Strong reviews likely helped matters, along with buzz over the film’s ending (which takes extravagant liberties with real-life Hollywood history). Of course, plenty of other well-reviewed movies have underperformed at the box office this year, including Olivia Wilde’s teen comedy Booksmart, Laika’s charming stop-motion animated Missing Link, and Sundance sensations such as Mindy Kaling’s Late Night. The failure of the last has reportedly prompted Amazon to reconsider its commitment to releasing its films wide in theaters before bringing them to its streaming platform, a move that would further contribute to the paucity of non-franchise options in cinemas.
The all-encompassing success of Netflix, a company that largely spurns the theatrical experience, has become something of a bogeyman for major studios. Because of the streaming service, a mediocre year at the box office is often interpreted as a harbinger of cinema’s death (The New York Times recently did a whole package on the bleak future of moviemaking). Too often, analysts forget the simplest notion of all: Good, entertaining, well-received blockbusters tend to do well, and bad ones tend to do poorly.
Two summers ago, similar fears arose over diminished movie-audience interest, when established franchises such as Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Cars released sequels to little acclaim and underwhelming grosses. The problem with all of those movies was that they were terrible, while some of 2017’s most profitable hits included original, highly praised films such as Coco, Dunkirk, Get Out, and Girls Trip, which connected with audiences not because of brand recognition, but because of strong word of mouth.
Quality remains one of the best ways to compel people to leave the comfort of their homes and head to the theater; it’s just been in short supply in this year’s biggest releases. Still, 2019 has had a few films from respected directors that were given the necessary advertising push to make some real money, including Jordan Peele’s Us and the new Tarantino. Some of the biggest flops of the year were long-delayed, badly reviewed sequels such as X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Men in Black: International; each felt like a desperate play from a studio looking to copy the Disney model, one where brand name is king and sequels are moneymaking guarantees.
But while Disney is flying high this year, enjoying the record-breaking gross of Avengers: Endgame and owning all five of the highest-grossing films of the year (Captain Marvel, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, and Aladdin being the others), its future is less secure than many people might realize. The company has successfully built out the Marvel trademark to turn even B-list heroes such as Doctor Strange and Ant-Man into superstars, but the future of that comic-book world is an even more experimental one, with largely unknown adaptations such as Eternals and Shang-Chi on the docket for 2020 and 2021. The Star Wars saga will end this year, at least for a little while, as Lucasfilm ponders its next steps, and the well of live-action remakes of Disney animated classics is about to run dry.