Box Office Report – 2019 Year In Review

This article was written exclusively for The Film Magazine by Charlie Gardiner of Funny Old World.

2019 – All Wrapped Up!

British cinema had a stand out year in 2019, taking the lead at the Golden Globes with Sam Mendes picking up both Best Director and Best Picture – Drama awards for his World War I epic 1917, and the UK box office well and truly booming over the course of the past 12 months.

Although the UK box office may have been largely dominated by American studio pictures, that’s not to say British titles didn’t make an impact. Successes came in all shapes and sizes. Downton Abbey took a remarkable £28.2m at the UK box office this summer with a sequel already rumoured, Dexter Fletcher’s Elton John biopic Rocketman was the 11th biggest film of the year in the UK grossing £23.4m, Last Christmas, the Christmas hit featuring the music of the late, great George Michael and Yorgos Lanthimos’ weird yet wonderful historical drama The Favourite both did extremely well, earning themselves a place in the top 20 films of the year.

There’s no doubt that the champions of film for 2019 were the cinema giant Disney however, with 4 of the top 5 films of the year being their property. They simply dominated the UK box office and, perhaps even more impressively, the worldwide box office too. Thanks to Disney’s ownership of Lucasfilm, Marvel and Pixar they took the world by storm, not only with these huge franchise films (Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) but also with their self-created live-action and animated offerings (such as The Lion King and Frozen II).

Here were the top 5 films of 2019 at the UK box office: 

Avengers: Endgame – Disney – $114.9m/£88.4m
The Lion King – Disney – $93.4m/£71.9m
Toy Story 4 – Disney/Pixar – $82.8m/£63.7m
Joker – Warner Bros. – $72.3m/£55.6m
Frozen II – Disney – $65.05m/£50.07m

Avengers: Endgame not only topped the UK chart but back in July it became the highest grossing film of all time knocking James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar (2009) off the top spot.

Frozen II also broke records with its massive November release making it the highest grossing animated film of all time with a whopping £50m, taking over from its predecessor Frozen (released in 2013) which earned £44.5m.

The list of top ten worldwide releases of 2019 looks very similar to that of the UK, Disney dominating the field with other big studio films filling the few gaps in between…

The top 10 highest grossing movies of 2019 at the worldwide box office:

Avengers Endgame – Disney – $2.7b
The Lion King – Disney – $1.6b
Frozen II – Disney – $1.3b
Spiderman: Far From Home – Disney/Sony – $1.13b
Captain Marvel – Disney – $1.12b
Toy Story 4 – Disney/Pixar – $1.07b
Joker – Warner Bros. – $1.06b
Aladdin – Disney – $1.05b
Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker – Disney/Lucasfilm – $989m
Fast & The Furious: Hobbs & Shaw – Universal – $758m

2019 was the first time the worldwide box office exceeded $42billion, taking an estimated $42.5billion, 25% of which came from China.

Hollywood relies heavily on the Chinese box office for the success of its films. Due to Chinese release regulations, the China Film Association will only allow 34 foreign films to have cinematic releases in any one year, so gaining one of these coveted spots is essential for the US studios to ensure successful releases.

The Chinese box office has a huge influence on the global box office. Out of the top 10 Chinese films of 2019, only 2 of them were foreign titles and both from the United States: Avengers: Endgame and Fast and The Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.

22% of the total box office takings for Avengers: Endgame came from China. This is a huge amount to come from one country and considering the total box office takings for the year in China was $8.76b/61.32b yuan, this is a huge push for films like Avengers: Endgame, and seems to indicate that the country’s severed ties with Disney may have ended – this originally happened after the bad box office performance of the 1998 animated Disney classic Mulan and the controversial Disney-funded film Kundun, released in the same year.

The new live-action remake of Mulan, due to be released in 2020, is already surrounded by controversy due to the badly timed release of the trailer, given all the political discomfort in Hong Kong. However, Disney are hoping, due to the remakes’s cultural accuracy, that it will succeed in the box office and get a China release.

The biggest film of the year in China was the fantasy animated film Ne Zha which took a record breaking $713mil/5bil yuan.

