Domestic Box Office Posts Second-Highest Total Ever; International Sets a Record

by Patrick Corcoran, Vice President & Chief Communications Officer, NATO and Phil Contrino, Director of Media & Research, NATO 

Domestic box office posted its second highest total ever—$11.4 billion—in 2019, and a 4 percent decline from 2018’s record $11.88 billion. That marks the fifth consecutive year box office has surpassed $11 billion and the 11th consecutive year over $10 billion. International box office, in turn, set a record of $31.1 billion, exceeding $30 billion for the first time.

The domestic total is remarkable for a year that began well behind in the first quarter, down 15.62 percent, primarily due to weak holdovers from 2018. December 2017 holdovers The Last Jedi, The Greatest Showman, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle contributed more than $460 million to Q1 2018 box office and accounted for more than the $440 million deficit in the quarter, year over year. In fact, Jumanji’s 2018 gross made it the seventh-highest-grossing title for the year, despite achieving 41 percent of its gross in 2017.

The second quarter was a different story, with box office roaring back on the strength of Avengers: Endgame, falling only 3.5 percent from the all-time box office record in Q2 2018. Indeed, while summer 2019 trailed 2018 by 2.23 percent, extending the summer period by a week in both years to accommodate the Avengers titles released in each year gives 2019 the edge by about 1 percent.

Q3 beat out the same period in 2018 with a strong mix of late-summer hits like The Lion King, Spider-man: Far From Home, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Downton Abbey, and It: Chapter Two. Box office for the period was up 3.8 percent.

Q4 faced tough early comparisons. Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, Venom, A Star is Born, and Halloween all opened well before Thanksgiving and all grossed more than $100 million, while 2019 had only Joker and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil open before the holiday and hit over $100 million in the quarter. But the quarter ended strongly, with a Thanksgiving to New Year’s period that saw weekly box office surpass the previous year by amounts as high as 43 percent. The quarter overall trailed 2018 by 1.5 percent.

The year included the highest opening weekend of all time (as well as the highest global box office total) for Avengers: Endgame at $357 million. Which leads, naturally, to the question of Disney’s record-breaking market share. With 33 percent of domestic box office and seven of the top 10 titles, Disney had a remarkable year. 

Broadening the picture a bit, however, the market share of $100 million–grossing titles remained the same—63.8 percent in 2019 vs. 63.9 percent in 2018—and movies grossing under $100 million brought in nearly identical revenue: $4.41 billion in 2019 vs. $4.43 billion in 2018. Those under–$100 million grossers are exactly the kinds of movies that streaming is said to be harming—clearly not the case.

It is also worth noting that 2020 will not have quite the concentration of titles from a single company. While some have speculated that 2020 will suffer in comparison, with no Avengers or Star Wars mega-blockbusting title on the schedule, there is a wider range of potentially big films (at least 10 more event films on the schedule) from a wider range of studios than in 2019. It is important to mention here that literally no one predicted a record year in 2018, while many expected a record in 2019. Similarly, no one predicted Black Panther’s $700 million gross nor Joker’s $300 million. Please check your scorecards and tell me who predicted Downton Abbey would out gross Men in Black International and X-Men Dark Phoenix.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. The audience has the final say.

A few highlights from the record year internationally:

France broke a 50-year attendance record by posting 213 million admissions—a 6 percent year-over-year increase. Hollywood titles accounted for 59 percent of admissions.

Italy delivered a 14 percent year-over-year increase in box office. The impressive jump was a direct result of more Hollywood and local titles being released during the summer, a time of year that distributors tended to avoid in the past.

In Brazil, the box office rose 13.7 percent year over year for a total of $684 million. Hollywood continued to dominate, as local titles accounted for only 11 percent of the box office total.

Spain tallied its highest box admission since 2009 with a total of 105.5 million. Box office came in at $699 million—the highest total since 2011 hit $705.6 million.

China posted a $9.2 billion haul—up 5.4 percent from the previous year. While growth is definitely slowing in the Middle Kingdom—despite a screen count just shy of 70,000—the market still makes a substantial contribution to the global total. Chinese titles accounted for a massive 64.1 percent of box office, which marked a significant drop in Hollywood influence. 

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