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"The evidence is plain. There is no formula," is how University of California professor of economics Arthur De Vany explained the success of movies (including The Sixth Sense) at the box office 20 years ago. This is not what Hollywood executives want to hear when millions (and, in some cases, billions) of dollars are on the line, which might explain why there is always such a big emphasis on existing and well-known franchises. However, 2019 was a big reminder that just because a character or an IP is beloved that doesn't necessarily translate into ticket sales.
At the time of writing, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has only just hit theaters — and Jumanji: The Next Level and Knives Out are still in holiday viewing contention — so the final 2019 global and domestic box office Top 10 could change. Even if it does, genre dominates the list, taking each slot (the Top 20 in the domestic box office are all genre). The majority of these movies are either sequels, reboots, or part of the same franchise; however, there is a glimmer of original story hope, which also underscores what a good year it has been for horror.
While it is incredibly hard to predict a guaranteed sure-fire hit, there are several juggernaut titles that didn't disappoint and continue to pave the way for comic book adaptations. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how this shifts now that this MCU phase has come to an end. After all, Avengers: Endgame was the culmination of over a decade's worth of worldbuilding.
The prediction business is difficult, so let's take a look back at how genre movies in 2019 stacked up. Here are the revenue success stories and the disappointing outcomes of the year.
The indisputable winner of 2019 (and maybe the decade), Marvel will be thrilled with how well Avengers: Endgame performed globally. Not only was it the fastest movie to hit $1 billion, doing so in five days (the previous record was held by Avengers: Infinity War, which did it in 11 days), but Avatar's longheld highest-grossing movie ever record was finally beaten. Sure, this was done with a bump from a rereleased version with extra footage, but Marvel did what they had to do.
Endgame was one of this year's most anticipated movies, concluding a huge story arc with an emotional spectacle that led to repeat views at the theater. Marvel had spring locked up, as its first female-led movie (yes, it is bad that it took this long) also broke the billion-dollar mark. Captain Marvel's introduction was long overdue. And while there were some behind-the-scenes business issues (that have since been resolved), Spider-Man: Far From Home also surpassed $1 billion (something Homecoming did not achieve) over the summer, sitting just behind Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in the Top 10.
Loser: The X-Men franchise
It wasn’t a straight slam-dunk for Disney and its comic book titles in 2019. Thanks to the big Fox merger, the poorly reviewed (it currently sits at 23 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and received Dark Phoenix impacted Disney’s third-quarter earnings. The latest in the X-Men franchise performed better globally than domestically, but this still couldn’t make up for the production and marketing budget. Despite a huge press tour and significant social media promotion, it couldn’t make up for the end product — which had already seen its release date pushed from November 2018 to June 2019. Dark Phoenix lead Sophie Turner starred in the biggest TV show of the decade; however, this latest X-Men phase has been a case of diminishing returns. Can Disney breathe new life into it?
Another comic book character who broke records this fall is Joker, which proved divisive discourse isn't detrimental to the success of a movie. It is the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time (taking the title from Deadpool), as well as the most profitable. Unlike other VFX-heavy superheroes, this billion-dollar hit had a budget of $55 million (Endgame's estimated budget was $356 million). Four Golden Globe nominations later and Oscar nomination high hopes underscore the commercial and critical success of this beloved character.
Not every R-rated comic book adaptation has audiences clamoring for more, as the Hellboy revival discovered when it landed with a loud thud. The bad reviews did not help (it has 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and going up against the family-friendly Shazam! only added to its poor performance. Guillermo del Toro's 2004 adaptation made more money in its opening weekend alone, a bad sign considering it was 15 years ago. Star David Harbour spoke of the disappointing reaction a month after the movie came out, admitting the movie had "major problems."
Winner: John Wick (and Keanu Reeves)
2019 was a big year for Keanu Reeves, which saw him take the John Wick franchise to new heights and make his Pixar debut. John Wick: Chapter 2 was a huge success taking just over $170 million worldwide, a figure John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum matched in the US alone. It went on to make almost double this amount worldwide. Audiences are far from bored of the super stylish reluctant assassin. As a franchise, spinoffs are in the works and a fourth movie isn't too far off. And with a long-awaited addition to the Bill & Ted universe in 2020, followed by a new Matrix installment in 2021 (currently slated for the same day as John Wick: Chapter 4), everything is coming up Keanu.
