Streaming services cut into 2019 box office profits

Not even the highest-grossing movie of all time could save Hollywood from a down year.

Film studios produced numerous blockbusters in 2019, led by Disney’s superhero flick “Avengers: Endgame.”

The April release, which capped a 22-film arc from Disney’s Marvel Studios, grossed $2.8 billion worldwide. That put it just ahead of the $2.79 billion generated by 2009’s “Avatar” to make it the highest-grossing movie of all time.

Yet, even with “Endgame” and five other Disney films generating more than $1 billion apiece at the global box office, the industry’s total domestic gross of $11.45 billion this year is expected to fall short of last year’s record $11.88 billion.

The expected 3.6% shortfall — as forecast by Comscore — will mark the fifth downturn this decade in North American ticket sales.

Many in the industry expect more such downturns as movie producers increasingly allow Netflix and other streaming services to release films that would have otherwise helped fatten box-office coffers.

This trend gained undeniable momentum when Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” one of the year’s most-acclaimed films, had less than a monthlong release in a patchwork of indie cinemas before Netflix started streaming it on Nov. 27.

Similarly, Netflix introduced Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” with a limited theatrical release on Nov. 6, only to commence digital streaming on Dec. 6.

Disney also got into the act by sending the Anna Kendrick Christmas comedy “Noelle” straight to its new streaming service Disney+ on Nov. 12.

Anna Kendrick
Anna Kendrick attends a special screening of “Noelle” on November 11.Getty

That same day, a “Lady and the Tramp” remake also appeared on Disney+, becoming the first Disney remake to forego a theatrical release in favor of on-demand streaming.

The acceptance of streaming as a distribution alternative for new movies with medium-sized budgets has made blockbusters even more important to the exhibition business.

This year’s top 10 films currently accounted for 38% of domestic ticket sales — up from 33% last year and 24% five years ago, according to Comscore. Hits included “The Lion King” at $1.6 billion in sales, “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” at $1.13 billion and “Frozen II” at $1.12 billion, according to Box Office Mojo.

Some experts also blamed the 3.6% box office shortfall on last weekend’s “lackluster” opening for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” even though its $176 million in North American ticket sales marked the year’s third-highest take for a movie in its first three days, beating analysts expectations for opening weekend sales of $175 million.

“It just shows you how high a bar Disney has set with these ‘Star Wars’ films,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, told The Post. “It’ll still be a $1 billion movie worldwide — Disney’s seventh for the year.”

While “Rise of Skywalker” failed to top the “Star Wars” saga’s two previous installments — 2015’s “The Force Awakens” and 2017’s “The Last Jedi” — it capped a monumental year for Disney, which was behind an unprecedented seven of the top 10 films this year.

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