Disney has made more money in the first seven months of 2019 than any studio has ever made in a single year, earning $7.67 billion to date at the worldwide box office. It’s an understatement to call that a major accomplishment for the House of Mouse. It’s more like a testimony to how powerful Disney has become as a monolith.
But it’s an achievement that inevitably won’t roll over into 2020. 2019 is an anomaly for Disney. A big part of that impressive number comes from the record-breaking success ofAvengers: Endgame, which pulled in more than $2.8 billion worldwide and usurpedAvataras the highest-grossing movie of all time.Captain Marvelwas another unusually high earner, the sixth-highest-grossing Marvel movie of all time, crossing $1 billion at the box office. The company’s remakes ofThe Lion KingandAladdinperformed well at the box office (thoughDumbowas a financial disappointment), and Pixar’sToy Story 4brought in more than $900 million on its own. It was a major year for brand recognition and payoff.
Disney’s 2020 is far less packed with anticipated movies. There are a couple of major titles from almost every big Disney subsidiary studio, including live-action adaptations ofMulanand101 Dalmatians,Black WidowandThe Eternalsfrom Marvel, andOnwardfrom Pixar. None of those have the cultural weight and recognition ofEndgame, The Lion King, or aToy Storyfilm.West Side Story, New Mutants, Bob’s Burgers,andThe King’s Man,all from the recently acquired 20th Century Fox, will help round out Disney’s year, but investors are still expecting Disney’s 2020 theatrical releases to be far less of a win than 2019’s.
Disney executives have thought about this. They’ve turned a number of theatrical titles into Disney+ exclusives (theLady and the Trampremake,Noelle), and pulled almost all of the company’s films and TV series from streaming competitors so they can exist on Disney+ exclusively. Disney will take a financial hit from earmarking titles likeLady andthe Trampas streaming exclusives, but the company is willing to accept that risk for a strong launch lineup.
“Shifting titles from the theater to SVOD may, at least in the near-term, cost Disney more in foregone revenue than it would collect on SVOD,” analyst Matthew Bell wrote. “But it does mean that Disney can ensure the success of its most important business unit at the flip of a switch. No other service has pocket cards that strong.”
Essentially, Disney doesn’t need anEndgameorLion Kingin 2020. It just needs to get those films on Disney+. As Laura Martin, an analyst at Needham & Co., toldBloombergin May, “This is a big empire now, so no one film affects it as much as before.”