Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) had an astounding 2019 at the box office. The company had seven of the top ten highest-grossing films of the year, and it owned a piece of an eighth, Spider-Man: Far From Home. Seven of those eight films have passed $1 billion in global ticket sales, and that will happen for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker early in the new year.
The Mouse House has been a hit factory, leaning on its franchises and well-known intellectual property (IP) to give itself a bigger chance of making every film strike gold. That has worked to a staggering level, with the company delivering $11.11 billion in global 2019 box office ($13.51 billion if you count the properties it acquired from FOX).
This will be hard to duplicate
Disney thoroughly dominated the box office globally in 2019, with only a few misses (Dumbo was a flop). But it also used up a lot of ammunition. The company still has an impressive array of IP, but its 2019 looks like less of a sure thing. The 2020 Disney schedule will include the following, according to the company:
- Call of the Wild Feb. 21
- Onward March 6 (Pixar)
- Mulan March 27
- Black Widow May 1 (Marvel)
- Artemis Fowl May 29
- Soul June 19 (Pixar)
- Jungle Cruise July 24
- The One and Only Ivan Aug. 14 (Disney Animation)
- Eternals November 6 (Marvel)
- Raya and the Last Dragon Nov.25 (Disney Animation)
- West Side Story Dec. 18
That's a strong lineup featuring a number of potential hits, but arguably no sure-fire billion-dollar films. There's clearly no Star Wars or Avengers: Endgame coming from the studio -- nothing with a clear path to obvious megahit status.
"2020 is going to be a more typical year, where the wealth will be spread quite a bit more," Comscore Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian told The Associated Press. "The sky is not falling but we're definitely going to have to change our expectations for 2020. It's not going to be just about one studio dominating but it's going to be about all the studios bringing some of their biggest brands."
Here's what Disney investors should watch
The goal of much of Disney's year is to establish new franchises on top of its existing ones. Black Widow is an Avenger, and her origin story may open the door to other Black Widows entering the Marvel universe. The Eternals are another Marvel superhero teams, and it could become a Guardians of the Galaxy-type franchise -- or it could fail to connect.
Mulan should be a hit, as Disney has done a good job taking its animated classics and turning them into live-action hits. West Side Story is a much bigger gamble, as is Raya and the Last Dragon, an animated original that's not from Pixar.
The two Pixar releases should perform strongly, and could become sequel candidates, but their unknown properties relying on marketing/the Pixar brand. That has generally worked, but it's not as surefire as putting out a new Iron Man or Star Wars. Barring the unforeseen, Disney will have a down 2020 at the box office.
That's expected, and nothing investors should be concerned about (especially as the 2021 lineup brings back bigger-name IP). What investors should watch is whether the company can build any new brands into franchises. One new Avengers would probably count as a successful year, but that happening seems a bit dicier than it does most years for the company.