By Daniel Loria and Rebecca Pahle
The biggest story of the decade at the domestic box office was the impact of Disney’s acquisition of Pixar (2006), Marvel Studios (2009), and Lucasfilm (2012). Nine of the decade’s ten highest grossing films at the domestic box office were Disney releases, eight of them coming from one of those three Disney-owned companies. Universal was the only other studio to budge into the decade’s ten biggest hits thanks to its 2015 launch of Jurassic World. The decade came to a close with the biggest Disney acquisition of them all, 20th Century Fox; the biggest box office year in Disney’s history, $13.15 billion including Fox titles); the release of the final chapter of the Star Wars Skywalker saga; and the launch of Disney+, the studio’s own streaming platform.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Disney | 2015
Disney went into the decade with the Marvel Cinematic Universe already under its belt; the studio acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009, shortly after it launched what would become a billion-dollar series with 2008’s Iron Man. In 2012, Disney got out the checkbook again and announced their acquisition of Lucasfilm, putting them in the position to make the first Star Wars films since George Lucas’ prequel trilogy from around a decade earlier. (That prequel trilogy was released by 20th Century Fox, which would itself be acquired by Disney in 2019.) Star Wars’ box office haul since that time has been “impressive… most impressive.” The first film of producer Kathleen Kennedy’s new Star Wars trilogy, The Force Awakens, opened domestically to a then-record $247.9 million, a figure that has only been surpassed by fellow Disney releases Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The Force Awakens’ $936.6 million domestic cume remains the highest of the decade, even if Endgame passed it on the worldwide front. Speaking of Endgame…
Disney | 2019
The culmination of Marvel’s Avengers saga added up to an astonishing $858 million in domestic ticket sales, but that doesn’t even tell half the story. Avengers: Endgame became the highest grossing movie of all time worldwide in 2019, grossing a cumulative $2.79 billion. On the domestic front, Endgame only trails Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens as the second-highest grossing movie of all time in the U.S. & Canada market. The film’s anticipation hit a fever pitch following the cliffhanger ending of its predecessor, Avengers: Infinity War, which took the box office by storm in 2018. With a new generation of heroes coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2020, moviegoers and box office analysts have already begun to ask themselves: Did we hit peak Marvel in 2019 with Avengers: Endgame?
Disney | 2018
In 2016, Captain America: Civil War introduced a new character to cinema audiences in the form of T’Challa. Two years later, T’Challa’s solo film Black Panther would breeze past Civil War to become, at the time, the highest-grossing entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film debuted in 2018 on President’s Day weekend–which would have seemed unusually early for for a major tentpole release, until Deadpool bowed to $152.2 million over that same weekend in 2016. Black Panther annihilated Deadpool’s record, taking in $242.2 million over the four-day weekend. Its opening day attendance was an even split between men and women, a first for the MCU. Black Panther went on to claim the top spot for five weeks and hang around in the top ten for thirteen weeks, at the time only the fifth film in 15 years to do so. Its remarkable hold landed it with a $1.3 billion worldwide cume, bolstered by strong showings in China ($105 million), the United Kingdom ($70.6 million), South Korea ($42.8 million), and Mexico ($28.3 million).
Avengers: Infinity War
Disney | 2018
A string of titles from the Marvel Cinematic Universe helped bring the Avengers series back on track following a dip in performance with 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron ($459 million). 2018’s Infinity War was billed as the first half of the core ensemble’s final chapter together–and it didn’t disappoint at the box office. Domestically, the film was the second-highest grossing title of 2018 behind MCU lead-in Black Panther. A stellar overseas run pushed Infinity War over $2 billion worldwide, claiming the top spot at the global box office in 2018.
Universal | 2015
Spoiler alert: The four films that grossed more than Jurassic World this decade were Disney films, and the five next highest-earners are Disney, too. That makes Universal’s Jurassic World the only film in the decade’s top ten released by a studio other than Disney. Like the Avengers and Star Wars movies, Jurassic World trafficked in nostalgia, in this case nostalgia for Jurassic Park, the highest-grossing film of 1993. Jurassic World couldn’t quite get the top spot in 2015, its $652.2 million domestic gross placing it well behind Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens. With $1.67 billion, it’s now the sixth highest-grossing film of all time worldwide. At the time of its release, it was the fastest film to ever reach a billion dollars as well as contributing to 2015’s record-breaking second quarter. A large part of Jurassic World’s success story is the overseas market, where it earned over a billion of its $1.6 billion total cume. Its opening weekend was at the time the highest-ever for the international box office.
Marvel’s The Avengers
Disney | 2012
The Avengers set a new standard for the ensemble superhero movie. As opposed to 20th Century Fox’s X-Men series, which largely provided the blueprint for a superhero team-up, Disney’s title benefited from an entire slate of preceding character-focused films by the time it hit its Avengers crescendo. The Avengers finished 2012 as the highest-grossing film of the year domestically, earning $175 million more than The Dark Knight Rises ($448.1 million). Christopher Nolan’s final Batman chapter for Warner Bros. The Avengers went on to gross $1.5 billion worldwide, firmly establishing the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the decade’s hottest franchise back in 2012.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
Disney | 2017
The second film in Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi had a built-in audience following the record-breaking success of 2015’s The Force Awakens. (And, you know, the other Star Wars movies.) Moviegoers turned out to the tune of $104.6 million on opening weekend, the second-highest opening of any Star Wars film and, at the time, the fourth highest opening weekend of all time. (Now it stands at fourth). In 2015, 2017, and 2019 (with The Rise of Skywalker), Star Wars has positively demolished the December box office, those film’s easy six-figure debuts setting up Q1 for the following year.
Disney | 2018
In a decade defined by superheroes dominating the box office, it should come as no surprise that Pixar’s own family of heroes became the studio’s biggest hit of the decade. Incredibles 2 outperformed both Toy Story 4 (2019, $434 million) and Finding Dory (2016, $486.2 million) by an impressive margin en route to becoming the biggest animated hit of all time at the domestic box office. It currently sits as the tenth biggest domestic earner of all-time.
The Lion King
Disney | 2019
Just as 2019 saw Disney make bank from their Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe properties, over the last twelve months the Mouse House has also monetized their classic IP in a big way. The infamous “Disney vault” was cracked open with the launch of streaming platform Disney+, giving subscribers access to archive titles. Four of those archive titles—The Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo, and web-exclusive Lady and the Tramp—got 2019 remakes, a practice born from 2010 mega-success Alice in Wonderland. Of the remakes, The Lion King is by far the highest grosser domestically ($543.6 million) and worldwide ($1.65 billion). It opened strong in China with nearly $100 in its first week and crossed the billion-dollar mark after 19 days. The film is one of two 2019 releases (along with Avengers: Endgame) to crack the top ten highest-grossing opening weekends of all time.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Disney | 2016
The “lost sequel” that takes place between Star Wars episodes III and IV recovered from a turbulent production and extensive reshoots to become fan-favorite entry in the franchise. The first Star Wars spin-off crossed the half-billion mark domestically in Q1 2017, hinting at what could be a very lucrative slate of one-off titles under Disney. At the time of release, it didn’t seem peculiar for anything branded Star Wars to be a defacto success at the box office. Those expectations were quickly adjusted following the botched release of Solo: A Star Wars Story ($213.7 million). Rogue One’s success shines in contrast to Solo’s steep box office stumble, proving that a compelling film–regardless the production difficulties that precede it–is crucial for the continued success of any studio-led IP.