It's been pretty quiet for movie-theater chains this year. Box office receipts have come in 16.8% below where they were a year earlier at this point, according to industry tracker Box Office Mojo.
It's easy to fear the worst. The corner multiplex seems to be living on borrowed time, given the advances in home-theater affordability and streaming services.
Don't write off 2019 just yet. It's true that this is the industry's worst start in years, but just as we've seen in the past few years, it's only a matter of time before Disney (NYSE:DIS) starts breathing new life into your neighborhood movie house. The media giant already has this year's biggest hit. Captain Marvel has delivered nearly $375 million in domestic ticket sales through its first five weeks as a theatrical release. Disney is just getting started.
A slate for the ages
This is the fifth year in a row that a Disney flick topped the box office, but it wouldn't be a surprise if at least three, if not four, upcoming releases by the same studio bump Captain Marvel lower. Presales for Avengers: Endgame have already shattered the record ahead of its release in two weeks. We're looking at a historic slate for Disney between now through the end of the year, and you may as well enjoy the extra elbow room on your cupholder armrest while it lasts.
- April 26 -- Avengers: Endgame
- May 24 -- Aladdin
- June 21 -- Toy Story 4
- July 19 -- The Lion King
- Nov. 22 -- Frozen 2
- Dec. 20 -- Star Wars: Episode IX
You can lament that Disney is relying on sequels and live-action updates of animated classics to fuel its box-office winnings. I can counter that these are merely the obvious tentpoles. We don't know how it will fare with Artemis Fowl this summer or any of its other screen firsts. The formula works, just as Captain Marvel last month stretched Marvel's streak of movies debuting at the top in their opening weekends to 21 films.
Do you think exhibitors who are going hungry this year care about how original some of these ideas are? Their businesses rely on getting popcorn-munching folks in seats, and there's no point denying that Disney's slate isn't a murderers' row of a lineup. All but 3 of the 10 highest-grossing films of all-time are sequels; success on that front bankrolls the bunt-single indie hits that critics crave.
Disney is a hit factory, and it also helps that most of its big releases have been well-liked by critics and moviegoers alike. It's spent the past few years collecting intellectual property -- infinity stones, if you will -- and now Disney has more power than anyone else.
Disney can and will save the multiplex industry this year. Don't let the rough early box-office tallies convince you otherwise.