Disney’s Billion-Dollar Box Office Streak Ends After Nearly A Decade

The road ahead isn’t looking too bright for the House of Mouse. After a disappointing box office outing with Wish, all eyes are on Disney and its unusually turbulent run, with the studio primed to round out 2023 without a single billion-dollar movie.

Disney Box Office Woes

This comes by the way of Variety, which spotlighted the animated musical fable as the latest chink in its once-invincible armour. Instead of a welcome return to form, Wish joins a list of underperforming titles for the year, including The Marvels, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, The Haunted Mansion, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

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To be clear, crossing the one billion mark is no easy feat. Only two movies, Barbie and The Super Mario Bros. Movie have done it this year, but that used to be the standard for Disney. There are some notable turnouts, of course, such as The Little Mermaid (US$569 million worldwide), Elemental (US$495 million), and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (US$845 million).

Apart from 2020 and 2021, exceptions to the rule due to COVID-19 lockdowns, every other year after 2014 saw at least a Disney movie in the one-billion club. The studio reached its zenith in 2019, with seven of its releases — including Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 4, Frozen 2, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Captain Marvel — hitting or surpassing the mark. Last year, Avatar: The Way of Water was the saving grace, grossing a whopping 2.2 billion at the global box office.

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The declining performance hasn’t gone unnoticed by CEO Bob Iger, who acknowledged in various earnings calls that the results of some films have been “disappointing, and that the team was in a “period of fixing”. Considering how this year marks Disney’s 100th anniversary, the blow is all the more painful.

However, Forbes highlighted the woes aren’t as bad as they sound. In an analysis article, the publication pointed out that while Marvel — and by extent, the House of Mouse — has to grapple with Jonathan Majors and his legal issues, and that earnings have indeed dropped, the per-film average isn’t too shabby. The final global gross for all 22 films in the Infinity Saga, from Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame, comes in at around US$935 million on average, while the ten releases after (excluding the still-going The Marvels) delivered around US$815 million.

It’s not insignificant, the writer acknowledges, but it should be noted that the 2018 and 2019 slate for the Infinity Saga benefitted from a long build-up. With regard to the ongoing Multiverse Saga, otherwise known as Phase 5, there’s still the other half to get through. Besides, the “worst-performing” Marvel movies released during the pandemic also earned more than the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films as a whole (the article brought up other discussion points as well).

In any case, Disney isn’t the only party to suffer from trouble at the box office. Analysts, as reported by Variety, cite that it’s an industry-wide problem, with the shift to streaming further contributing to the trend.

“It’s not just Disney; the other studios have also suffered setbacks in this post-pandemic world,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “That said, Disney’s misfires certainly are the most prolific considering where they are now versus where they were. And where were they? On the box office throne. Nearly untouchable. Now? Mere mortals.”