Yes, we’re not done looking back on 2016 yet — there’s so much to parse — but if you’re looking for more, here’s all our Best Of 2016 coverage.
We’re at an inflection point in the movie industry’s history, and it’s one we should earmark when looking back several years down the road depending on how the pattern progresses or worsens. It’s has been a “record year” at the box office for 2016, and comScore projections are currently at $11.37 billion for 2016 and counting (while comScore has apparently finalized their figures, keep in mind that December films like “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” are just getting started, with the spinoff expected to add another half billion to the tally alone). There’s a major problem, though, and like our economy, it’s about the division of wealth. Disney alone is consuming more than half that $11.3 billion figure. The studio crossed the $7 billion threshold this year, which is nearly 62% of the entire North American box office.
And so, the surface narrative reads: a record year, the industry is on the rise, right? But the fine print tells a much different story in the aggregate of details. Grosses are up, but only by approximately +2.06% from last year’s $11.1285 billion total. The paradox is that profits are down overall. Why?
“Everybody’s going to see the same movies,” Doug Creutz, senior media, entertainment, and gaming analyst at Cowen and Company told Vanity Fair late last month. “And they’re mostly Disney’s. You have a structural problem in the movie industry right now. Too many expensive movies and not enough people to see them.”
So, the health of the movie business is actually very much in question. Theater attendance is actually down according to comScore figures, but inflated ticket prices are making up for the dip. Indeed, much like 2015, 2016 has been a repeat of the have or have-not season — the 1%-vs.-99% narrative leaning on the corporations, their marketing media machines and their franchises. In fact, the 2016 domestic top ten (films like “Captain America: Civil War” and “Finding Dory“) accounts for $3.6 billion of that $11.3 billion total — a significant 31.4% of the North American box office (again, this figure rises as ‘Rogue One’ continues to make fab money theatrically; it’s the seventh highest grossing film of 2016 globally so far). Considering there were approximately 720 titles released in 2016 (at least), there is a rather huge divide.
Worldwide figures are another story. It’s difficult to calculate the total global number until way after the fact, but 2015 apparently cleared $38.3 billion all in all, with the global top ten sum accounting for 30% of that figure (given the numbers above, we’re probably looking at 31 or 32% of the total in 2016). Let’s take a look who was up and down financially in 2016 and take a look at the costs and profits, too.
The Big Winner: Disney
To recap, Disney became the first studio to hit $7 billion in a single year (besting Universal’s $6.89 billion year from 2015), and their hegemony accounted for a staggering 61.9% of the total 2016 box office. Massive blockbusters hoovered up the bulk of dollars this year, leaving many mid-budget and indie films flailing in the wind. And six of the ten box-office titles were, of course, Disney films. That’s $2.27 billion, or 63%, of the top 10 overall sum total. There’s more: Four of the top five films were Disney titles, and three movies — “Finding Dory,” “Captain America: Civil War,” and “Zootopia” — crossed $1 billion each worldwide. Globally, five of the top ten titles were Disney and they stockpiled a $4.9 billion total. Ok, you get it. Disney dominated all, and aside from “Zootopia,” their one original property, the studio proved franchises and brands are everything.
Disney Losers (That Didn’t Matter)
However, the studio suffered one franchise black eye which paled from its predecessor. “Alice In Wonderland” yielded an astonishing $1.025 billion in 2010 and hit an impressive $334M at home. However, the sequel, “Alice Through The Looking Glass,” tanked with $77M at home and $299.4 overall worldwide. A domestic nose-dive of -76% and a similar global plummet of -78%. Consider this series done. 2016 also didn’t bode well for Disney bothering to take smaller scale risks in the future. Their one “smaller” action drama, “The Finest Hours,” flopped with a paltry sum of $52M worldwide. Why bother when you can make spectacles that cross $1 billion, right? (Which is sad considering that with how much money they make, the studio could afford to take every risk they wanted.) Another clunker was Steven Spielberg‘s “The BFG” ($178M ww off a $140M budget), which couldn’t surpass $60M at home. But obviously none of these underperformers could affect Disney’s massive bottom line. Overall: $7 fucking billion.
Winner: Disney’s Marvel
Arguably the flagship sub studio of the mouse house, the title of highest-grossing film of 2016 worldwide went to “Captain America: Civil War” ($1.153.3 billion) and Marvel netted $1.8905 billion total (“Doctor Strange” earned another $656.2 million worldwide), slightly down from the $1.9 billion Marvel and change earned last year.
The Lucasfilm plan: release a “Star Wars” movie every year. The unspoken goal? Make $1 billion dollars for each one. And it looks like this is a certain bet for the near future. ‘Rogue One’ features no major stars and a diverse cast with names that some Americans have never heard of. Still, after three weeks of business, the spinoff has generated $800M across the globe, so that’s $1 billion-plus in the bank for sure. At this pace, it should easily be able to surpass the totals of ‘Captain America,’ and bear in mind, ‘Rogue One’ hasn’t even opened in China yet.
Winner: Pixar and Disney’s Animation Studios
2016 was another banner year for Pixar. “Finding Dory” was the number one film of the year domestically (‘Rogue One’ will pass it eventually) and number two film worldwide. Pixar says it will shy away from sequels in the future (or at least take a break), but with numbers like this, we’re not sure we expect this trend to continue for long. Pixar’s John Lasseter has been key in helping Disney turn their own animation studio around — he was part of the reason Pixar was acquired in the first place — and this trend continued. Lasseter helped oversee movies like “Zootopia,” a gangbuster title that produced $1,023.8 billion and ranked as the third-highest-grossing film of 2016 globally. While Disney claims they’re not rushing out a sequel (remember, they still haven’t pulled the trigger on a sequel to the the hugely successful “Frozen“), you can bet they will at some point.
Winner: 20th Century Fox’s “Deadpool”
A game changer. The runaway success in the ubiquitous superhero genre was hands down Fox‘s “Deadpool.” Essentially an unknown property (a cult fave, but a third-tier superhero comic book character to the mainstream), the irreverent action comedy stockpiled $783 worldwide and outgrossed “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” at home by about $30M (an embarrassment for Warner Bros. considering the huge brand awareness of these two characters). Moreover, “Deadpool” was produced for a song by blockbuster standards ($58M) and thus was one of the most profitable tentpoles of the year, if not number one. “Deadpool” clocked in as the seventh-highest-earning film of 2017 and bested what should have been Fox’s flagship film, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” to the tune of $239 million, which is a remarkable figure considering there have been eight previous ‘X-Men’ franchise films to date. Indeed, “Deadpool” put the ‘X-Men’ series to shame. The Ryan Reynolds-starring movie is now the number one grossing film in the X-series both domestically and globally. So, “Deadpool” sequels, plural, are on the way and you’re going to see Fox lean hard into the merc with the mouth series and hit pause on core ‘X-Men’ movies as it looks like stars Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender aren’t coming back. More evidence? There’s already loose talk of a Deadpool-meets-Wolverine film.