Summer is a season of sunshine, sleeping in, and, apparently, billion-dollar Disney movies. July 19’s computer-animated remake of The Lion King earned a whopping $1.6 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and the second-highest-grossing film of 2019, second only to the highest-grossing film ever, Avengers: Endgame. The Lion King wasn’t the only Disney-produced hit of the summer — live-action Aladdin, Pixar’s Toy Story 4, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Far From Home were also top earners, each pulling in about $1 billion worldwide.
But even Disney’s major financial successes (to the tune of $2.25 billion domestically) were not enough to save this summer’s domestic box office, which was down seven percent in revenue as compared to summer 2018. Smaller movies, which usually perform reasonably well with the help of positive critic reviews, also suffered this summer, with a few exceptions like the Elton John biopic Rocketman, which made $96.4 million domestically.
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood was another exception to the general slump for niche-appeal movies this summer, likely buoyed by name recognition for director Tarantino.
This summer has definitely been an unexpected change from previous trends—the summer is usually an incredibly profitable season (of the 10 highest grossing box office months in history, 8 were summer months), and a time for film studios to show off their most impressive creations. What, then, do falling box office earnings and attendance mean?
People have argued that streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are the heralds of the end of the traditional movie theater’s reign. Are they right, and is this summer’s box office shortcomings evidence?
The short answer is yes. Recently, it has felt like movies in the theater haven’t been able to keep up with direct-to-streaming films. Even movies like The Lion King fall short in achieving the same level of charisma that characterize great films of the past. Streaming platform movies have more wiggle room to be edgy and innovative — members already pay a monthly fee, so a financial return is guaranteed. I have found myself turning to streaming platforms more and more to find new content that takes risks a Disney blockbuster never would.
Audience members like me aren’t the only ones making this shift — even established directors have moved projects to Netflix, favoring the streaming platform over a movie theater release.
If there’s anything we can take away from the successes and failures of this summer’s box office, it’s that movies and audiences are changing. Today, the movie theater isn’t the only place where you can watch movies, and with the proliferation of new, exciting movies on streaming platforms, it’s not the best place anymore.