According to ComScore this morning, the 2017 domestic box office for the period of Jan. 1-Dec. 31 rings in at $11.12 billion, which is the third best ever, and the third time that the B.O. has crossed that mark for the third consecutive year in a row. Disney for the third year ever has grossed north of $2 billion annually in U.S./Canada ticket sales. Here’s a breakdown of what went right and wrong stateside for those majors with more than 4% marketshare. This year’s ticket sales are 2.3% down from last year’s $11.4 billion all-time domestic record.
DISNEY ($2.4 billion, -20% from 2016, 21.6% marketshare)
What went right: Marvel, Lucasfilm, their live action animated pics and half of Pixar (Coco). But more than those brands, Disney guarantees that they win all around: commercially, critically and audience-wise. You can’t make it with less than that in this social media era. If you want to know how Disney works, Kevin Feige’s insight on Marvel’s secret to success says plenty: “We keep plus-ing, and plus-ing and plus-ing which is an old Walt Disney term. It’s the mindset we have.” Disney also bought 20th Century Fox, which depending on when the merger goes through, could arguably increase their annual marketshare to close to 40%. If both studios were unified this year, their combined marketshare would have been 34.4%. Disney owned four spots in the 2017’s top 10, including the top two slots respectively with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast. Last year they owned six lots with Pixar’s Finding Dory and Lucasfilm’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in the top two.
What they need to do: As the leading major studio excelling with franchises, they have to watch that they don’t over do it. No one stateside was asking for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales or Cars 3, both titles registered their series’ lowest domestic takes respectively with $172.6M and $152.9M. How low can you go? (There’s an argument that we got a fifth Pirates because it could still sell overseas, which it did as global came in close to $800M). The age-old question which their development department needs to continually grapple with is: Why a sequel? The argument can be made that moviegoers will always flock more to sequels than original IPs, however, a fifth Pirates and a third Cars didn’t help with this summer’s B.O. ecosystem (overall the lowest for the industry in 11 years). Having Fox’s side of the Marvel equation will help them in taking their comic book fare to another level.
What’s next: Finally seeing a win at the Memorial Day box office with Solo: A Star Wars Story after a string of annual misfortunes including Prince of Persia, Tomorrowland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and Pirates 5. Disney has 11 tight releases to get it right and win 2018 again, and they’ll definitely make waves with Marvel’s Black Panther, The Incredibles 2 and A Wrinkle in Time to name a few. Also, of course, after the merger goes through, it will be interesting to see if they leave 20th Century Fox as independent as they left Miramax which in its heyday would churn out 25 releases of varying budget sizes.
WARNER BROS. (2017 Domestic B.O.: $2.035 billion, +7%, 18% marketshare)
What went right: This year was Warner’s second best year ever stateside after 2009. Worldwide of $5.135 billion, reps an all-time studio record. They had more No. 1 openings than any other studio, totaling eight. They’re also tied with Disney in having seven titles come in over $100M. While their DC label continued to struggle with Justice League, they greatly succeeded with Wonder Woman which was the third-highest grossing film of 2017 at $412.5M. They got there by marketing the film as a female empowerment anthem, something that spoke to female moviegoers in these vitriolic Trump times. Part of that boils down to
stealing a page out of the Marvel playbook by hiring an indie auteur, Monster‘s Patty Jenkins, to put their spin on a comic book adaptation. Those filmmakers crossing over from the indie world into comic-book fare such as Jenkins, Jon Watts (Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Taika Waititi (Disney’s Thor: Ragnarok) are directors who aren’t simply all about the visual razzle-dazzle but are well-versed in edgy, colorful storytelling. Also, Warners continued to bet on clever directors with a voice who work commercially, read Christopher Nolan with Dunkirk. For all the studio’s potholes in Geostorm and King Arthur; when they got it right, they got it right. They pulled off a box office feat that no other studio in the history of Hollywood could ever pull off: not only launching the biggest horror hit of all-time with Stephen King’s It ($123.4M opening, $327.4M domestic, $698M global) but miraculously doing so in the post-Labor Day dead zone following a ruthless summer.
