11 box-office surprises in 2019 that show audiences still care about movies not in Disney's mega franchises

Lionsgate‘Knives Out’
  • Disney and franchise movies have dominated the box office this year.
  • The New York Times even argued last month that there’s no room for midbudget movies in the “blockbuster era.”
  • But there were pleasant box-office surprises that suggested non-franchise, adult movies can still thrive.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In a year when Disney has accounted for over 40% of the domestic box office, it may seem like there’s little room for any movie that isn’t Marvel, Pixar, or a remake of an animated classic. Even the New York Times argued last month that midbudget movies are dying in the “blockbuster era.”

But some notable movies have suggested there’s still room for non-franchise, star-powered, adult movies at cinemas. They include the female-led dramedy “Hustlers,” the raunchy comedy “Good Boys,” and A24’s indie drama “The Farewell.”

And box-office experts say that this year was an “anomaly” and that the box office will be more evenly distributed between studios next year. Without an “Avengers” or “Star Wars,” those midbudget movies will have more chances to thrive.

“This year has been so strong for Disney that it was hard [for other studios] to find holes in the calendar,” Paul Dergarabedian, the Comscore senior media analyst, told Business Insider. “Next year is more wide open for the rival studios and they will share the wealth more evenly.”

As 2019 comes to a close, we rounded up 11 of the most pleasant box-office surprises of the year, which all challenged the industry’s perceptions of what can still be a hit.

Not all comedies flopped.

Universal‘Good Boys’

Universal’s “Good Boys” and STX’s “The Upside” both showed that comedies aren’t yet dead at movie theatres.

After “Booksmart” disappointed at the box office despite critical acclaim, speculation swirled as to whether comedies still had a place in cinemas. “Booksmart” has a 97% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes but earned just $US24 million. “Long Shot” and “Late Night,” which Amazon bought out of the Sundance Film Festival for $US13 million, are other examples of comedic flops.

But “The Upside,” starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, made $US125 million worldwide off of a $US37.5 million budget. And “Good Boys” opened over the summer with $US21 million and was made for $US20 million. It went on to earn $US110 million worldwide.

In a year of sequel flops, there were notable exceptions.

Sony‘Jumanji: The Next Level’

From “Dark Phoenix” to “Terminator: Dark Fate,” it was a rough year for franchise sequels or reboots that weren’t Disney movies.

But there were exceptions. With $US326 million worldwide off of a $US56 million budget, Lionsgate’s “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” continued the series’ momentum at the box office. Each sequel has earned nearly double what the last one did, a rare achievement today.

More recently, Sony’s “Jumanji: The Next Level” capitalised on the word-of-mouth success of 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” The sequel, which stars audience favourites Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart, made $US60 million domestically in its debut weekend. The first movie made $US36 million in its debut and ultimately grossed $US962 million worldwide. It’s now made over $US100 million domestically and $US312 million worldwide.

Some indie movies excelled.

A24‘The Farewell’

When A24’s “The Farewell” opened in just four theatres in July with $US355,000 and a per-theatre average of $US89,000, it broke the year’s record at the time for the best per-screen average, which had been held by “Avengers: Endgame.” The movie was made for $US4 million and went on to earn nearly $US20 million.

Another A24 movie, “Uncut Gems,” opened with an impressive $US525,498 earlier this month in just five theatres for a per-screen average of $US105,100, an A24 record. It crossed $US1 million at the box office over the weekend, before opening wide this week.

It was the second biggest average of the year behind the foreign-language film and Oscar frontrunner “Parasite.” The movie earned $US376,264 in its domestic debut in October with a per-screen average of $US125,421. It’s since made $US20 million domestically and $US121 million worldwide.

Mid-budget movies for adults can still thrive.

Associated Press‘Hustlers’

The New York Times argued last month that there appears to be “no room at the box office” for midbudget movies in the “blockbuster era.” That’s not entirely the case.

STX’s “Hustlers,” a female-led dramedy based on a true story about strippers who steal from their wealthy Wall Street clients, earned $US105 million in the US this year and was made for $US20 million.

Lionsgate’s murder mystery “Knives Out,” from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson, earned $US41 million over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend and had a production budget of $US40 million. It’s since made $US185 million worldwide with no signs of slowing down.

Movie stars don’t get audiences to the theatre like they used to — except when they do.

Fox‘Ford v Ferrari’

Movie stars are rarely the driving force behind a movie’s success anymore (unless you’re Dwayne Johnson). Now, it’s all about franchise recognition.

That’s why it’s exciting to see star-driven adult dramas like Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” and James Mangold’s race-car drama “Ford v Ferrari” stand out from the crowd.

With $US372 million worldwide, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is Tarantino’s second biggest movie ever, behind “Django Unchained.” “Ford v Ferarri” has earned nearly $US200 million worldwide and crossed the $US100 million mark domestically over the weekend. It was made for $US97 million, so it’s not one of the biggest success stories of the year. But it’s far from a flop, either, which is refreshing when the box office is normally dominated by the aforementioned franchise movies.

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