The Biggest Hits and Misses at the 2019 Box Office So Far

For more in this series, check out our Mid-Year Report archives.


Midway into 2019, Disney is having a great year. The rest of the movie studios, not so much. And the industry as a whole is struggling in spite of the fact that one of the top-grossing movies of all time made its debut in recent months. Avengers: Endgame just added another $5.5 million over the weekend, thanks to its bonus-offering “re-release,” and while the opportunity didn’t put the Marvel movie over the top to steal Avatar‘s crown, its initial record-breaking success, including the uncanny and probably permanent opening-weekend victory, is in striking contrast to almost everything else of late.

We’ve been seeing a lot of movies underperform at the box office this year, especially this summer, and so even with Endgame doing $841.3 million domestically, ticket sales in 2019 are the lowest they’ve been in years. The estimated attendance at 623.3 million through the end of June is down 8.5% from this time in 2018 and even 0.5% down from the lackluster 2017. The good news is that most of the drop happened in the first quarter of the year. For the second quarter of 2019, we’re still down from 2018 but way up compared to the two years prior. The bad news is 2019 saw the worst movie attendance for June on record.

As we look back over the past six months, here are some winners and losers.


Winner: Disney

The Mouse House has the top four domestic box office leaders of the year so far, thanks to ticket sales for Endgame (93.4 million), Captain Marvel (47.4 million), Aladdin (33.9 million), and Toy Story 4 (26.3 million). The first three are also the top trio internationally. Surely, the studio wishes Dumbo was also at least in the top 10, and Disney probably would have liked to see its newly acquired Fox properties Alita: Battle Angel and Dark Phoenix perform better, but with The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and of course Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on the horizon, they’ll end up with a banner year.


Loser: Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. is the second-highest-grossing studio of the Hollywood majors so far for 2019, yet it should be doing a lot better considering what they’ve been putting out. The studio has been performing disappointingly with its seemingly sure-thing sequels, namely The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, both of which just barely passed the $100 million mark domestically. Plus, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is topping off about $100 million lower than once anticipated. Even their DC Extended Universe is down, with Shazam! finishing last in the franchise even with its higher appeal and acclaim than most of the other installments. The Joker is Warner Bros.’ biggest hope going forward, but its R rating will keep it from being a huge enough hit for the studio to keep its ranking. Universal is very close on its heels and will dominate late summer with Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.


Winner: Jordan Peele

With his sophomore film, Us, Jordan Peele proved to be the best auteur doing original material right now, at least financially speaking. Midway through 2019, the very well-reviewed horror film rounds out the domestic top five, which is a better placement than Peele’s feature debut, Get Out, had this time back in 2017. The irony is that it was in seventh place with roughly the same amount of tickets sold as Us. It’s just that there aren’t as many movies doing so well, and Us technically hasn’t performed as well as its predecessor given their respective opening weekend numbers. Us just didn’t have the legs that Get Out did. Yet even without the movie being as much of a cultural phenomenon, there’s still nothing like it nor like Peele as a filmmaker box-office-wise.


Loser: F. Gary Gray

In the last five years, F. Gary Gray has also shot up to become one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, and like Jordan Peele, his box office accomplishments have been very good especially for the status of black directors in the industry. Unfortunately, Gray’s latest is one of the biggest bombs of 2019. It’s not his fault. Men in Black: International looked like a safe bet, resurrecting a popular movie franchise with two stars last seen together in one of 2017’s highest grossing releases of the year. But nobody has been interested, and the rebootquel looks like a mistake for the guy whose last two efforts were Straight Outta Compton and The Fate of the Furious. Men in Black: International might even wind up being Gray’s worst-performing movie at home since 2003’s A Man Apart. Yeah, it’s selling even fewer tickets than Be Cool and Law Abiding Citizen. Don’t worry, he’ll bounce back next time.


