Home Trending 2018 movies broke box-office records worldwide. Here’s how.

2018 movies broke box-office records worldwide. Here’s how.

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What a difference a year makes.

At the movies, anyway. Theatrical grosses came off a down 2017 to set both domestic and international box-office records in 2018.

According to comScore, the Sherman Oaks-based media audience measurement company, North American ticket sales for 2018 should reach $11.85 billion by year’s end. The amount outside the U.S. and Canada is $29.8 billion, making for a worldwide total of $41.65 billion. Those figures are the highest ever registered, and translate to percentage increases of 6.6 percent in North America, 1 percent internationally and 2.65 percent worldwide, respectively, over last year. The domestic number tops the previous record haul, 2016’s $11.383 billion, by more than $500 million.

“Really, if it wasn’t for North America, we wouldn’t be sitting on a global record,” observed Paul Dergarabedian, comScore’s senior media analyst.

What was it, though, that tore Americans away from their Netflix-streaming devices and out to movie theaters this year? Especially after 2017’s 2.3 percent attendance fall, which pundits at the time attributed to the disruptive effect of streaming services’ seemingly unstoppable takeover of entertainment-seeking eyeballs?

“The death of movie theaters was exaggerated,” cracked Phil Contrino, the National Association of Theatre Owners’ director of media & research. “Last year, people wanted to say that the bad year was because of, mostly, streaming. People aren’t streaming any less this year and the box-office is big. That’s because the movies were strong. Every month had something that defied expectations, and when the movies are strong, people show up.”

The movies were superhero strong in 2018. The top domestic hit, Marvel’s “Black Panther,” became the first comic book film to gross $700 million, and its second-ranked follow-up “Avengers: Infinity War” wasn’t far behind with $679 million. Those two Disney releases are now third and fourth on the all-time domestic chart, behind only “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Avatar”; “Infinity War” is fourth on the all-time worldwide chart as well, which it topped this year with $2.049 billion.

Dominant distributor Disney also claimed the year’s third highest NA grosser with the Pixar superhero cartoon “Incredibles 2” ($609 million), and also placed Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” on the top 10 box-office chart. “Deadpool 2” and “Venom,” Marvel-derived films from other studios, also made the top 10.

Yet while that may make it seem like comic book movies were the only things to see in 2018, observers actually credit diversity, defined several ways, with powering the record-breaking attendance. After all, while “Black Panther” may have been a superhero flick, it was also the most culturally African movie Hollywood has ever made.

“There were a lot of really diverse movies, in terms of content,” Dergarabedian perceived. “ ‘Black Panther’ was such a monumental hit all the way back in February, and it sort of set the stage for movies with diverse points of view. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ did well, ‘BlacKkKlansman’ was a really interesting film; I think a lot of people were just drawn by the sheer freshness of the content. When you have ‘A Star Is Born’ out there and even now, things like ‘Aquaman’ and ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ in the mix, along with really strong indie films and last summer’s documentaries like ‘RBG’ and ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ doing well . . .

“It was just a lot of great content that read, to me, more like a streaming service lineup in its depth and breadth of content,” Dergarabedian noted, perhaps identifying a way in which Netflix is really influencing moviegoing.

Indeed, results of a study by the Ernst & Young accounting firm that NATO commissioned earlier this month concluded that most demographics that streamed a lot of shows at home were also among the most frequent moviegoers.

“The main conclusion is that people who like movies will watch them across platforms,” NATO’s Contrino said. “To us, streaming is no different than any of the other things that have come along and were supposed to kill the movie theater experience. If you look at the dynamic of the home, streaming is replacing DVD and Blu-ray purchases and rentals, it’s replacing the time spent with broadcast networks, it’s disrupting what’s happening in the home. But at the end of the day, when people want to get out of the house and do something, their habits are remaining largely the same.”

Another box-office study that got a lot of attention earlier this month concluded that movies from 2014 through 2017 which top-billed actresses over actors made more money. Hard to quantify if this continued in 2018 – another thing “Panther” was praised for was its lineup of strong female characters, though the story boiled down to guys fighting for a crown – but gender as well as racial diversity sure seems to have great commercial viability these days.

“Look, women make up half of the moviegoing population, and they’re still really, really underserved in terms of female-driven movies,” Contrino observed. “We still haven’t tapped into the full potential of more diverse casts and the impact it can have on the box-office. The moviegoing population is not made up entirely of 17-year-old Caucasian boys, there has to be something for other people to go to. When you have that, it just leads to a healthier box-office.”

Theaters’ continuing expansion into fancier food and alcohol choices, ever-more-cushy seating and other amenities also helped attract audiences – and more of their entertainment dollars – in 2018.

“You can’t forget the movie theaters’ role in all of this, in creating a great environment in which to see a movie,” Dergarabedian said. “I think older moviegoers are coming out more because of the amenities and the beautiful seating.”

“It is a healthy thing because people are getting more out of the experience when they go,” Contrino added. “I think people who might not have been going as often go back to a changed experience at theaters now, and that makes a difference. We haven’t seen the end of it by any means; the experience is just going to get better whether it’s from the seating side or the food side or beverage.”

One thing that’s already changed from earlier this year, though: MoviePass, the ridiculously generous, discount ticket subscription service that signed up millions of new patrons in the first half of 2018 but then couldn’t sustain paying exhibitors full price for admissions that cost its customers close to nothing. That may have artificially goosed the box-office before the breaks were applied to widespread subscriber dissatisfaction, but it doesn’t seem to have had a negative impact on fourth quarter moviegoing.

“Even when [MoviePass] went away, people kept going to the movies,” Dergarabedian observed, pointing out that 2018’s pre-Christmas weekend box-office was only about 10 percent lower than 2017’s, despite the absence of a blockbuster “Star Wars” film for the first time in four consecutive holiday seasons. “You could maybe argue that once they got in the habit of going for a low price, people enjoyed it so much that, even when that went away, they kept going. But I would lay the success of this year more at the doorstep of great content, great marketing, solid word-of-mouth and great reviews for a lot of these bigger movies. I think at the end of the day, it’s not so much about the price, it really is about the quality.”

Both Dergarabedian and Contrino expect that mass appeal movie quality will continue into 2019, with “Captian Marvel” poised to do for female superheroes what “Panther” did for African ones, “Avengers: Endgame” concluding the story “Infinity Wars” began and, yes, a “Star Wars: Episode IX” in December.

“Next year looks really strong, lots of big titles,” Contrino noted. “We’ll see the way it plays out. To use a baseball metaphor, it comes down to the doubles and triples; there are always home runs there, but you need those movies in the middle.”

“I don’t think this was a one-hit wonder of years,” Dergarabedian concluded. “I think this is going to carry over into next year with a lot of momentum. People are kind of riding the tide of going to the movies. I talk to so many people who have gone to more movies this year than any other year. That’s what it’s all about.”

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