A Look At Why Disney Owned 2016 and Why It Will Destroy 2017 As Well

Last weekend Star Wars: Rogue One cruised past the half a billion-dollar mark domestically, usurping Finding Dory as the highest grossing movie released in 2016. It has also become the fourth movie from last year to do a billion dollars in business worldwide and by the end of the month it will overtake other ten digit flicks Finding Dory and Zootopia in global box office. The only question hanging over the first Star Wars spinoff movie is whether it has enough steam to overtake 2016’s current global champion Captain America: Civil War. Even if it doesn’t, it will settle for number two globally while boasting the domestic box office title.

Now take a look at those four movies. In fact, take a look at the top five movies released from 2016. Notice anything they have in common? A recurring pattern perhaps? The four aforementioned films along with 2016’s fifth highest grossing movie, the live action Jungle Book (falling just short of joining the billion dollar club with 966 million worldwide), all belong to Disney. In fact, not only do they all belong to The House of the Mouse, they all belong to separate branches of Disney’s multi faceted movie machine.

Disney has spent the past decade reinventing itself, climbing from fifth on Hollywood’s food chain to the reigning heavy weight champion. Here are a few more numbers to illustrate how complete Disney’s dominance was this year. Not only did Walt’s venerable studio own the top five movies released last year, they also laid claim to two more titles in the top fifteen (Doctor Strange at 11 and Moana at 15) and they became the first studio to gross 3 billion dollars domestically and seven billion internationally. All on the back of just 13 theatrical releases. Compare that to 2005, when they released 31 films but only one found a place in that year’s top ten earners. What a difference a decade makes.

Disney and the properties at their disposal have gotten so huge that last year they announced that they’re no longer interested in doing smaller movies, instead focusing focus strictly on blockbusters. While other studios supplement their tent pole releases with smaller, inexpensive films, Mickey swings for the fences every time. He might strike out every once in a while (The BFG, Alice Through The Looking Glass), but more often then not he’s hitting them out of the park.

Between 2007 and 2012, Disney spent over 15 billion dollars acquiring distinct properties for the purposes of content. The purchases of both Marvel Comics and the Star Wars franchise came as complete surprises, no small feat in the Internet age. Disney has structured itself as a creative machine with five distinct brands operating beneath the same umbrella. The animated juggernaut Pixar, Disney’s live action branch (which is currently focused on producing live action adaptations of animated classics and properties like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Marvel Studios, their own in house animation division (which has arguably caught up to Pixar with the likes of Zootopia, Frozen, Wreck It Ralph and Moana) and their crown jewel Lucas Films (guardian of the Star Wars cash cow) could all stand on their own but work with autonomous efficiency under Disney’s uber-brand.

Another look at the top five films from 2016 reveals that all five of Disney’s movie making banners are represented. Talk about your billion-dollar symmetry. But having five independent operations churning out blockbusters is just part of Disney’s business plan.

Many of Disney’s properties are also responsible for billions of dollars of revenue outside of the box office. Disney produces much of it’s own merchandise instead of licensing out all the rights to third party companies. They have also resurrected their own chain of specialty retail outlets, allowing them to offer a wider selection of (mostly) affordable merchandise while keeping a larger share of the retail pie. Anna, Elsa and the rest of the gang from Frozen (which grossed 1.3 billion worldwide in 2013) have sold an estimated 107 billion dollars in merchandise all on they’re own. In fact, Disney licensed merchandise made 40.9 billion dollars in 2013 alone (and that was before they began releasing the new Star Wars films).

Movie properties are also adapted into television shows for Disney’s family of television and cable channels and then there are the movie themed additions to Disney’s world-renowned theme parks. The movies provide a constant stream of newer rides and attractions to sell more tickets for another billion-dollar cog in Disney’s global empire.

Disney has also perfected using social media to remain constant fixtures in the 24-hour movie and entertainment news cycle, reinforcing their brand while building hype for future releases. While their current movies are cleaning up at the box office, their publicity department is busy releasing juicy tidbits and creating buzz for future projects. When they announced that they were planning a live action adaptation of their 1994 animated super hit The Lion King, the Internet practically buckled beneath the resulting frenzy. They quashed rumours that they might cast Caucasian actors for Asian roles in their live action Mulan (scheduled release November of 2018) with an almost casual, passive aggressive approach. They did the same with recent questions about using CGI imagery of the late Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: Episode IX. No press conferences or interviews or splashy interviews; just well timed and precisely aimed e-mails, Facebook posts and Tweets. Disney is the planet’s biggest social media ninja.

With a 2017 slate that includes the likes of the live action Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, Thor: Ragnorok, Cars 3, Star Wars Episode VIII and Coco, no one should be surprised to see Disney not only dominate the box office again in 2017, but smash more records in the process. (Disney has also assembled an impressive menu for 2018 as well, building buzz for those movies two years in advance). Disney’s success has bread a lot of haters, but one thing’s for sure, now is a hell of a time to own Disney stock.

And it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to be able to knock Disney from its lofty perch atop the movie world for quite some time.

Image: Walt Disney Entertainment