Twelve days into its domestic opening, “Captain Marvel” has earned over $270 million in North America — but that’s not enough to end recent worries about the plunging box office. Revenue is still off by more than 20 percent, suggesting an unusual confluence of factors have created a sudden pronounced lack of interest in moviegoing. Here’s four of them.
Fewer wide-release films
Through last weekend, 2019 has seen 21 films open on more than 1,500 screens. This time last year, that number was 27. Even if those were lesser-grossing titles, figure six fewer films contributed at least $150 million to the shortfall. That doesn’t mean individual films made less this year; indeed, the absence of competition may have meant higher grosses for them. However, this looks like the new normal as studios conserve their firepower to produce fewer, more-expensive titles.
Christmas was weak
To put it kindly, January is a month for more secondary titles. Much of the gross comes from mid- to late-December releases, like the D.C. Comics hit “Aquaman” — but that film grossed $100 million less in 2019 than did “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” in 2018.
Overall, the top six grossing films on Dec. 31, 2017 added about $575 million to the 2018 box office. The year-end titles of 2018 grossed $400 million for 2019. That represents a $175 million drop.
Certainly the appeal of individual films is a factor, as always. Apart from “Jumanji,” last year saw word-of-mouth success “The Greatest Showman” thrive in January. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” brought in $100 million in 2018. This year, the biggest contributor was “Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which added over $80 million.
Awards season was weak
It’s hard to believe this was a year with three Best Picture nominees that each made over $200 million. All in, 2019 nominees in the Best Picture and major acting categories added $160 million to their totals. The year prior, that was $245 million — and that was considered an off year.
The largest boosts this year have been “Green Book” ($40 million; it first went wide nationally in late January) and “The Favourite” ($17 million). Last year, “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “The Darkest Hour” all rode their nominations and wins to each add an additional $30 million or more.
Marvel’s release date made a big difference
Had “Black Panther” been released the second weekend in March, and “Captain Marvel” in mid-February, the year-to-date results would be less dramatic. All told, expect “Captain Marvel” to fall some $200 million below “Black Panther.”
All is not lost
Beyond “Captain Marvel,” four other titles — “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” “Glass,” “The Upside,” and “The LEGO Movie: The Second Part” — have already passed the $100 million mark. Last year at this point, only “Black Panther” made it that far, with “Fifty Shades Freed” and “Peter Rabbit” approaching (the former barely made it).
This weekend comes Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated “Us.” Next week is Tim Burton’s “Dumbo.” Both should surpass all but “Captain Marvel” as high-level grossers. Warner Bros. hopes that “Shazam” in early April and other films might surprise (“Ready Player One” and “The Quiet Place” — both hits — were around the same time in 2018). So by the time “Avengers: Endgame” opens at the end of the April, expect grosses to be much closer to where they were at a similar point in 2018.
That would bring understandable relief. The release calendar prior to “Endgame” has been highly anticipated, and was expected to propel the year into a rebound. It’s unreasonable to expect the new “Avengers” film will outpace last year’s, which made close to $700 million. If the total for 2019 is still below last year’s in a few weeks, it might not bode well for the full year. And last year still sold fewer tickets sold than most recent years.