(Note: Normally, I would be writing about this weekend’s new movies, but in this case, it’s only BH Tilt’s thriller Don’t Let Go, which I wouldn’t have had a chance to see until Wednesday night, so instead, I’m going to look back at the higher and lower points of summer 2019 instead.)
Monday is Labor Day, the official end to the summer movie season, and what a summer it’s been! It’s been super-hot and humid and rainy and stormy, but none of that weather really affected whether anyone wanted to go see movies or not. If there was something they wanted to see, they went to see it. If there wasn’t? They stayed home and watched Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, played video games and binge-watched whatever they could.
Some might remember that back in April, I wrote a preview of the summer box office, which I’m afraid to look at, since I know that there were definitely movies I over-estimated (hello, Godzilla) and underestimated (like Aladdin), but let’s begin by looking at some actual numbers… (Note: The total box office below is through August 25.)
Summer 2019 Top 12
Obviously, having four of the top five movies of the summer, Walt Disney Pictures did very well. While that’s mainly due to one Marvel and one Pixar movie, that showing for The Lion King is also fantastic, and that still has more time to make money after Labor Day. Just for a little perspective, that number for Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame is the second-highest gross of all time after Star Wars: the Force Awakens. The Lion King’s $500 million makes it one of only 14 movies that have crossed that benchmark – ten of those movies were released by Walt Disney Pictures. The highest-grossing non-Disney movie was Spider-Man: Far from Homewas still co-produced by Marvel’s Kevin Feige, so does that even count as non-Disney? Disney’s biggest “bomb” of the summer was Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, which still grossed more than $350 million domestically.
By comparison to last summer, it’s interesting to note that there were a lot of big releases in the month before and after summer, most notably Marvel’s Black Panther, which grossed $700 million to become 2018’s highest-grossing domestic movie. The top 3 summer movies made about $1.7 billion among them, which is about a billion higher than last year’s summer top 3, but that scale continues right down the line. Spider-Man: Far from Home and Aladdin made more than the #4 and 5 movies last summer (Deadpool 2 and Mission: Impossible – Fallout). After that, #6 John Wick made less than last year’s #6 Ant-Man and the Wasp, and #7 The Secret Life of Pets 2 made less than Solo: A Star Wars Story last year, but 2018 also had a mid-August hit in Crazy Rich Asians, which grossed $174.5 million. What does this prove? That things pretty much evened out and this summer’s offerings ended up making about as much as the movies last year. There were some bad weeks earlier in the summer, but things evened out. Movies like Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and The Lion King made up for the fact that Hobbs and Shaw didn’t perform like other recent “Fast and Furious” movies.
Special attention should be paid to Aladdin and John Wick: Chapter 3, because the former got mixed reviews, at best, but the second one ended up being a popular early summer fave after Avengers: Endgame. It isn’t often where the third movie in a series is better-received than the previous installments, but John Wick Chapter 3 made $78 million more than Chapter 2 and that was with astounding legs from repeat viewings. Aladdin wasn’t as well-received by critics, but it found an audience of fans nostalgic from the original animated movie. It also was a movie that offered the kind of fun and laughs we weren’t getting from other movies. Certainly not Godzilla: King of the Monsters, one of the movies that did way worse than I expected. More on all of these below.s
AVENGERS: ENDGAME dominates over all…
There’s no denying that the box office records broken and set by the end of Marvel Phase 3 will be hard for any other movie to beat… maybe ever? I mean, I thought that about Avengers: Infinity War’s $250 million opening last summer and Endgame opened – you might want to sit down for this — $100 million higher! That’s right. Endgame beat Infinity War’s previous opening weekend record by 40% and kicked the ass of my own $275 million prediction. After at least one prominent rerelease with new footage, Endgame also bested the long-running global box office record held by James Cameron’s Avatar, but know what record it didn’t break? Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ domestic record of $936.6 million and the fact that it missed that by nearly $80 million, one wonders if even Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker might surpass that amount. Either way, Endgame grossed $858 million from being the summer’s kick-off movie in late April all the way until Labor Day weekend, and Marvel Studios now has a BIG hill to climb if it ever wants to create something quite as massive and all-encompassing as they did with 22 films over 11 years.
LION KING comes in second… with $1.5 billion
Jon Favreau had been working for many years on his CG-animated The Lion King, although for the longest time many thought it was going to be “live action.” (I haven’t seen it, so I shouldn’t really comment on that.) But most people assumed it was going to be a hit because the original 1994 animated movie made $422.7 million in 1994 dollars i.e. it took a lot more people seeing a movie back then to make that amount then now with $20+ ticket prices. In fact, when you look at the ratios, the new version making only $87.8 million than the original (so far) is somewhat disappointing. Fortunately, The Lion King made another BILLION overseas, so yeah, Disney execs are getting another big bonus this year and Favreau can write his own ticket. (Hopefully that will mean a $100 million Chef sequel.)
