Superhero movies prove indestructible, lift N. American box office to record high

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DESPITE THREATS from streaming services and an overall feeling that Hollywood is bereft of new ideas, the movie industry turned in its best year ever in 2018, with the US leading the way to almost $42 billion in global ticket sales.

Domestic box-office revenue hit a new high, climbing 7% to an estimated $11.9 billion, according to Comscore Inc. That’s a turnaround from 2017, when North American ticket sales fell 2.3% and stoked concerns that consumers were done with the big screen.

“The real growth this year was in North America,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore’s senior media analyst.

While talk of sequel-fatigue dominated the discussion of why 2017 was so bad, remakes and follow-ons were the big moneymakers of 2018. They included Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which came in third place globally, and Walt Disney Co.’s Incredibles 2 at No. 4.




All 10 of the top films of the year domestically were superhero films or sequels, and in several cases both. Disney’s Black Panther topped the North American list, with $700 million in sales, followed close behind by the company’s Avengers: Infinity War, the third in that superhero series and the top picture globally.

Fans found films they liked throughout the year, according to Phil Contrino, director of research at the National Association of Theatre Owners. Black Panther soared in February, summer sales rose and the momentum carried through with fall hits such as A Star is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody. The share of 18- to 34-year-olds going to the movies rose slightly to 48% of the box office, indicating even tech-savvy younger people still embrace the traditional experience.

While 2018 had a happy ending, theater executives should still feel a sense of worry — the actual number of tickets sold remains well below the recent high set in 2002. The average ticket price was up about 1.7% this year, according to the theater owners group, which estimates attendance grew about 5%.

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This year will bring more sequels, including The Lego Movie 2, Toy Story 4, and a Jumanji picture that isn’t yet named.

The strong performance of Warner Bros.’ Aquaman, which led the US box office this past weekend and has taken in more than $400 million globally, will likely strengthen AT&T Inc.’s resolve to exploit its newly acquired DC Comics characters. Superhero films on deck for next year include Disney’s Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, as well as Sony Corp.’s Spider-Man: Far from Home and Fox’s Dark Phoenix, from the X-Men franchise.

Hollywood did take a chance in 2018 on superheroes who were less well known. Black Panther, featuring a largely African-American cast, may be the first superhero film nominated for a best picture Oscar. Sony launched a Spider-Man spin off with Venom, and Disney’s Ant-Man and the Wasp proved those characters have legs, taking in almost $623 million in ticket sales worldwide.

Surprise hits included the Warner Bros.’ romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, which took in more than twice as much domestically as it did overseas, and Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, which did the reverse.

Disney, with a roughly 26% share of the domestic market, led the box office for the third straight year. The results underscore Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger’s strategy of acquiring well-known film characters and franchises. His $71 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox Inc.’s entertainment assets is expected to close in the first half of 2019.

“Everyone who owns a movie theater needs to stand back and give a big thank you to Disney,” said Barton Crockett, an analyst at B. Riley FBR Inc. “They knocked the cover off the ball with Black Panther and The Incredibles.”

Still, the Burbank, California-based studio had a bunch of duds, including Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and A Wrinkle in Time.

That proves, perhaps, that no one can quite save the day like a superhero. — Bloomberg