Domestic Q3 Improves 2.8 Percent over Last Year, Despite Fewer $100M+ Hits

by Shawn Robbins and Jesse Rifkin

Led by The Lion King and Spider-Man: Far From Home, it was a strong third quarter at the domestic box office: Theatrical movies earned $2.81 billion in July, August, and September. Here’s a breakdown of top performers, key insights, and what to expect through the year’s end.

Q3 2019 Increases from 2018

Q3 was up 2.8 percent over the same quarter last year, when Mission: Impossible – Fallout led with $219.1 million.

But in a sense, the quarter’s box office was saved by the bell, or more specifically by The Lion King and Spider-Man, as the slate outside those two smashes yielded fewer big hits than in previous years. This year’s Q3 only saw six films earn $100 million or more. That’s lower than the 10 such films for Q3 last year, the seven such films in 2017, or the eight such films in 2016.

Another way of looking at it: The Lion King and Spider-Man earned 33 percent of the quarter’s box office. That’s a significantly higher percentage than the top two films earned in previous third quarters, including 15.9 percent in 2018, 24.1 percent in 2017, and 22.9 percent in 2016.

And yet another way of looking at it: The Lion King earned 19.2 percent of the quarter’s box office all on its own. That’s the highest such Q3 figure for a single film since The Dark Knight earned 20 percent of the box office in Q3 2008.

Yet, even if Simba and Spidey did more than their fair share of heavy lifting, Q3 was still an encouraging one and boosted the year’s overall outlook. Year-to-date box office relative to last year was down 9.4 percent at the end of Q2, but had increased to a 5.6 percent deficit by the end of Q3.

Comparisons, Prices & Admissions

In dollars, this year’s Q3 was the fourth-highest ever, behind $2.97 billion in 2016, led by The Secret Life of Pets; $2.89 billion in 2011, led by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2; and $2.87 billion in 2013, led by Despicable Me 2

That fourth-highest-ever standing, however, is largely a consequence of higher ticket prices. By total estimated tickets sold, the just-completed Q3 ranks No. 17 out of the 20 this century, or No. 7 out of the 10 this decade.

While that may be a reminder of the continued competition exhibition faces from an increasing number of entertainment options consumers have to choose from, NATO confirmed this Q3’s average ticket price registered at $8.93, a modest 1.13 percent increase from Q3 2018’s $8.83 average and slightly lower than earlier projections for this year’s Q3 average.

In admissions terms, NATO reports Q3 2019 sold nearly 316.1 million tickets during the period, an increase of 2.33 percent from 308.9 million during the same period last year.

Year to date, the average ticket price is $9.08, down from $9.11 through the end of Q3 one year ago. NATO notes that when adjusted for inflation, today’s current average price is down 11 percent from 1969’s $10.22 ($1.42 at the time).

Films & Demographics

Although The Lion King was the top earner with $540.5 million and claimed a 52.9 percent share of female audiences, the next four highest earners (excluding Q2 holdover films like Toy Story 4) attracted predominately male audiences. Those titles were Spider-Man: Far From Home (58.3 percent), IT Chapter Two ($196.3 million), Hobbs & Shaw (59 percent), and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (55 percent).

As already mentioned, Disney’s The Lion King was Q3’s top film by a wide margin, earning $540.2 million. The film debuted to the eighth-highest opening weekend ever ($191.8 million), then continued strong with 11 weekends in the top 10. (Disney’s Avengers: Endgame and Aladdin reached 10 and 11 weekends in the top 10, respectively, but both earned the majority of their income during Q2.)

Sony’s Spider-Man: Far From Home took the quarter’s runner-up slot, with $390.1 million. That was a 17.3 percent improvement over predecessor Spider-Man: Homecoming, which earned $332.5 million in Q3 2017 after opening in the same early July corridor.

Warner Bros.’ IT Chapter Two earned the quarter’s bronze medal, with $194.6 million. However, that was down 32.1 percent from predecessor It, which earned $286.6 million in Q3 2017 after opening the same post–Labor Day weekend. Even so, the film has proven to be another major financial success for the studio and horror genre.

Disney’s Toy Story 4, true to the number in its title, took fourth place in the quarter with $194.3 million. That’s especially impressive since it was the lone title among the quarter’s top 12 films to have been released in Q2, rather than Q3.

Universal’s Hobbs & Shaw rounded out the quarter’s top five with $172.3 million, and although it earned less than any of the three Fast & Furious installments from which it was spun off, it developed staying power, and its global haul could help lead to a sequel.

Meanwhile, Quentin Tarantino and Sony’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood impressed, especially for an original screenplay not based on an existing property, in sixth place with $139.1 million. By Q3’s end, the film had already surpassed Inglourious Basterds’ $120.5 million domestic haul to become the filmmaker’s second-highest box office earner, trailing only Django Unchained’s $162.8 million.

Other films that came in above expectations included STX’s Hustlers, Universal’s Good Boys, and Focus Features’ Downton Abbey.

Studio Performance

Among studios, Q3 was the first full quarter after Disney’s gargantuan takeover of Fox, which was formally completed in the middle of Q2. Disney led the box office by a noticeable pace with $800.1 million, or an even larger $887.1 million if including its newly acquired Fox titles.

Sony was the runner-up with $618.6 million, led by Spider-Man: Far From Home. They were followed by Universal with $359.1 million and Warner Bros. with $275.0 million.

Q4 and End-of-Year Outlook

Looking ahead to the fourth quarter, expect a likely year-over-year improvement as well, just as for the third quarter just completed. With that said, October and early November will represent challenging comparisons to the same corridor last year when films like Venom, A Star Is Born, Halloween, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch combined for benchmark earnings at various points.

The tide should begin to noticeably turn in mid-November, though, when Frozen II is expected to generate another massive Disney box office run.

A handful of adult-leaning counter-programmers like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Doctor Sleep, Ford v Ferrari, The Good Liar, Knives Out, Last Christmas, and Terminator: Dark Fate should also make for healthy performances leading into December, when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Jumanji: The Next Level are the runaway favorites to dominate the month. Other possible standouts include Cats, Little Women, Richard Jewell, and Spies in Disguise.

Last Q4, the highest-grossing film was Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch with $266.2 million. At least two films—Frozen II and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker—are virtually guaranteed to soar past that total by considerable margins this year.

While it will be a tall order for 2019 to finish at or above 2018’s record $11.89 billion domestic haul, barring any major surprises, this year is still on pace to significantly eclipse 2016’s all-time second-highest, $11.38 billion.

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