The 12 Films of 2019 That Tell Us 2020 Box Office and Industry Trends – IndieWire

Posted: December 31, 2019 at 11:45 pm

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Year-end lists are a matter of taste and can say more about the writer than the subject. Annual box office summaries are statistics-based and often miss the bigger stories at hand.

So in an attempt at something different, we are going to cite 12 films of note (eight studio releases, four from specialized companies) not as hits or misses, but what they mean for future productions.

Wide Release

The Lion King(Disney)

The film that showed the strength of the overwhelmingly dominant studio was this technically updated remake of their 1994 animated smash. Both versions grossed over $400 million domestic: adjusted, 1994 would be $805 million and #20 all time; 2019 was $544 million and a bit more than double that overseas.

But what really makes this smash stand out is it came in the face of mediocre reviews and social media scorn questioning why a new version was necessary.

That damn-the-torpedoes success (it should end up #2 for the year, domestic and foreign) sends the message that the public has a mind of its own. And unlike early disappointments in rebooting previous successes (Disney with Dumbo, expensive reimaginings of Terminator and Men in Black), the veneer of something new worked: the public didnt want something original. That formula will be sought out for replication.

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)

We dont yet know how new owner Disney will regard the results ($300 million so far worldwide) for this very un-Disney like project. Other Fox-produced inherited films fell far below this James Mangold original film aimed at smart adults. The movie edged into likely profit and earned accolades, sending a message to the franchise/sequel-oriented overlords that a film like this can work.

Knives Out(Lionsgate)

The odds against this midsize Thanksgiving release outgrossing Cats, Richard Jewell, and Lionsgates own Bombshell Christmas week were so long as to be nearly inconceivable. It now projects to over $130 million domestic, and more than $300 million total, sending multiple messages.

It reinforces that movie comedies are rebounding (see also The Upside, Good Boys), that Lionsgate is great at creating original titles with sequel potential (Angel Has Fallen, John Wick).

But biggest of all is that Rian Johnson, after scoring a huge but (to some) unsatisfying experience with The Last Jedi, succeeded with a more personal project similar to his earlier films. Disney might be co-opting many up-and-coming directors, but this proves you can go home again. (See also the upbeat response to Taika Waititis specialized Jojo Rabbit.)



Jordan Peele followed his sleeper hit Get Out with Us, and scored nearly identical worldwide results (about $255 million, both about 2/3 domestic, 1/3 foreign.) A new brand is born, with Blumhouse Prods. getting credit for developing him as a creative force and nurturing him with a second personal-vision project.

We are now seeing something similar with Greta Gerwig and Little Women building on her Ladybird acclaim. In a year when veterans like Tarantino and Scorsese roared back after less-successful efforts, the growth of these two artists, within the theatrical studio model, is a huge story.

Shazam!(Warner Bros.)

This D.C. Comics character is the #18 domestic release of the year, with $140 million ($365 million worldwide), on a $100 million budget. No stars of note, from a Swedish director already on to his third big hit (earlier ones were horror).

Its financials are almost identical to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. And the latter likely had far higher talent profit-sharing deals that will reduce its profit.

Shazam is a bread-and-butter commercial New Line movie released by Warner Bros., made with some smarts, producer insight, and no guarantee that a franchise would ensue. This is the kind of success that is vital for any studio, and is potentially more risky than a Tarantino film with top-drawer stars and prestige value.

Richard Jewell

Warner Bros.

Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.)

Warners struggled with dramas throughout the fall Motherless Brooklyn, The Kitchen, The Goldfinch, The Good Liar but the shocking failure of Clint Eastwoods latest is the standout disappointment. The best reviewed of the group, thought to have awards potential (including three acting categories), and coming on the heels of his $100 million The Mule, even with prime Christmas placement this wont do much more than $20 million. Individual factors played in fictionalized plot details, the lack of a name lead but it is part of a bigger picture. Most years, Warners leads in total number of theatrical releases. It is hard to see new studio chief Toby Emmerich maintaining this especially with the upcoming launch of streaming platform HBO Max in May.

Spider-Man: Far from Home(Sony)

Hardly the biggest Marvel success this year, but it is the biggest non-Disney 2019 release domestic and foreign (it ranks even higher overall). It was the best in the franchise since 2007 (adjusted) on a $160 million budget lower than Disneys top sequels. Most impressive was its more than four times multiple, from a decent opening. Thats rare in the Marvel world, and for a later film in any franchise. This seemed to come in part because the Sony end of the Marvel world has the capacity for surprise and fun that some of the Disney releases, huge as they are, lack.

At the very least, that an alternative template to the Disney Marvel model works is an important statement coming out of 2019.


This hit may have saved a company. STX has been a decent mid-level budget producer since its 2015 founding, but financial-backer turmoil put them at risk this summer. The $104 million success for this empowerment drama set in the world of strippers made sure the company lives another day.

The film also featured one of several female-directed films that were successful with the mass public a number that should only growin 2020.

Downton Abbey

Focus Features

Downton Abbey(Focus)

This feature-length addendum to the PBS series grossed nearly $100 million domestically. Like another Focus success, Harriet, it went wide from the start. That will be noted by Disney (which now oversees Fox Searchlight). Is this a way for studios to concentrate on top franchise titles, and turn a wider array of projects to their side units? Downton became Focus second-biggest hit, with nothing at this level since Brokeback Mountain 14 years ago.

Uncut Gems(A24)

So much to note in the Safdie Bros. anything-but-safe multiplex release. Adam Sandler took a chance, and saw his reputation soar (along with his chances of an Oscar nomination). It also bolstered A24 in a year when Neon threatened its position as the go-to specialized distributor for edgy specialized films that target younger audiences.


Christian Schulz

Transit(Music Box)

Films like Roma, Shoplifters, Cold War, Parasite, and Pain and Glory suggest a turnaround for the long-troubled specialized foreign-language market, but hits are the exceptions.

German director Christian Petzolds Phoenix topped $3 million in 2015, and Transit got terrific reviews. However, it couldnt gross much more than $800,000. Similarly Birds of Passage from the Colombian directors of Embrace of the Serpent saw praise and a prime release from The Orchard, only to gross a little over $500,000. Focus got the Spanish Everybody Knows to $2.7 million, but it had Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and a name director. Beyond those mentioned here, not a single arthouse subtitled film reached $1 million.

Late Night(Amazon)

Sundance looms, followed by the number of top deals that didnt pan out. Blinded By the Light (Warner Bros.) and Brittany Runs a Marathon (Amazon) joined Late Night as rapturously received films that scored big deals in Park City, then opened to minimal response.

Late Night failed right after the SXSW-premiered Booksmart opened wide to good reviews and box-office brickbats. Amazon acquired Late Night for$13 million; after marketing, it may have lost $40 million but its available forever on Amazon Prime.

Shortly after, Amazon began a series of announcements of other titles headed to Prime after token theatrical releases. This is the company that earlier proclaimed itself the anti-Netflix by holding to theatrical windows.

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The 12 Films of 2019 That Tell Us 2020 Box Office and Industry Trends - IndieWire

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December 31st, 2019 at 11:45 pm