Graham: Looking at the year's box office ups and downs
Why sequels, Disney, and Disney sequels ruled the box office this year
Superheroes and sequels continue to rule the box office.
Of the year’s 10 highest-grossing films to date at the North American box office, nine are either superhero stories or sequels (and four of those are both). The lone holdout is “A Star is Born,” which is the fourth remake of the classic Hollywood tale, so we’re not exactly dealing with original material here.
Just outside the top 10 is “A Quiet Place,” which isn’t a reboot or a remake or an adaptation or a sequel, an increasing rarity in Hollywood. The only other films among the year’s 20 highest-grossers that aren’t based on a book, a movie or some other piece of intellectual property are “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is based on the story of the rock band Queen, and the giant shark story “The Meg,” a film which shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence with the word “intellectual.”
The lesson: If you’re looking for original stories, you may want to stick to your Kindle.
Here are other ups and downs at this year’s box office.
Up: Disney. It’s Disney’s world, we just eat giant tubs of popcorn in it. The Mouse House ruled the box office kingdom this year, owning the year’s three highest-grossers (“Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Incredibles 2” earned a combined $2 billion in North American receipts) and two more titles in the Top 10 (”Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story”). Even their misses (“A Wrinkle in Time,” “Christopher Robin”) did well; only the baffling “Nutcracker and the Four Realms” stiffed (and deservedly so).
And they’re not done yet: “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is currently racking up dollars, and “Mary Poppins Returns” is likely to be one of the biggest hits of the holiday season. And with next year bringing live-action remakes of “Dumbo,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin,” as well as “Frozen 2,” “Avengers 4” and another “Star Wars” movie, the future of the Magic Kingdom has never looked brighter.
Down: Lisbeth Salander. The Swedish star of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” stories hit a stumbling block this year when “The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story” crashed and burned at theaters. Starring Claire Foy, the third actress to play Salander on screen (following Noomi Rapace in the original film trilogy and Rooney Mara in 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), the film was met with indifference and has grossed just $14 million in three weeks. What happened? A lot of time has elapsed since the last chapter in the series, director David Fincher left, and “Spider’s Web” was not based one of original series creator Stieg Larsson’s novels. Also, the movie was a bit of a mess. It all added up to a major misfire, and Salander’s future as a box office star going forward is in doubt. Tattoos are permanent, this franchise isn’t.
Up: Horror. In addition to “A Quiet Place,” which left audiences in stunned silence earlier this year (and earned $188 million while doing so), “Halloween” was also a huge hit, stalking its way to a $159 million gross (and becoming the highest- grossing slasher film in history). Summer’s “Hereditary” meanwhile, was both an audience hit ($44 million on a reported $10 million budget), a critical darling, and is currently garnering awards season buzz. Last year, “It” and “Get Out” scared up a combined $500 million and raised the bar for horror, and this year’s hits grabbed the knife and kept running with it.
Some say horror’s surge at the box office is a reflection of the scary times in which we live, where every morning brings a new potential threat,(often in the form of a tweet by you-know-who) and it’s therapeutic for audiences to live out their fears in a controlled environment. Others say it’s because horror films are getting better. It’s both. But horror, for years the red-headed stepchild of the movie world, is experiencing a renaissance, and that’s nothing to be scared of.
Down: Political documentaries. It was a breakout year in the documentary world, with “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” “RBG,” “Three Identical Strangers” and “Free Solo” all playing to healthy crowds. (“Neighbor,” “RBG” and “Strangers” all crossed the $10 million mark, “Solo” might soon join them.) In that kind of environment, it would seem like political documentarians Michael Moore and Dinesh D’Souza would thrive, but both saw their 2018 films underperform. Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9,” the semi-sequel to his record-smashing “Fahrenheit 9/11” (the highest-grossing doc ever!) tanked, earning just $6.4 million, and D’Souza’s “Death of a Nation” took in just $5.9 million. In a heated election year, both films were expected to play to sizable crowds, or at least rally their bases. But the fact that both hit a wall shows that people got enough politics from everywhere else in the world this year and didn’t need them at the movies, too.