Winner: John Wick

While most franchise entries are, if not flopping, still selling fewer tickets than previous installments, the John Wick series has never done better. Like with Jordan Peele, if we look back at our midyear box office report of 2017, John Wick ranks higher now than he did then. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum currently holds sixth place on the domestic chart with 17.9 million tickets sold. John Wick: Chapter Two was in 15th place with just 10.4 million tickets sold. This isn’t a matter of fewer properties doing well, though. Parabellum is one of the best successes of the year in its own right. And it’s still going pretty strong. Currently, John Wick’s third movie has grossed four times as much as the original in North America and close to twice as much as the first sequel. It’s also doing far better than the others overseas. As for star Keanu Reeves, he’d be one of this year’s big winners, too, thanks to John Wick and Toy Story 4, but he was also in one of the year’s biggest flops: Replicas.


Loser: Elton John

In any other year, Rocketman would look like a huge success. Music biopics don’t always sell more than nine million tickets. The Doors didn’t. Neither did Selena. Still, the movie isn’t reaching the heights of award-worthy biopics about Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, NWA, or Richie Valens. Let alone the worldwide sensation about Freddie Mercury and Queen that came out last year. Rocketman is directed by the guy who finished Bohemian Rhapsody and involves some of the same real-life characters and overlaps the same period in music history and also focuses on a gay singer. Sadly, moviegoers aren’t showing as much love to Elton John as they did Mercury, for whatever reason. While Bohemian Rhapsody finished 2018 in 10th place on the domestic box office chart, Rocketman is currently only 17th for 2019 and will fall out of the top 20 soon. At least Elton John is a part of The Lion King, which will be one of the year’s top grosses worldwide.


Winner: Documentaries

We saw a few really successful documentaries at the box office in 2018, with Won’t You Be My Neighbor reaching almost $23 million domestically alone, while Free Solo wasn’t far behind with $17.5 million. In all, 16 nonfiction features grossed at least $1 million. But only four of them by this point in the year (Neighbor had reached $7.6 million by June’s end, RBG was up to $11.5 million, and Pandas and Pope Francis – A Man of His Word rounded out the bunch). So far in 2019, nine docs have made more than $1 million. That does include They Shall Not Grow Old, which had a true theatrical release this year following one-off showings late last year, and Amazing Grace, which had a proper release this year after a week on a few screens in December. But even without those, the wealth is spread around for docs so far in 2018. Nothing is seeming like the behemoths that Neighbor and RBG were by this point, but the current totals of Apollo 11 ($8.9 million), Disney’s Penguins ($7.7 million), The Biggest Little Farm ($3.5 million), Pavarotti ($1.8 million), Echo in the Canyon ($1.5 million), and Fathom event screenings of Kingdom Men Rising ($1.2 million) and BTS World Tour: Love Yourself in Seoul ($3.5 million) is almost five million more than the top doc grosses of midyear 2018, before we add what They Shall Not Grow Old ($11.5 million) and Amazing Grace ($4.4 million) in 2019. Archival docs are particularly popular this year, too. So much for the thinking last summer that docs were only seeing a boost thanks to MoviePass.


Loser: British Family-Friendly Fantasy Adventure Comedy Films Based on Classic Literary Characters That Are Arguably the Best Movies of their Year

Last year, Paddington 2 came and went in the US without much interest from American moviegoers. The fact that it barely grossed $40 million domestically was an absolute tragedy. After all, it was the best movie of the year, in my opinion. Well, Paddington 2 was a blockbuster compared to The Kid Who Would Be King, a similarly earnest and absolutely magical effort from a British auteur. Joe Cornish’s Amblinesque Arthurian fantasy adventure, which if it was ranked might take the top spot in my list of the best sci-fi/fantasy films of 2019 so far, took in only $16.8 million in North America. And while Paddington 2 at least made a bunch of money overseas, especially in England, The Kid Who Would Be King bombed everywhere. You all really missed the boat on this one.


More Winners: Kevin Hart; Lupita Nyon’o; the How to Train Your Dragon franchise; short films.

More Losers: Emma Thompson; Nicholas Hoult; the Hellboy franchise; comedies.

Christopher Campbell: @thefilmcynic Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.