What they need to do: Stop overspending on tired, half-baked IP — specifically franchises they’re trying to start, read Geostorm and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. If it’s risky, keep the budget low. Don’t burn down the lot. If it’s not working after a year in development in the script stage, just step away (gulp —their take on the Jungle Book, Mowgli, which has been on the shelf for some years opens in the middle of October). When it comes to making original fare at a cost, Warner Bros. simply needs to look to their fellow New Line execs who’ve made the horror division work with edgy filmmakers on thrifty budgets. Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group president and chief content officer Toby Emmerich is already taking steps to make DC work by reorganizing internal staffs after Justice League failed to be DC’s Avengers. Lastly, with comedies on life support, Warners (and New Line) has to step away from schtick (The House, Fist Fight, Father Figures, Chips) and figure out how to reinvigorate the genre again in the post-Hangover era.
What’s next: Does Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris strike the heartland like American Sniper did? Does Steven Spielberg have a big hit with the YA generation with his feature adaptation of Ready Player One? Ocean’s 8 female role reversal looks less daunting and more organic than Sony’s Ghostbusters. After Aquaman, will horror maestro James Wan inherit the oversee of the DC franchise?
UNIVERSAL ($1.53 billion, +9%, 13.7% marketshare)
What went right: A diverse slate from a mix of tried and true franchises like Fate of the Furious and Despicable Me 3, two of four titles that crossed $1 billion worldwide in 2017, and Blumhouse microbudget wonders Split and Get Out. Both titles, especially the latter pic by Jordan Peele, served as reminders as to why certain low budget features shouldn’t make a bee-line directly onto streaming services. They proved that there’s vibrancy in the theatrical window for smart, original fare, and moviegoers will buy into that.
What they need to do: Uni, like other studios, is in need of more franchises. However, there’s a delicate balance when it comes to rebooting. They made it work with Jurassic World, but couldn’t make a Tom Cruise-Russell Crowe Mummy click (much of that had to do with the creators driving that ship).
What’s next: More Blumhouse which like Marvel is trying to keep most of what they’re developing a surprise. While horror reboots of yore haven’t worked in recent times (i.e. Rings, Amityville: The Awakening), Blumhouse is going to try and breathe fresh air into Halloween under the hand of David Gordon Green. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will certainly stoke all crowds, and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again should win over women. Hopefully, Peter Jackson’s is on the verge of a new franchise with his post-apocalyptic future series Mortal Engines.
20TH CENTURY FOX ($1.43 billion, -7%, 12.8% marketshare)
What went right: For the second time in the row, they pulled off a commercially successful R-rated superhero title in Logan, triggering additional excitement for the X-Men brand and proving that fanboys are thirsting for a more adult spin on big screen comic books. Similar to other studios, they proved that moviegoing isn’t just about event titles, but that riveting, true-story dramas (Hidden Figures) and all-star ensemble classical fare geared at older adults (Murder on the Orient Express) can break out. “It all has to do with how the movie is positioned in the marketplace,” says one insider about their recipe for Fox’s success.
What they need to do: They have to stay alive in a Disney merger era, and prove that there is a great demand among moviegoers for the studio’s slate and tastes. Give Disney an option they can’t refuse. While Fox was content with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a couple of their franchises didn’t go the way as planned. In some cases that boils to an auteur losing sight of the franchise that made him (Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant) and a threequel that was more brooding, darker, and fell short of living up to its title (War for the Planet of the Apes, the lowest in the series at $146.9M domestic, didn’t necessarily deliver a full-scale onslaught war of apes).
What’s next: Deadpool 2, proof that R-rated comedies continue to work, but as superheroes. There are some fresh layers of the X-Men series in spinoffs New Mutants, which they’re selling as a horror title, and Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix. Can Jennifer Lawrence reteaming with her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence spark a new series with the adaptation of the Russian spy novel Red Sparrow?
