This Year in Box Office History: 2017 Retrospective.
With the last tickets of 2017 counted, we look at the trends that emerged and the health of the movie industry here and abroad.
It was a race to the very last minute as 2017 went from troubled to tremendous. A dreary summer season was followed by a stellar September, buoyed by Pennywise the dancing clown. Super heroes kept the box office afloat through the holidays when Disney plugged Star Wars into the hyperdrive and blew the competition away. In less than one month, The Last Jedi became the highest grossing film of the year, beating out fellow Disney property Beauty and the Beast…which debuted in March and had nearly a whole calendar year to build a lead.
Beauty and the Beast still retained the best record when it came to world-wide ticket sales. As one of only four movies to break the billion dollar mark, it was in rare company. Overall, the global box office is healthy: foreign cinema, especially from India and China, has begun to step out from under the shadow of Hollywood and fielded several blockbusters with eye-catching numbers. We’ll do the math and give you our opinions on the good, the bad, and the trendy for this year in box office history.
This Year in Box Office History: 2017 Report Card.
Domestic Box Office.
Domestically the box office has been in flux all year. Early hits like Get Out, Split, and Logan helped to get the year rolling in a positive direction, but all of that steam fizzled when summer rolled around. The summer months saw drops of 40% and more over previous seasons. September was a much needed break in the bad news as IT went on to record the largest earnings for September in history. Thor and Justice League helped keep November liquid and Disney provided the final push with Coco and Star Wars.
Overall the year grossed just over 11 billion dollars, good enough for the 3rd highest earnings on record. Sales were down 2% from last year, and ticket sales were down 5%. This was offset by a hefty hike on ticket prices, going up nearly 30 cents on average. The nationwide average is now just under 9 dollars a ticket, and that trend is going to be hard to sustain in the face of a growing streaming market.
If I had to give this year a grade, it would be B minus. Everything that scored well was pretty much a sequel or remake, and those films did slightly worse than their previous iterations. The Last Jedi has made about 200 million less than The Force Awakens, Justice League made 100 million less than Batman V Superman, and War for the Planet of the Apes made 50 less than the predecessor. Big tent pole franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean, Fast and Furious and Transformers all saw big dips this year as well. An uptick in quality horror movies and R-rated movies can’t cancel out Transformers losing half a billion dollars in funny money.
An analysis of the global box office brings us to our first trend…
Trend 1: Global Cinema is Surging.
It’s difficult to easily compare global revenue by year since big attractions like Avatar, Titanic and Star Wars tend to blow up any one year’s total. The overall trend is for steady growth, and for that growth to becoming predominantly from Asian markets. While China’s share of the box office has been staggering, other markets are growing as well.
The Good: More Variety, More Markets, More Competition.
In the very recent numbers, we are starting to see foreign cinema assert itself. Films from India, Korea, Japan and China are starting to make the kind of money only Hollywood films used to make. This year we saw 11 Asian films enter the top 100 of global sales, and one of them -Wolf Warrior 2 – made it into the top ten. This is the first time that has happened, full stop. In 2013, only 5 films from Asia made the top 100. In 2010, the number was only 3.
To further show how viable Asian cinema has become, one of our favorite films of the year, Baahubali 2 -The Conclusion, actually crossed over and made the top 100 of domestic films. The last time that I could find that happening was 2000’s epic, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
The Bad: China is Still Propping up Bad Movies.
We’d probably be rid of Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean and a number of other cookie cutter “blockbusters” if they had to survive on domestic earnings alone. For reasons both inspiring and depressing, Chinese audiences like big action spectacles and they keep shelling out for them to be made every year.
Predictions: It’s not stopping any time soon.
I foresee seeing at least one Asian film in the top ten for 2018, and hopefully more than one that can crack the US market’s top 100. Unfortunately, local blockbusters aren’t going to gain enough market share and ubiquity in China to supplant Hollywood trash flicks…yet.
Trend 2: Beuana Vista Ruled the Box Office.
While Warner Brothers put up a game effort, no studio really rivaled Buena Vista this year. Owning Disney, Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar means at least two or three billion-dollar movies each year. Add in the new acquisition of Fox’s X-Men properties, and now you have an even bigger mouse eating all of the cheese.
The Good: Consistency Across Brands.
A few cracks have surfaced in the facade, but on the whole Buena Vista is shepherding its projects with great care. We haven’t yet reached fatigue with any one genre or brand, and the studio has been smart in meeting out their big events like Star Wars and Avengers on a biannual basis. With so many other properties that earn well, they can afford to let the mystique around these properties breath for at least a year between offerings. As fans of the X-Men or Spider-Man can attest, it sucks when your brand is not being managed carefully, so at least consistent quality is a boon of becoming a mouse property.
