You Won’t Live to See the Final Disney Remake
Let’s just say the strategy is working REALLY well for Disney.
orry if this headline confronts you with your own mortality. But, let’s just assume you live to be 100, okay? Even still, many decades from now, it’s highly likely that when you are chilling in an old folks home Disney will still be cranking out reboots of it’s core IP. Chances are high that your great, great, grandkids will be jazzed about something akin to a remake of a remake of a remake of The Lion King.
This article is not actually about your mortality though. It’s about how the movie industry is changing.
The aforementioned headline is actually an homage to one of my all-time favorite headlines. “You Won’t Live to See the Final Star Wars Movie” was a Wired feature that dropped the month before The Force Awakens premiered in late 2015.
It was an exhaustive recap of how Disney had acquired one of the most revered and well-developed IPs in Hollywood. Disney had already acquired the rights to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2009, and by plopping down $4 Billion for LucasFilm, they gave themselves another gigantic paracosm to explore for the next…well forever, really.
Disney was already a company famous for the long-standing strength of it’s IP, but the acquisition of Marvel and Star Wars took it’s blockbuster capabilities to another level. In the process they may have irreversibly changed a feature film business that was already morphing.
What is Happening to the Cinema?
It doesn’t just seem like every movie that comes to your local cineplex is a part of a franchise, a sequel, or based on some hugely popular IP, it’s actually the case.
Check out this chart of the share of Original Screenplays from the overall yearly gross of the Top 25 grossing movies going back to 1980.
See a trend?
It’s hard out there for an original screenplay these days.
And 2019 is proving to be even more historic, and mainly because of Disney.
Disney has 5 feature films this year that have made a billion dollars (and it’s only August). Disney’s overall share of total Box Office is at a record smashing 37%, and every single one of these films is a remake or part of a franchise (Avengers: End Game, The Lion King, Aladdin, Captain Marvel, Toy Story 4)
So, good for Disney, right?
But unfortunately, even though a record number of people are showing up to see Disney films, that success isn’t translating to the industry as a whole.
And that’s partly because of how many people are showing up to Disney films.
But it’s also partly because people don’t go to the movies that often anymore…
The Box Office Is In a Major Decline
First, let me lean on Matthew Ball, and his exhaustive analysis. As he notes, it’s important to point out, that regardless of studio activity, theater-going has been declining for 20 years.
In fact, since 2002 there has been a 33% decrease in per capita tickets sold. Today, the box office only sees an average of 3.45 tickets purchased per person, per year.
And with tickets sales so low, the astonishing thing that Disney’s dominance brings up is the idea that with too many titles released in one year, they may be competing primarily with themselves, and thus cannibalizing sales. This year they are slated to release 8 films. If the average person only buys 3 or 4 tickets to the movies each year, which 4 or 5 Disney movies are they NOT going to see?
The growth of Disney’s dominance in the overall box office share since their acquistions of Marvel and Star Wars in 2009 and 2012 respectively is astonishing.
The Age of SVOD Blockbuster Premieres is Here
Finally, we have a worthy competitor to Netflix’s SVOD dominance.
Keeping in mind Disney’s crazy, “good problem to have” problem of being too good at dominating the box office, we can expect them to start pushing some completely legitimate titles to a Disney+ premiere, instead of a theatrical debut.
They’ve already done this, by shifting their live action remake of Lady and the Tramp to Disney+, and we can probably expect more of the same.
On Netflix’s side they pushed the industry this way by boldly releasing movies to their platform that in previous years would have been HUGE theatrical releases (Bird Box, for example).
So, is the theater experience going away? What will all of us cinephiles do? What about 70mm and original movies by auteurs like Quentin Tarantino?
No, The Cinema Experience Isn’t Going Anywhere
For the box office business, even though ticket sales have declined over the years, ticket revenue has stayed relatively stagnant. Most of the financial hit comes down on theater chains, which is why that particular industry is also going through an innovation period. We are seeing more “high end” experiences where theater goers can sit in reclining chairs, enjoy wait staffed high end food selections, and more. There have also been various attempts at business model innovations (RIP Movie Pass). In short, theater chains are needing to find more ways to monetize their services beyond overpriced popcorn.
But, no, the cinema experience is not disappearing. It’s just changing. We live in a time where technological innovation is happening at a pace that’s hard to fathom. With every new technological leap, there are new forms of narrative entertainment for consumers to point their attention to.
What other forms of narrative entertainment are there?
Well, video games, for one. (Yay! Video Games!)
And unlike the cinema experience, the overall video game industry is exploding.
Check out this chart of the overall growth of consumer spend on video games (again, from Matthew Ball).
Pretty crazy, huh?
So, What Can We Learn From This?
Here’s what I know for the foreseeable future. We can expect lots of Disney movies (and more franchises, reboots, and known IP) at the cineplex. We can expect TONS of video games. We can expect Hollywood to see the above graph and start getting into Video Game IP in a major way (they already are).
And we can expect lots to change, and surprise us all as the pace of technological innovation continues to increase.
But regardless of how it all shakes out over the decades, won’t it be fun to take our great grandkids to the local cineplex to see The Lion King (#7), and regale them with the stories of the time we went to The Lion King (#1) as a kid…
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