2017 Preview: Can Disney Top 2016?

$3 billion. That’s a three, followed by nine zeroes. That’s 1,000 million times three. More than record breaking, Disney’s 2016 was record shattering. Here are just some of the highlights:

  • BoxOfficeMojo.com tracked 728 films that were released in 2016. Disney only produced 13 and still produced 26% of the total box office for the year.
  • Warner Brothers produced 25 films and still finished over a $1 billion short of Disney’s total.
  • The $3 billion number is just domestic box office totals, which is crazy for a studio that produces films designed to play around the world.
  • Disney produced 4 movies that have (or soon will in the case of Rogue One) passed the $1 billion mark in worldwide box office, with a fifth film (The Jungle Book) finishing at $966 million and change.
  • Those five films are the five highest grossing films of 2016. That’s right, Disney produced 1-5 on the list.
Even crazier than all of that is that their year could have been, maybe even should have been, even better. Captain America: Civil War didn’t exactly under perform, but it certainly didn’t surpass expectations and you could probably say the same for Rogue One and Finding Dory and Moana. Think if all four of those movies had hit the high end of expectations? And what about Alice Through the Looking Glass and The BFG, two movies with strong pedigrees that bombed. The year could have been…incomprehensible.
Still, no matter how you slice it Disney had a great, great, great year in 2016. Which of course means we have to ask, can they do even better in 2017?
Here is what would have to happen:
Beauty and the Beast puts up Alice in Wonderland numbers
It is easy to forget just how big Tim Burton’s first trip to wonderland was. $334 million at the domestic box office and over $1 billion world-wide. In 2015 Cinderella was a solid hit, racking up over $200 million at the box office, but to beat 2016 Disney needs more than that. They need a monster hit, and don’t be surprised if they get one.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales has to perform like a Pirates movie
If you think Alice in Wonderland was a surprise $1 billion movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides may only be topped by the last Transformers movie as a film that critics HATED but that still went on to be a huge hit. $241 million at the domestic box office and $1.2 billion world-wide. The latest adventure for Captain Jack Sparrow has to match the last adventure. I’m not sure I’d bet on that happening, but I wouldn’t want to bet against it either.
Cars 3 has to come within striking distance of Finding Dory
Sounds crazy? Finding Nemo was a beloved classic and everyone hates Cars, right? Guess what Pixar movie rules in merchandising sales. Cars and its not close. Cars may not play across the whole age spectrum the way a lot of Pixar does, but as a pure kids movie it may have more legs than we are giving it credit for. Cars 2, the worst Pixar movie on almost everyone’s list, nearly grossed $200 million six years ago. Asking for $400 or $500 million might be a stretch, but maybe Cars 3 can surprise.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok have to pass Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange
Honestly, I think this is a lock to happen. I admit freely I am biased because Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite MCU movie, but I honestly think it is going to be bigger than Captain America: Civil War. First, Guardians is awesome, and second spring of 2017 is not flooded with superhero movies the way 2016 was. There is no Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice muddying the waters, only Logan, an “R” rated turn for Wolverine, is coming out in the spring, and it will have long since run its course by the beginning of May. As for Thor, well, Thor is a little like Cars. People dismiss it and consider it less than some of the other MCU movies but Thor and Thor: The Dark World were both really big hits (Thor outperformed the original Captain America when they both came out in 2011). And this Thor looks to have a lot going for it. Not only is Loki back but the Hulk is going to be in this one. Of all of these “must happen” scenarios I’d say Thor outperforming Doctor Strange is the safest bet.
Star Wars Episode VIII has to come closer to The Force Awakens than to Rogue One
Here is one of the little secrets about Disney’s $3 billion in 2016, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens contributed nearly $300 million to that number. Rogue One will likely contribute over $100 million to 2017, but if $3 billion is in the cards Episode VIII is going to have to pick up some slack. It is doubtful the next Star Wars will be as big as The Force Awakens. The Empire Strikes Back, for example, did about 30% less business than the original Star Wars. If Episode VIII does about 30% less than The Force Awakens that would put the next Star Wars somewhere around $650 or $700 million. That would be a huge win for Disney.
Let’s say all of those things happen. Beauty and the Beast is huge (good chance), Pirates of the Caribbean is huge (50/50 chance), Cars is huge (it will be, but I doubt it will be as big as Finding Dory), Guardians and Thor kick ass (they will) and Episode VIII keeps the Star Wars momentum alive (just a question of how huge because it will definitely be huge), will that be enough? Will that get Disney back to $3 billion? No, it wont. 2016 wasn’t breaking records because of the predictable, it broke records because Zootopia and The Jungle Book shocked the world (and because The Force Awakens had legs well into the year). The only thing that will push Disney to new heights in 2017 is…
We count Spiderman: Homecoming as a Disney movie
Marvel is making Spiderman, and it will be part of the MCU, but it remains, at least technically speaking, a Sony film. So the $350-$500 million it will generate wont count to Disney’s total. My guess is that is almost exactly how short Disney will be to matching 2016.