The Mouse House’s primacy at the box office is so unquestionable, even the ongoing nosedive of Solo: A Star Wars Story won’t stop Disney from putting up likely record-setting numbers domestically and worldwide this year. With their sights set on $7+ billion, the Disney family of studios is benefiting from a few remarkable overperformers — The Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War — plus an upcoming slate of additional heavy-hitting branded IP to give them another year with the biggest share of the cinematic marketplace. But as strong as 2018 will be for Disney, 2019 looks to be even bigger. Could the powerhouse slate of releases next year carry the studio past $8 billion, and even give them a shot at a mind-blowing $9 billion?
The Marvel Studios pictures in the first half of 2018 will combine for likely $4+ billion in global revenue, after Ant-Man and the Wasp adds a possible $700+ million to the $3.36+ billion the MCU will pocket from the combined eventual final box office receipts for both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. So no matter what else happens this year, it’s all but guaranteed Marvel will provide more than half of Disney’s total box office in 2018, from 3 films among a total slate of 10 releases.
Besides Ant-Man and the Wasp, also waiting in the wings are The Incredibles 2, Christopher Robin, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Ralph Break the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, and Mary Poppins Returns. As already mentioned, Solo: A Star Wars Story is unfortunately crashing and burning at the box office and will probably finish its global theatrical run with $400 million or less, a surprisingly bad outcome. Had Solo played stronger, or even just to the lowest predictions, it would’ve added another $300+ million to Disney’s 2018 receipts. It’s a testament to the power of the rest of Disney’s productions, then, that even with a Star Wars film essentially flopping at the box office, the studio will still put up record numbers and retain their control of the box office domestically and worldwide.
As impressive as this all sounds, however, consider that 2018 won’t retain the all-time box office crown for Disney for very long.
Next year, all bets are off as Disney releases an onslaught of major branded IP sure to blow away all challengers. It’s way too early for any sort of realistic numbers-crunching and predictions, but for the sake of discussion I’ll go on record now with a prediction of $8.5+ billion for Disney in 2019, with a real shot at $9 billion if they can avoid any of their major branded releases suffering the same failure as Solo.
The studio’s slate of releases includes Captain Marvel, Avengers 4, Toy Story 4, Frozen 2, Lion King (live-action), Aladdin (live-action), Dumbo (live-action), and the final chapter of the new Star Wars main trilogy. Even on the lowest end of realistic estimates for their 2019 set of releases, Disney is going to top $7 billion rather easily, assuming a few of those pictures underperform a tad and the others play at moderate levels on par with reasonable mid-range expectations. Should a few of them overperform, then $8.5-9 billion starts to look very doable, even if the rest remain in mid-range territory.
Captain Marvel is a sort of flashback from Avengers: Infinity War and a lead-in to the next Avengers movie, so it will enjoy a major two-front coattail effect on top of its own sheer strength and draw (which is already considerable). I’d bet Avengers 4 (the title of which is secret) plays like Infinity War or higher.
Frozen 2 will be a monster that eats the box office for a while. Toy Story 4 will be a blockbuster hit as long as it retains the emotional impact of the series to date. Meanwhile, the live-action Lion King should play as well as, if not higher than, 2017’s billion-plus performer live-action Beauty and the Beast. Likewise, the live-action Dumbo and Aladdin releases have potential to deliver box office akin to 2016’s live-action The Jungle Book remake.
The final chapter of the current Star Wars saga — returning to the Christmas holiday season in 2019, a release slot that would’ve helped Solo this year — should benefit financially from the likely more family-friendly action-driven popcorn spectacle J.J. Abrams will deliver. Lucasfilm surely wants such adjustments after the somewhat mixed box office results for Star Wars: The Last Jedi (a huge hit, but it played at the lower end of expectations) and the painful box office disappointment of Solo: A Star Wars Story.
All of which suggests Disney is looking at back-to-back record setting years domestically and globally. Those results will also be record-setting for the industry overall. In subsequent years, Disney will — presuming the purchase of 20th Century Fox goes forward as planned — have Avatar sequels and other additional major franchise brands to further enhance their unparalleled box office power. Meaning we could see new records set year after year for a while, and total industry revenue likewise setting new records domestically and worldwide.
Even if Disney doesn’t hit $9 billion in 2019, that number will eventually inevitably come into play for the studio. I’m personally betting it’s sooner rather than later.