Movie studios should prepare themselves for “another round of punishment” this year with “several big-budget bombs and disappointing performances from mid-budget pictures,” Cowen and Co. analyst Doug Creutz warns this morning in his annual analysis of film industry trends.
Although last year’s domestic box office improved 2.2%, the long-time critic of Hollywood’s business models says that when adjusted for inflation 2016 was “the fourth worst year at the domestic box office since 2000.”
What’s more, operating profits dropped by 14.6% in 2016 to $4.18 billion, and Disney accounted for 60.5% of the total. Four studios –Universal/DreamWorks Animation, Lionsgate, Sony, and Paramount — declined more than 40%, with Sony and Paramount ending the calendar year in the red.
And 2017 will be “at least as difficult,” he says. Some 30 releases, one more than in 2016, will have budgets of more than $100 million, including 20 that are either sequels or “part of ongoing meta-franchises such as Marvel.”
The problem? Non-Disney blockbusters generated an average of $128 million at domestic box offices in 2016, down from $176 million in 2015 and $162 million in 2014.
“Overcrowding, and the outsized dominance of Disney, very clearly significantly suppressed big-budget movie performance across the rest of the industry,” Creutz says.
On top of that, the international box office for the 100 top grossing U.S. films dropped 1.7% last year to $15.1 billion.
Although sales in China continue to grow, Western Europe and other “mature film markets” appear to be oversaturated with blockbusters. As a result, he says, “Hollywood can no longer count on international markets to be a growth driver.”
At some point studios will adjust by veering away from action, animation, and young adult-skewing franchises. But by then, he says, “we worry that attempts to re-diversify into other genres may fall on deaf ears.”
Looking at individual studios, Creutz predicts that Disney will be safe this year with “more than its share of outsized hits” including Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Beauty and the Beast.
Warner Bros.”will be largely successful” with DC films Wonder Woman and Justice League and high-profile releases including King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and Dunkirk. But the analyst warns that the studio “may not reach the heights of last year” which included Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad.
Fox is “in a bit of a tough spot with summer sequels Alien:Covenant and War for the Planet of the Apes competing with “larger competitors with potentially broader audience appeal.”
Paramount will probably face “continued losses” but not as bad as last year, Creutz says. Its summer release Transformers: The Last Knight “is looking pretty long-in-the-tooth.”
The analyst says he’s “cautious” about Lionsgate in light of “increasing concentration of success in the market, and the squeezing of box office out of counterprogramming genres.” The release this month of Power Rangers “remains a key event as the company seeks to prove it can create new hit franchises.”