2019 Box Office Results Show a Sad Year for Original Filmmaking / by Keith LaFountaine

It’s perhaps fitting that Avengers: Endgame overtook Avatar in worldwide box office revenue in 2019 - a year that has, by and large, been one of the most lukewarm years for film in recent memory. Further, it speaks to the trend that has been set this year — one that has seen franchises reap heavy rewards at the box office, while original films continue to falter, finding homes at Netflix and Hulu rather than on the silver screen.

Many have seen this coming for a long time. I even talked about it briefly in a blog post last year. As the MCU has grown in power, other studios and producers have jumped onto the cinematic universe bandwagon, leading to a barrage of sequels. The remakes continue to pour out of Hollywood, both of foreign films and older original projects, and Disney has continued its nonsensical release of its “live-action” remakes.

This isn’t just me grousing about the sad state of affairs when it comes to original filmmaking. In fact, the 2019 Yearly Box Office Numbers show just how reliant Hollywood has become on superhero films, remakes, and reboots.

The following 10 films have garnered the highest box office revenue domestically this year:

Revenue of the Top 10 Box Office Films (Millions)

Statistics from Boxofficemojo.com

As you can see, the top 5 films are all remakes or sequels (4 of which are from one company - Disney). Those films alone account for roughly $2.3 billion of the box office revenue garnered this year. Jordan Peele’s Us did remarkably well, making it into the top 10, but the films that follow him are three more sequels. The next original film — not a biopic, not based on a novel, not part of a cinematic universe, not a remake, not a reboot — is Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, sitting at #24 out of 100 films. Everything that comes before Yesterday - Detective Pikachu, Shazam, Dumbo, Glass, Godzilla: King of Monsters, The Upside, The Lego Movie 2, Rocketman, Alita: Battle Angel, Men In Black: International and more all are either sequels, reboots, or are based on something (whether that’s real life, a manga, or a book).

Think about that - out of 24 films, just 2 are completely original, stand-alone screenplays. Even worse, the majority of these films are owned by specific companies, which continue to devour this box office revenue.

Box Office Grossing Films by Production Company

What this shows is simple: 11 companies are reaping the revenue of 66 films released in 2019, with companies like Disney, Universal, Paramount, and Sony reaping the most in profits.

Production Company Total Revenue from Box Office (Millions)

And it gets even more complicated when you account for the fact that Fox is now owned by Disney, Comcast owns Universal, and AT&T owns Paramount and Warner Bros. So, in actuality, this is who made money on the films Americans paid exorbitant amounts to see in 2019:

Company Revenue from Box Office (Billions)

And that pie graph from earlier? It looks more like this:

Box Office Grossing Films by Production Company

Therefore, in essence, 3 companies — Disney, AT&T, and Comcast — garner a huge amount of money from the box office. These three companies own 42 of the top 100 box office grossing films this year. The year is only half over, too.

So what does this matter? Who cares if Disney owns a ton of money? Who cares if Comcast owns Universal? This is where everything comes back to the barrage of sequels, reboots, remakes, and the like, and the floundering of original filmmaking. Every film company wants to make a profit. The big ones - like Disney - have decided that the best way to do that is to invest in lucrative franchises (like the MCU and Lucasfilm) and to remake their own properties, thus flooding the market with their own projects they know people will love, and they know will be successful, and they will not invest in original ideas and scripts. Or, at least, they will not do it to the degree that the did in decades prior.

What this all amounts to is a simple fact: we are halfway through 2019 and, except for a couple of unique movies, the vast majority of the box office has been dominated by non-original screenplays and films. If this trend continues on through 2019, and into 2020 (as I suspect it will), it will not be good for filmmakers who want to focus on original projects. Further, as companies like Disney, AT&T, and Comcast continue to garner more power in the box office, they will set the standard for what summer blockbuster season will be like for a long time.

None of that is good news.