By Daniel Loria and Rebecca Pahle
The extended family is gone and decorations are coming down: It’s the end of another year. 2019 has proven an interesting one for the box office. While the year’s total cume of $11.4 billion is less than than the $11.8 racked up in 2018—though not by much—2019 gave us a new all-time highest grosser (going by worldwide cume) with Avengers: Endgame. Endgame is one of seven films in the year’s top ten released by Disney, giving exhibitors a solid hint at what they should be keeping their eyes on as we enter 2020. As 2019 recedes in the rear-view mirror, Boxoffice Pro takes a look back at the top-ten grossing films in the domestic market.
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?
The Lion King
Just as 2019 saw Disney make bank from their Star Wars and Marvel 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 Lady and the Tramp—got 2019 remakes, a practice born from 2010 mega-success Alice in Wonderland. (The Lady and the Tramp remake was released exclusively on Disney+.) Of all the Disnehy remakes that have hit theaters since Alice, The Lion King is by far the highest grosser both 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.
Toy Story 4
The franchise that launched Pixar returned to screens for its final(?) bow in 2019. Toy Story 4 earned a franchise-best $434 million in North America and dethroned 1994’s animated The Lion King to become the highest-grossing G-rated movie of all-time. The sequel grossed $639.3 million overseas to cross the $1 billion mark worldwide. A tepid performance in China ($29.1 million) was compensated for by strong showings in key foreign markets like Japan ($93.8 million), the United Kingdom ($82.8 million), and Mexico ($71.8 million).
$430.1 Million (Calendar Year Gross, Still in Theaters)
Audiences couldn’t let go of 2013’s Frozen, so it’s no surprise that its sequel went on to become the highest-grossing Walt Disney Animation Studios release of all-time by grossing over $430 million domestically. The sequel’s earnings carried over into the new decade following its November 22nd release. It might be on track to unseat its predecessor as the highest-earning animated release of all-time worldwide.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe launched its frontal assault on the 2019 box office with the March 8 release of Captain Marvel. Starring Brie Larson, the superhero film debuted with $153.4 domestically before eventually topping off at $426.8 million. Worldwide, the film grossed $1.12 billion, making it the first Disney release of the year to cross the billion-dollar mark. As is typical for MCU films, Captain Marvel performed well in China. More atypically: with Captain Marvel, Disney shook up their typical release pattern for the MCU, opening Avengers: Endgame just seven weeks after Captain Marvel took to the skies. Scroll to the top of the page to be reminded that the short window didn’t exactly put audiences off. The successes of Captain Marvel and Endgame serve as evidence that audience demand for a “higher, further, faster” quantity of MCU movies has not become fully saturated.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
The choice to release both Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame in the spring doesn’t mean the MCU’s mid-summer spot—previously occupied by Captain America: The First Avenger, Ant-Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Ant-Man and the Wasp—would go unfilled. Sony release Spider-Man: Far From Home stepped into the summer sun this time around, making it one of three non-Disney films to count among the year’s top ten. (Though, of course, Far From Home is part of a Disney-owned franchise.) The film enjoyed two weekends of unchallenged box office supremacy (July new releases Midsommar, Crawl, and Stuber didn’t stand a chance) before being swept out of the top spot by Disney’s The Lion King. As far as worldwide box office is concerned, Far From Home rests solidly in the middle third among MCU films. Its $1.13 billion worldwide cume, however, is enough to make it the highest-grossing Spider-Man film, surpassing second-place finisher Spider-Man 3 ($890.8 million).
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
$362.1 Million (Calendar Year Gross, Still in Theaters)
The Skywalker saga came to an end in 2019 with Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. The film’s mid-December release means that we’re only tabulating its 2019 calendar years earnings, which include the second-highest Christmas Day take of all-time with $32.16 million. That means The Rise of Skywalker earned $362.1 million over its first 11 days of release in North America, enough to propel it into the top 10 releases of the calendar year. Domestic grosses have already begun spilling over to Q1 2020, where the “Star Wars bump” will help kickstart a new decade of hits.
Disney’s live-action Aladdin remake enjoyed a shining, shimmering, splendid box office run, earning $355.5 domestically and $1.05 billion worldwide. In terms of domestic box office, among Disney remakes that puts it behind only The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and The Jungle Book. (The last of those, directed by Disney favorite Jon Favreau, made less than Aladdin when you add in international territories.) The three Disney remakes to hit theaters in 2019 grossed a combined total of $10.13 billion, evincing an audience interest that the studio has to hope won’t run out any time soon. New versions of of Mulan, 101 Dalmatians, and The Little Mermaid—plus an Aladdin spinoff—are just a few of the Disney remakes in the works.
To think that director Todd Phillips’ R-rated Joker was at one point considered a risky bet by Warner Bros. A stand-alone film focusing on a principal villain from the DC Comics Universe was already an iffy proposition on paper, especially considering the series of hits-and-misses under the studio’s DC banner. The end-result, however, drew critical praise and delivered the studio’s biggest box office hit of 2019. The film triumphed despite early concerns about its subject matter impacting ticket sales, helping lift the September box office after a sluggish summer. After its financial success, the only questions Warner Bros. must be asking themselves is whether this Joker is truly a one-off or if it will inspire similar adult-oriented films in the coming years.
It Chapter 2
If you were waiting to see a film on this list that’s not A) a Disney movie, B) based on a comic book character, or C) both, here’s your time: Warner Bros.’ It Chapter 2 was the tenth highest-grossing film of the year, with a domestic gross of $211.5 million ($472.0 million international). As evidenced by the “Chapter 2” in the title, the film is a sequel; the first It was the sixth highest-grossing film of 2017 with $327.4 million. The decade has seen seven horror films—It and its sequel, Get Out, Us, Halloween, A Quiet Place, and The Conjuring—crack the top 20, three of which were based on an original story and not, at the time of their release, part of a franchise. That represents a promising ratio (if one based on a limited sample size) when compared to the decade’s highest-grossing releases as a whole.