ALADDIN and JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3 helped save the summer
While Avengers: Endgamewas making all of the money, other movies were opening and not making much of a mark until the third weekend of May when Keanu Reeves returned as the vengeful assassin John Wick in John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. Despite the odd subtitle, fans of the franchise, which never had an installment make more than $100 million, rushed out opening weekend to the tune of almost $57 million. That was more than EVERY other non-Disney release except for Sony’s Spider-Man: Far from Home, which is saying a lot, but maybe more about the summer’s weaker offerings, which I cover below.
Aladdin also proved to be quite a coup, not just for Disney, who had three bigger movies this year, but for the movie’s star Will Smith, its director Guy Ritchie, and fine, for Disney as well. It opened over Memorial Day weekend, a holiday weekend in which Disney had just two semi-hits with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) and last year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, but the latter was a disappointment relative to the rest of the new “Star Wars” releases. I’m not sure anyone (including me) thought that Aladdin could come anywhere close to those, but in fact, it ended up with $116.8 million, the fifth best opening on the holiday. Unlike the four higher Memorial Day openers, Aladdin managed to stick around, grossing $353.8 million domestically, which is in fact better than every other Memorial Day release to date. Read that last part again, because it’s even more stunning than Keanu Reeves. In a day when movies come out and do huge business opening weekend and then quickly disappear, Aladdinjust kept bringing in more and more business showing that audiences liked it more than critics. The movie also became one of Disney’s FOUR movies to gross a billion worldwide, so yeah, they’re thinking of how to make a sequel. Also, it made $136.5 million more domestically than the 1992 movie, a better margin than The Lion Kingover its source material.
Instead of just picking out every movie that disappointed – because there were a LOT — I’m going to pinpoint three particularly bad weekends in late May and early June where we saw four movies that should have been sure-things based on previous movies FLOP.
Once Avengers: Endgame had been out for a few weeks, there was room for other movies to bring in business, but other than John Wick Chapter 3 and Aladdin, audiences just weren’t interested.
Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ 2015 Godzilla movie made $200 million domestically after a $93 million opening so the late May release Godzilla: King of the Monsters should have been a strong tentpole for the franchise that continues with March’s Godzilla vs. King Kong. Its terrible $47 million opening weekend was barely more than the $44 million opening of Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla twenty years ago, and it barely crossed the $100 million mark domestically, although that was less than the 1998 movie’s $136 million gross. Think about that. A 2019 “Godzilla” movie opened with just $3 million more than a movie in 1998 despite there being 21 years of ticket price inflation. Some thought that it was the five years between movies that killed any interested in seeing the new movie directed by Michael Dougherty. Maybe that was the case, but Negative Nelly critics didn’t help, which is a shame since at least I enjoyed it as a lifelong Godzilla fan.
Hollywood had barely recovered from that weak late May weekend (where both Rocketmanand Ma also did less than expected) when June kicked off with the one-two punch of Universal’s animated sequel The Secret Life of Pets 2 and Fox’s final mutant venture, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which would also be the first Fox movie released by new owner Walt Disney Pictures. The Secret Life of Pets sequel opened with just $46.6 million, less than half its predecessor’s record-setting opening for an original animated movie. That was better than Dark Phoenix, which plagued by bad reviews and buzz, opened with just $32 million, which was almost as bad (but not quite) as Fox’s disastrous Fantastic Fourremake in 2015. So yeah, things weren’t great for Disney in that respect, since their $73 billion dollar acquisition of Fox was not paying off right away, but hey, Marvel got the X-Men and FF back under its fold, so does it really matter? Secret Life of Pets 2 ended up in the top 10 for the summer, but below John Wick: Chapter 3, and Dark Phoenix? It grossed $65.8 million domestically (and about $186 million overseas). I have a feeling that its global gross didn’t even cover the cost of production, so it is indeed a bonafide BOMB. Even Godzilla: King of the Monsters made twice that worldwide.
One week later, Sony also got waylaid by the summer’s “sequelitis” by trying their hand at a spin-off of a popular Will Smith franchise, pairing Thor: Ragnarok’s Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson for Men in Black International. It seemed like a good idea on paper even if neither actor had as big a hit as their Marvel movies (which included Avengers: Endgamejust over a month earlier). The movie opened with around $30 million, not great, and made less than $80 million domestically. As with most movies, overseas helped with $173 million but making $253 million globally with a $110 million production budget? Also not great. It’s barely profitable and that’s not even including the money spent on marketing. Maybe Sony will rethink what to do with this franchise or go back to the original idea of crossing it with 22 Jump Street, but this movie was quickly forgotten, especially once Spider-Man: Far from Home came along.
Studio of the Summer
Most summers, I try to pick out a single studio to spotlight every summer that delivered a box office performance above and beyond. Going with Disney would be too easy, so I’m picking Lionsgate. Between the success of John Wick Chapter 3 and the late-summer hits Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and this past weekend’s Angel Has Fallen, Lionsgate had one of its best summers in a long time, and it seems to have found its footing in terms of tentpoles that don’t have to cost a ton of money. And they didn’t have to be based on Y.A. books either!
That’s it for this summer. I’ll be back to the normal Box Office Preview next Wednesday, talking about New Line’s It: Chapter Two, and we’re officially into the Fall!