Disney, Horror, and Sequelitis: This year’s summer box office, analyzed

Another summer bites the dust. This year, as per every year, I, alongside 4,168 other film fans, participated in the Summer Movie Wager, an annual event run by the good folks at the SlashFilmCast where the hosts try and guess the highest-grossing movies of the summer, in the correct order.

A few rules, quoted from the official website:

The scoring of your list of 10 movies and your 3 dark horses goes like this:

  • Getting number 1 or number 10 dead-on gets you 13 points (each)
  • 10 points for numbers 2–9 dead-on
  • 7 points if your pick was only one spot away from where it ended up
  • 5 points if it was two spots away
  • 3 points if your pick is anywhere in the Top 10
  • 1 point for each dark horse that makes it into the Top 10

The scoring is tabulated so that you get the SINGLE HIGHEST point value for each pick — that is, if you get number ten right, you don’t get 13+3, you only get 13.

So, getting the right order matters and choosing nonconsensus (but correct) picks also matters.

This year, I’m proud to say that I died for 79th place, which puts me around the top 2% of the forecasters on the Summer Movie Wager. In comparison, last year I scored 1,658th place, or top 40th percentile. In 2017, I scored 194th out of 2,690th place — top 7th percentile. This year was the best year ever

When looking at the numbers, a couple of interesting observations appear.

Disney Dominated

It wasn’t even fair. In the summer when audiences were treated to a once-in-a-generation movie like Avengers: Endgame what could you expect? To top it all off, Disney also released the “live-action” (does more realistic CG count as “live action?”) remake of The Lion King, the fourth-quel to the Toy Story series and the amuse-bouche to Endgame that was Spiderman: Far from Home. How could any other studio hope to compete?

Doing some analysis, and putting it into Elizabeth Warren-style language, the House of Mouse received almost 2 out of every 3 dollars spent at the theaters this weekend if we shift Spiderman: Far from Home out of the “Sony” category and into the “Disney” category (because, let’s be real, it was an MCU movie). Compare that to 2018, when Disney “only” received a little over half of all dollars spent on ticket sales, again with the Avengers boost.

Why so serious?

Another interesting tidbit about this summer is the lack of comedies. Even while scanning the top releases of this year, I’d have to give the closest thing resembling a comedy to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which managed to scrape nearly $140 million dollars with the enhanced star power of Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Margot Robbie. If I’m a little more narrow with that definition then the second closest thing that resembles a comedy this year is Men In Black: International, which didn’t even crack the top 10.

Instead, horror flicks seemed to do so well. The year-to-date dollar amount generated by the combined efforts of It: Chapter Two and Us, put them on the same footing as an Aladdin (2019). In fact, looking deeper into the top 100 highest-grossing movies of this year, Anabelle Comes Home, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Escape Room, The Curse of Llorona, and Pet Semetary, all made it to the top 50, proving that there is indeed a domestic audience for scary movies.

Sequels (ex-Disney) Disappointed

Audiences this summer also seemed to suffer from sequel fatigue. Looking at the opening weekend box office numbers for franchises within the top 30 highest-grossing movies this year, only three of them managed to outperform the latest film in the franchise. In other words, for some reason, sequels haven’t managed to garner the same type of enthusiasm for audiences as the last movie in the franchise did.

Critics, also, for the most part, agreed with audiences: sequelitis is real. In the above chart, only three sequels managed to achieve a higher Rotten Tomatoes score than the film in the franchise right before it.

What next?

With the completion of the Infinite Saga and a mainline Star Wars, next year probably won’t have the same type of “Disney Dominance” the company has enjoyed for the last few years. Other studios are packing the heat with the releases of Godzilla vs Kong (Univ.), Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (WB), Wonder Woman 1984 (WB) and Fast & Furious 9 (Univ.). But perhaps that’s intentional as they ramp up Disney+ to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Until next the next Summer Movie Wager!

Source: Box Office Mojo, Rotten Tomatoes, Paul’s calculations of 20 September 2019

Film Lover. Squash Player. Economist. Currently in Hong Kong.

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