SONY ($1.06 billion, +16%, 9.5% marketshare)
What went right: With Spider-Man: Homecoming they revived the Marvel property for the third time in a row in a way that other studios haven’t with their own franchises. Most of that stems from teaming with Disney/Marvel boss Kevin Feige. Sony made originality work at a cost with Edgar Wright’s car heist ballet Baby Driver. Also, who knew everyone still loved Jumanji? Sony did and they found a way to resuscitate it for the social media/video game age with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle which in ten days already beat the original’s gross with a running B.O. of $170.3M. Also, just when you thought certain brands were dead, they’re alive overseas (read Resident Evil: The Final Chapter grossed less than 9% of its $312.2M global B.O. in U.S./Canada).
What they need to do: Sometimes when they were trying to be original, there was a same-old, same-old feel to some of Sony’s titles and that showed at the box office, read the party-hardy Rough Night, the Alien knockoff Life and the legal drama Roman J. Israel, Esq.
What’s next: There’s a lot of heat around the Spider-Man spinoff Venom which should boost October in a way that Blade Runner 2049 did not. Studio 8’s drug thriller White Boy Rick looks to spark mid-August. Peter Rabbit will be a family destination in early February while a cool animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse at the end of 2018 shouldn’t be discounted.
LIONSGATE ($885M, +33%, 7.9% marketshare)
What went right: With a combination of foreign sales and partners like Participant Media (on their $200M-global grossing hit Wonder), they’re able to make unique and edgy IP work with mainstream audiences including La La Land, John Wick 2, and the summer sleeper The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
What they need to do: After huge millennial hits with Twilight and The Hunger Games, the world awaits another huge franchise. In addition, attempts to revive old ones (Jigsaw) and new ones (American Assassin didn’t find the Dylan O’Brien audiences) fell flat. While they’ve been risk-averse in giving up foreign, there’s another mindset which believes that Lionsgate is giving up the best part of the box office as international ticket sales boom.
What’s next: The next iteration of Hellboy, the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced gritty take on Robin Hood, and the Mila Kunis-Kate McKinnon comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me.
PARAMOUNT ($534.2M, -39%, 4.8% marketshare)
What went right: Not a lot. This year was the Melrose Lot’s lowest take at the box office in more than 17 years. Transformers: The Last Knight was their highest-grossing title of the year with $605M and their lowest in the series. Last Knight beat this franchise into the ground with a marketing campaign and a fifth installment that didn’t distinguish itself from its predecessors. But with $228.8M in ticket sales, Paramount made a fifth Transformers for China alone. While other studios failed with comedies this year, Paramount won with its PG-13 Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg sequel Daddy’s Home 2 ($100M), even beating out the other edgy holiday comedy, A Bad Moms Christmas ($71.7M) which opened the weekend before. It’s just proof that families like heart more than raunch when it comes to their Christmas comedies (last year Par had DreamWorks’ ensemble adult comedy Office Christmas Party which did not work on a massive level at $54.8M).
What they need to do: Not commit the same mistakes as the prior administration of late Brad Grey/Rob Moore with overtired brands and overspending on prestige, offbeat, specialty product (read $68M for Alexander Payne’s befuddled Downsizing; acquiring the nowhere Suburbicon for north of $10M). But it already looks like they’re shaking up the seltzer bottle in 2019 and beyond with an R-rated Star Trek in development, a revival of classic 1980s franchise with Top Gun, a female spy film from the 007 producers Eon Productions with The Rhythm Section, plus they’re jumping on the Stephen King revival bandwagon with Pet Sematary.
What’s next: Let’s see if Bumblebee can raise the bing-bang-boom of the Transformers to a mature level we haven’t seen before storywise. The new studio administration will continue to be plagued with the sings of the previous one, and won’t finally sing until 2019. Hopefully Mission: Impossible 6 can beat the Tom Cruise fatigue which took place this year with The Mummy and American Made.
TOP fILMS AT THE 2017 DOMESTIC B.O.