Despite ‘Jedi,’ 2017 Was Modest Year for Film Industry

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“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” surged ahead of “Beauty and The Beast” to become the top grossing film as 2017 ended. It exited the year with gross domestic box office sales of $517 million ahead of “”Beauty” at $504 million. “Beauty” had held the title since July. Despite the wild success of these and a few others, domestic box office for the year will be about $11.1 billion. That will be down from $11.4 billion in 2016.

2017 will still be remembered as a good year. 2016 was the best year for the industry. The domestic box office in 2016 was led by another Star Wars film–“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” which brought in $532 million.  Between “Rogue” and “Jedi” gross receipts for the “Star Wars” franchise pushed to $3.9 billion, and will certainly pass $4 billion. The franchise includes 10 films, and that number will almost certainly go higher.

The winner among studios in 2016 was Buena Vista, owned by Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS). Its share of the domestic market was almost 22%. This was followed by Time Warner Inc.’s (NYSE: TWX) Warner Bros. at 19%, and Comcast’s (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Universal at 14%. Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.’s (NYSE: FOXA) 20th Century Fox at 12%.  Two of these parent companies will probably be sold this year — Time Warner to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), and much of Fox, including the studio to Disney. The big studios will end up in fewer and fewer hands. Based on big media company consolidation, this is likely to continue.

In some ways, the box office numbers for last year are very impressive.  Theater attendance has been challenged more each year by new “studios” which include Netflix Inc. (NYSE: NFLX) and Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN).  This is in addition to original programming from more traditional competitors led by Time Warner’s HBO. Among the Netflix successes are “Orange Is the New Black” and “The Crown.” And this competitive field will get more crowded as companies like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) enter the long form premium video battles.

While 2016 was not a record year for traditional box office totals. It was a year in which old-time Hollywood showed it could hold its own.