Features and Columns · Movies

Disney’s Best Year Ever, By Brand

By  · Published on December 5th, 2016

We break down the Mouse House’s record box office.

Over the weekend, Disney became the record holder for best domestic box office year ever for a studio, with $2.49b, beating Universal’s 2015 total. And they haven’t even released what will likely be their (and anyone’s) highest-grossing movie of the year, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In the past month, both Doctor Strange and Moana have been on fire, and with claim of half the top ten moneymakers in the US in 2016, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Disney has also had a few disappointments over the last 12 months.

It’s not exact science comparing Disney’s year to Universal’s in 2015 because the latter really exceed expectations on a number of franchise properties as well as smaller uncertainties. The Mouse House primarily put out sure things this year, although not all of those sure things turned out to be as sure as they seemed. You could probably pore through the differences between every film’s profit margin, or at least the difference between cost and gross, and it wouldn’t appear so phenomenal or accomplished.

Still, Disney has the right stuff when it comes to brands that audiences love, and they put out a lot of titles under those brands this year, and for that they have the honor of claiming a champion title regardless of what advantages they had in winning it. They certainly weren’t an underdog like Universal was last year (Disney had the same brands in play in 2015 as 2016, though fewer releases overall). To show how strong each of their punches were this year, here’s a breakdown of their success brand by brand:

Marvel: $623m

Like last year, Disney released two movies from Marvel Studios in 2016. Doctor Strange is still going pretty strong domestically (presently in ninth place with $215m), and Captain America: Civil War is a big winner (second place with $408m), though interestingly enough that $623m total is still a bit less than the 2015 total of $639m. Civil War pales slightly compared to Avengers: Age of Ultron, but Strange is kicking Ant-Man’s butt). Worldwide, Marvel’s 2015 showing was $1.92b compared to this year’s $1.79b so far.

Live-Action Remakes: $517m

In this brand, I’m stretching things slightly. Technically, the only live-action remake of a Disney animated classic is The Jungle Book (fourth place with $364m). However, there’s also Pete’s Dragon (34th place at $76m), a remake of a Disney live-action feature where the original version’s 2D animated elements were this time done more realistically with CG effects, and Alice Through the Looking Glass (33rd place at $77m), a sequel to a live-action remake of a Disney animated classic.

The last of those titles was a big disappointment considering how much the first movie did, and Disney probably had hoped for better with Pete’s Dragon, too, though it cost significantly less and made about the same money. The Jungle Book, meanwhile, was pretty huge. Last year’s only release in this category was Cinderella, which you’d think would be more popular but only grossed $201m domestically. Even worldwide, its $544m fails against Jungle Book’s $967m and this brand’s massive total of $1.41b.

Pixar: $498m

Once Disney’s most prestigious and popular brand, Pixar Animation Studios only put out one title in 2016 compared to 2015. But that movie, Finding Dory, is the year’s box office champ (with $486m). The sequel, which follows up 2003’s Finding Nemo (which grossed a similar $485m domestically, adjusted for inflation), made more than last year’s two Pixar releases, Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, combined ($12m of The Good Dinosaur’s US gross carried over into 2016 and adds to Disney’s 2016 total). Worldwide, that double dose edges out Dory’s $1.03b with a total of $1.19b.

Walt Disney Animation Studios: $461m

In recent years, Disney’s house brand of animated features has been giving its Pixar sidearm a run for its money. This year, Walt Disney Animation Studios had two highly acclaimed and financially successful titles, Zootopia (sixth place with $341m) and Moana (presently in 20th place with $120m). The second one is brand new and so still not close to its ultimate domestic take, but it doesn’t matter because last year the brand had no output (Disney had one other animated feature in 2015, Strange Magic, which made $12m). Worldwide, so far Zootopia and Moana have grossed $1.2b, more than Pixar.

Star Wars: $285m

Star Wars will surely be the biggest of the brands when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s opens, but the franchise has already taken in $285m in 2016 because Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out so close to the new year and made a fair chunk of its money afterward. And that’s included in the record-breaking tally for Disney these last 11 months. The earlier movie’s total US gross is $937, so that’s $652m in 2015 – can Rogue One top that before January 1st? – with a worldwide total (for both years) of $2.07b.

Steven Spielberg / Other Live-Action Sci-fi and Fantasy Films: $58m

In addition to the Alice sequel, Disney flopped hard with another live-action fantasy film involving a girl and a wondrous land of curious creatures. Steven Spielberg’s Roald Dahl adaptation, The BFG (52nd place with only $55m), should have been a hit family film but performed worse than last year’s $72m-grossing Disney-distributed Spielberg movie, Bridge of Spies, which was more for parents, and then mostly for dads (about $3m of Bridge’s total gross was made this year). But its other 2015 comparable is Tomorrowland, which made only $93m. Worldwide, though, BFG’s $178m outdoes Bridge’s $165m but not Tomorrowland’s $209m.

Other Dramas: $50m

The rest of Disney’s live-action releases this year are a mixed bag of dramas for families and adults: true stories The Finest Hours (79th place with $28m), Queen of Katwe (124th place with $9m), and Dangal (to be released 12/21), and the adaptation The Light Between Oceans (112th place with $13m). Last year, the studio only had one comparable, McFarland USA, which by itself made almost as much as the trio with $44m. These kinds of movies rarely do big numbers globally, but added together, the 2016 dramas have so far made $84m worldwide compared to McFarland’s $46m.

Documentary: $8m

There was no Disneynature title for 2016, but the studio did have one documentary, the Jennifer Lawrence-narrated IMAX film A Beautiful Planet (unranked for 2016, it hass made $8m). Last year’s Disneynature doc, The Monkey Kingdom, doubled its gross with $16m, though it was also considered more of a theatrical feature (Planet is only 45 minutes in length). And in fact, Planet’s gross doesn’t appear to be included in Disney’s 2016 total. Worldwide, the comparison is Planet’s $9m versus Monkey’s $17m.

Note: I included worldwide gross numbers at the end of each itemized brand because it’s interesting to see international figures with all of these properties, most of which are huge all over the globe. Plus, Disney is nearing a worldwide record, having just crossed $4b internationally for a total so far of $6.57b and likely to top Universal’s 2015 take of $6.89b. The studio presently has the top four global grossers (Civil War, Dory, Zootopia, and Jungle Book) with one more in the top ten (Doctor Strange).

Admittedly the worldwide numbers I present for each brand don’t add up to that reported amount, but that’s because I don’t have details on the parts of the international grosses for The Force Awakens and other 2015 titles made since this year started. Presumably it’s $750m.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.