The Bad: The Mouse Throwing His Weight Around.
Disney’s parent company now owns most of the most lucrative franchises around, and they know it. It began with the studio blacklisting the LA Times from advance screenings because of an article they published which aired some of Disney’s dirty laundry. Mickey backed down after critics threatened to boycott…but not until after getting the ear of the new leadership at the Times.
Hot on the heels of this controversy, Disney also strong-armed theater owners into screening schedules and revenue shares for The Last Jedi that threatened the viability of mid and small sized theaters. The ultimatum was clear: you pay our prices and show on our schedule (to the detriment of competitors) or you don’t get Star Wars. With theaters struggling as it is, having to take a crappy deal from Disney was the icing on an increasingly precarious cake.
Predictions: UNLIMITED POWER!
If Disney feels confident enough to pull these moves with 4 out of 10 of the highest grossing films in the country, guess what happens when it has 6 or 7? Don’t be surprised if Mary Poppins 2 floats into theaters next December with the same pricing and exclusivity deals in place, especially if Han Solo flops and they need to make a few year-end bucks.
As for consistency, if Han Solo flops it would be the first big setback for BV since they bought up Marvel and Lucasfilm. Star Wars 9 and Avengers: Infinity War are guaranteed money makers, but once we cross those hurdles Disney is going to have to prove themselves all over again.
Trend 3: MoviePass and Others Are Changing How We Watch/Think About Movies.
Do you like movies? Do you like having money after seeing movies? Why the hell don’t you have MoviePass then!?
As much as Silicon Valley loves to fashion themselves as disruptors, this is one innovation that is really shaking up an industry. Theater chains were ballistic about its roll out, and then they shut up and took the money, and now they’re falling all over themselves to copy the program and make sure you’re saving on movies only at their branded theaters. It remains to be seen if the OG MoviePass can turn a profit, but it is already spawning competitors and copiers.
The Good: Movies for Everyone.
Being a movie critic online doesn’t get you free movie tickets or an expense account like writing for a print magazine. As a result, I can’t always afford to see all the movies that catch my eye. I’m sure I’m not alone with that sentiment. 10 bucks plus extras is a tall order to see even one movie a month, let alone several a week for reviews.
Until MoviePass came along, I was increasingly having to rely on the rental market or the relatively few feature films that Netflix or Amazon produced in-house. Now I can see everything I want for one price. Genres I don’t like no longer keep my wallet in my pocket. Silly rom-com comedy? Sure, I’ll pay free for it. Horror movie with a XVII after the title? Sure, and why not add a coke? I don’t see it taking away from the mystique of movies: a well-made movie is always going to tickle me, no matter if its ten bucks, free, or *gasp* made by a streaming service. Now everyone gets to see all the movies that usually only a critic could afford to. Popcorn to the people!
The Bad: Old Models Die Hard.
Theaters are no in the uncomfortable position that cab drivers were in with Uber, hotels were in with Airbnb, and Cable was in with Netflix. Adapt or die. Last time I checked, we still have cabs and hotels and cable. Eventually movie theaters are going to figure this one out, too. That’s not to say its not going to be painful. And that they’re not going to try to pass that pain along to those without the red card in their wallet. When it comes down to it, support those that do right by you with your money, and let the rotters go the way of the dinosaurs.
Predictions: Expect some iteration of “Netflix for movie theaters” to be around for the foreseeable future.
If it was only MoviePass out there on the frontier, I’d be worried for them. They’re not making a ton of money on the service and the big theater chains could wait them out. Fortunately, they’re not alone. Sinemia offers a similar style product in California and is gearing up for a national expansion. Theater chains are kicking around a subscription service in-house in some places. The price and the name may change, but I see this model becoming as standard for theaters as Netflix has become for rentals.
Top Ten Earning Movies of 2017
[one_half]Top Ten Movies (Domestic Ticket Sales in Millions)
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi (517.1)
- Beauty and the Beast (504.0)
- Wonder Woman (412.5)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (389.8)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (334.2)
- IT (327.4)
- Thor: Ragnarok (311.3)
- Despicable Me 3 (264.6)
- Logan (226.2)
- The Fate of the Furious (225.7)
[one_half_last]Top Ten Movies (Worldwide Ticket Sales in Millions)
- Beauty and the Beast (1,263)
- The Fate of the Furious (1,235)
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi (1,040)
- Despicable Me 3 (1,033)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (880)
- Wolf Warrior 2 (870)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (863)
- Thor: Ragnarok (848)
- Wonder Woman (821)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (749)