Disney is utterly dominating the 2019 box office

Daniel Roberts

Disney has smashed record after record in 2019—and the year is barely half over.

Over the weekend, the new “Lion King” pushed Disney (DIS) to $7.67 billion in global box-office ticket sales this year. That’s the best-ever box office haul by one studio in one year, beating Disney’s own record of $7.61 billion from 2016.

That happened just one week after “Avengers: Endgame” jumped over “Avatar” to become the highest-grossing film ever at the global box office.

In fact, Disney has all top five movies of 2019 globally this year: “Avengers: Endgame,” “Captain Marvel,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (distributed by Sony but co-produced by Marvel), “Aladdin,” and “Lion King.” Disney has the top five U.S. movies as well, a list that has “Toy Story 4” instead of “Spider-Man.”

The dominance is terrifying to competitor studios, but they all should have seen it coming: Disney’s wins are the result of methodical, brilliant M&A.

Bob Iger, left, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, poses with "The Lion King" cast member Beyonce, center, and the film's director Jon Favreau at the premiere of the film at the El Capitan Theatre, Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
L-R: Disney CEO Bob Iger, Beyonce, and "Lion King" director Jon Favreau at the premiere of the film at the El Capitan Theatre on July 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Built by key acquisitions

In the past 13 years, Disney inked four key deals that have made it completely unrivaled in film assets and intellectual property.

Disney bought Pixar for $7 billion in 2006, Marvel Studios in 2009 for $4 billion, Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4 billion, and then Fox’s entertainment assets this year for $71.3 billion. That’s $86 billion in major entertainment acquisitions over 13 years, at a steady pace of one deal about every four years.

Now those acquisitions are very visibly paying off.

Marvel movies alone have brought in more than $18 billion at the global box office since the 2009 acquisition.

And it isn’t just the Marvel movies and “Star Wars movies” making the big money: look at this year’s top six movies in America so far and you see the distribution across Disney’s film divisions: three are from Marvel (“Endgame,” “Captain Marvel,” and “Spider-Man”), one is Pixar (“Toy Story 4”) and two are live-action remakes of Disney classics (“Aladdin” and “Lion King”). Hits are coming from across Disney’s film portfolio. And that breadth has prompted some justifiable hand-wringing about Disney’s box office size and power.

With “Frozen 2” and the final chapter of the Skywalker saga coming later this year, don’t expect the hits to slow down.

Next up: streaming

Meanwhile, Marvel just revealed “Phase 4” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and what’s striking is how much of the lineup is not intended for theaters. Much of the big releases will be original TV series for Disney+, which is Disney’s competitive shot at Netflix (NFLX).

The streaming wars are not at all a zero-sum game: Most experts predict that people who sign up for Disney+ will not cancel Netflix to do so. Believe it or not, multiple studies suggest we are still not at “peak” streaming; that is, Americans are still adding more OTT (over-the-top) subscriptions, rather than cutting back.

But even as Disney crushes everyone else at the box office, it is wisely hedging by putting so much investment in streaming. (CEO Bob Iger recently said bluntly that streaming is the company’s “number one priority.”) And all of the same assets that are bringing in huge box-office returns can also thrive over the top, if movie theater revenue continues to decline.

It’s a scary spread of I.P. assets if you’re a studio or content creator competing with Disney.

Daniel Roberts is a senior writer and show host at Yahoo Finance and closely covers Disney. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

Read more:

Marvel’s next movie phase should terrify competitors

Disney+ has a secret weapon: millennial nostalgia

Disney says streaming is now its ‘number one priority’

Disney is playing the long game with ESPN+

Why Disney doesn’t need Netflix

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