Loser: Men in Black: International
The combination of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson should have led to success (something we have previously seen in Thor: Ragnarok). Sadly, Men in Black: International proved that even with the thirst-inducing levels of these two actors in matching suits, it is not enough to power ticket sales. So what went wrong? Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony's Motion Picture Group, admitted the story was the major issue "I think it probably was that there was not a strong enough idea in the story. Especially when you compare that to, say, Jumanji, which had a very, very strong idea." Reviews were lackluster and no matter how charming Hemsworth and Thomspon are, the actual movie narrative is still important.
Costing $20 million to make, Us, Jordan Peele's follow-up to the Oscar-winning Get Out, took in $255 million worldwide and is currently enjoying award season buzz. Released in March, the red boiler suit image and Lupita Nyong'o's performance are still part of the conversation. In a Top 20 dominated by reboots, revivals, and sequels, it is refreshing to see an original horror in the mix. Midsommar didn't make as much money as Ari Aster's Hereditary, but it did take $42 million globally and considering it only cost $9 million, this is a win. Horror budgets don't tend to be too outlandish, and while no movie could match the profitability of The Blair Witch Project (which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year), Ready or Not took a very healthy $57 million, easily recouping its $6 million budget.
On the sequel front, It Chapter 2 didn't have the same impact as the first part — middling reviews and length were a deterrent — but it has taken nearly half a million globally. Meanwhile, The Conjuring franchise keeps delivering the hits with Annabelle Comes Home raking in nearly $230 million in global receipts. Audiences still want to be scared and Hollywood is providing.
Loser: Terminator: Dark Fate
The failure of Terminator: Dark Fate stings because this movie is the best in the franchise since Judgment Day. Not only that, but Linda Hamilton is back kicking ass as the iconic Sarah Connor. And while the film isn't without its flaws, watching three women lead the charge and pull focus in the promotional material was a breath of fresh air. Except it tanked at the box office, which is incredibly disheartening. Several theories have been offered up including the multiple attempts to unsuccessfully breathe life into the Terminator series, suggesting audiences were skeptical of what this latest version would bring. Release schedule-wise, Joker dominated the October window and avoiding the summer was probably a mistake.
Winner: Disney Live-Action and Animation
Remaking Disney classics is a strategy paying off in a big way (so far) with Aladdin getting over its heavily mocked first-look images and passing the $1 billion mark (other than Joker, every movie to hit this milestone in 2019 has the House of Mickey Mouse behind it). Jon Favreau's version of The Lion King proved that an outstanding critical response isn't needed to crush the box office; it is currently the second highest-grossing film of 2019 with an uninspiring 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Sometimes beloved memories and a strong IP is all that is needed to rake in all the cash.
While there has been some debate about whether The Lion King is actually live-action — Golden Globe voters don't seem to think so — Disney's Pixar and animation departments also scored big. Toy Story 4 is part of the 2019 billion-dollar club, delivering a new adventure from Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang that strongly performed. Frozen II also crossed this magical threshold and while there hasn't been a song as catchy as "Let It Go," expect Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) costumes to continue their fancy dress domination.
Loser: Charlie's Angels
Another franchise that was DOA when it hit theaters in November was the reboot of the hit 1970s TV series. Unlike The Lion King, the covert agents couldn't draw a wider audience after middling reviews — much to our disappointment. 2019 was not a good year for rebooting some franchises (see Terminator: Dark Fate), but why did this one flop? Before the film even came out, director and star Elizabeth Banks said in an interview with the Herald Sun, "If this movie doesn't make money it reinforces a stereotype in Hollywood that men don't go see women do action movies." This quote made the rounds on Twitter after the dreadful opening weekend, which made the star sound bitter out of context. Other issues include a marketing campaign that failed to entice (despite a great first trailer) and a November release date (it has summer movie written all over it). This will end up being one of the biggest head-scratchers of the year because there is no reason it should have flopped this hard.