: YESTERDAY & ROCKETMAN
Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis’ musical comedy about a man who wakes up one day to discover he’s the only person alive who remembers The Beatles wasn’t a gargantuan success, especially when compared to the big hits of the season. However, at a time when indie films and smaller, more adult-oriented dramas performed softly, Yesterday was a sleeper hit that more than justified its own existence.
Despite middling reviews, the hook of all those Beatles songs managed to help the film find its audience, and it grossed $124.9 million worldwide from a budget of $26 million. It wasn’t the only musical movie to do well this summer either. Rocketman, the Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton, took in $186.6 million worldwide from a $40 million budget, which is especially impressive given the movie's R-rating.
LOSER: Booksmart, The Kitchen, Long Shot, & Late Night
There is a logic behind a studio choosing to release a smaller, more adult-focused movie in the same week as or around the release of a domineering family blockbuster. It’s something Hollywood has done for many years to varying degrees of success. It’s understandable why studios would want to do it in a season where Marvel and Disney were so overwhelmingly popular, but this year, it simply didn’t work for many movies.
Critically popular adult-oriented titles like Booksmart, Long Shot, The Kitchen, and Late Night opened soft and never managed to find their audiences amid franchise domination. It’s a shame because these weren’t tiny indie titles that opened in a handful of theaters. These movies were given wide releases and solid marketing campaigns and it still didn’t work. These films may eventually get their dues with their home releases, but their disappointing grosses only further exacerbate fears over the future of indie cinema in the franchise age.
WINNER: SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Many fans wondered if, post-Endgame, there would be any real hunger for a Spider-Man movie that returned to the more jovial tone of the character following the emotional bleakness of Avengers. It turns out that Sony Pictures had nothing to fear, as Spider-Man: Far From Home became a billion-dollar hit and is currently the fourth highest-grossing movie of 2019. This also bodes well for Disney. While the studio doesn't get any of that gross, they still benefit greatly from the movie's success and how it strengthens the company's relationship with Sony for future Spidey escapades. Its success also helped to soften the blow of one particular flop for Sony.
LOSER: MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL
Sony was clearly hoping that their reboot of the Men in Black franchise would kickstart a new era for the property. With Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in the lead roles, it seemed tailor-made for success. Unfortunately, audiences just weren't enthused for Men in Black: International. While the film made more than double its $110 million budget, only $79.4 million of that came from the domestic gross, and its opening weekend was a paltry $30 million from 4,224 theaters. It wasn't the only film on this scale to open much softer than initially predicted, and it fared better than some titles, but the end result was the same. If Sony were hoping to spin this off into more sequels, those plans have more than likely been put to rest because of Men in Black: International.
WINNER: Toy Story 4, Lion King, & Aladdin
It was obvious from the beginning of 2019 who the real winners of the summer box office would be. Disney, thanks to their acquisition of Fox, now control at least 40% of the worldwide box office, and that was on show this season. Avengers: Endgame, of course, was the biggest winner; then there was The Lion King's $1.33 billion gross, followed by the surprise success of their live-action remake of Aladdin. Guy Ritchie's movie overcame tepid expectations to cross $1 billion worldwide, while Toy Story 4 crossed $1 billion in mid-August. Of the top 10 highest-grossing movies of 2019 so far, five of them are Disney, and the sixth one, Spider-Man: Far From Home, easily Disney-adjacent. The year's not over yet, so don't be surprised if Disney ends up with six or seven movies in the top 10 of 2019.
LOSER: GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS
Like Men in Black: International, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a hotly-hyped, big-budget blockbuster with massive franchise expectations on its soldiers. Unlike Sony's attempt, Warner Bros. and Legendary's latest addition to the MonsterVerse wasn't a soft reboot and had some proven hits in its corner from the same saga. However, with a reported production budget of $170 - 200 million and a worldwide gross of $385 million, the King of the Monsters could not topple the box office giants of the season. The film did benefit from stronger grosses on the international market, especially in Asia, but we wouldn't be surprised to hear if Warner Bros. was getting a little worried about the release of 2020's Godzilla vs. Kong.
BEST: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Quentin Tarantino has long said that he plans to retire from directing films once he’s made his tenth feature. If that’s the case, then his penultimate movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is a great set up to his career climax. With a starry cast and hot-button plot, the movie easily became one of Tarantino’s best performing titles. While the movie still has a long way to go before it makes back its reported $90 million budget, it easily surpassed $100 million domestically, against tough competition and with a hard R-rating. At a time when non-franchise titles struggled to get a foothold on the schedule, Tarantino's star power prevailed. All that and the film has yet to open in most major foreign territories, so expect this one to continue to perform strongly. However, its success also comes with a depressing aside: This and Jordan Peele’s Us are the only two original films to make $100 million domestically in 2019 so far.
THE BIG PICTURE OF SUMMER 2019'S BOX OFFICE
Of course, the overall state of Hollywood can’t really be boiled down to winners versus losers. Even with these massive successes and box-office-breaking titles, overall the season was something of a downer for the industry. Domestic revenue was down and the changing economics of the industry have tilted the odds further in favor of a mere handful of companies. Really, Disney is the one winning in this scenario. If audiences are only going to see on average five or six movies a year, the chances are the ones they're picking at something Marvel, Star Wars, or Disney related, meaning only one company benefits. Other films can prevail in this system, but the uphill climb to success is steeper than ever, for both major studios and indie productions. Now, with ticket prices higher than ever, it's no wonder many people are choosing to stay at home with Netflix.
It's not all doom and gloom. Summer may be coming to a close but there are still things to look forward to across the board, from Joker to It: Chapter 2; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Cats; Little Women and the entire Oscar season slate. However, those upcoming titles are primarily cut from the same cloth as the summer: Big franchises, familiar titles, and a few mega-budgets that require the biggest audiences possible. As movies become too big to fail and only Disney is playing the game with a full deck, how do you keep up?