Safe to say that despite the political issues in China and the supposed disagreements between the CFA and Disney, big studio’s can still rely upon China’s cinema goers to boost their box office takings. Predictions are being made that in 2020 China will be the biggest single cinema market in the world with the expectation that the box office revenue will practically double.

And thanks to the success in China, and around the world, Avengers: Endgame quickly became the biggest film of all time; 12 years in the making and 22 films later audiences around the world saw the anticipated fate of all their favourite Marvel characters. Avengers: Infinity War was released 12 months prior and was the perfect build up to the epic finale, presenting us with the supervillain Thanos who would come to wipe out half of all living things with the snap of his fingers, literally. Audiences and critics alike loved the series ending film and the Critics Choice Awards 2020 even named it the Best Action Film of 2019.

Disney didn’t miss a trick in 2019. Not only did they finally wrap up the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it, but they also released the epic conclusion to the 42 year old Skywalker Saga in the form of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Despite not doing as well financially at the box office as Endgame, The Rise of Skywalker was a huge hit and the 9th biggest film of the year grossing $989,569,690. 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi opened to mixed reviews but was a huge box office hit – bigger than that of its sequel – making it the second biggest Star Wars film ever with a worldwide box office total of $1,332,539,889.

What Next?

2020 is going to see a continuation of both the Marvel and Star Wars franchises but in different forms. Although Endgame wrapped up the Avengers films, Marvel has plenty more hits in the pipeline, the first being Black Widow (May 1st, 2020); a prequel story telling us more about Scarlett Johansen’s super spy Natasha Romanoff and her star studded family. Florence Pugh (Little Women) stars alongside David Harbour (‘Stranger Things’) and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite).

Although it may have come to the end of its fictional time line, Disney and Lucasfilm have a lot planned for the future of the galaxy far, far away. Disney is soon to launch its own streaming service in th UK, Disney + (already available in other territories), with the hotly anticipated series ‘The Mandalorian’ available to watch on launch. Disney are also in the early stages of production for a series looking at the life and times of Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi, with Ewan McGregor set to star.

Out of eight 2019 films making it onto the billion dollar list, six of them are Disney property. The biggest surprise to make it into the elite club was Warner Bros.’ October release Joker. Directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Joker had a remarkable impact on the box office, causing conversations to start all over the world and appreciation for Phoenix’s performance being the hot topic. Joker brought a huge £57.9million to the UK box office, making it the fourth biggest hit of the year and the biggest ever hit in the country for a DC Comics film. A comic book film about a stand up comedian who isn’t funny is not something that seems like it’s going to work, but something about Phillips and Phoenix’s dynamic resonated with audiences up and down the country.

We have had a lot of film successes to celebrate over the past 12 months, but with success comes failure, and although the top 20 is dominated by remakes, sequels, prequels and reboots, it doesn’t always guarantee you a secure place at the top of the charts. We saw that with the 2019 reboot of Charlie’s Angels, starring Kristen Stewart and directed by Elizabeth Banks, which grossed a measly £1.13m at the UK box office. Rebooting a beloved franchise is clearly not always the best way to go. The previous trilogy starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu opening weekend took a huge $40m in North America back in 2000, while this new film opened to only $17.8m (and these figures don’t even account for inflation).

Other rebrands of pre-existing material that offered large cinematic releases, but garnered less cinematic audiences this year were features such as X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Terminator: Dark Fate and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, none of which grossed more than £7.3m in their lifetime run in the UK.

Despite the abysmal reviews Tom Hooper’s musical adaptation of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s hit stage show “Cats” received on first release, the film’s opening weekend gross of £3.2m may not have been the shockingly low response we were expecting. However, with a predicted loss of $70m globally, it should still be considered as one of the biggest flops of 2019.

2019 was a big year for films, with two major franchises coming to an end (one being the biggest film of all time), animation film records being broken in the form of Frozen II and Ne Zha, and independent cinema being seemingly more popular than ever. It’s safe to say 2019 was a year of cinema worth celebrating.

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