In just over four months, Disney's domestic ticket sales in 2016 crossed $1 billion in a mere 128 days, a 37-day improvement on Universal's record and the studio is showing no signs of slowing down. The record was achieved on May 7, 2016, just as Captain America: Civil War was in the midst of delivering the fifth largest opening weekend of all-time. Combined with Civil War, Disney's animated smash hit Zootopia ($328M and counting) and the studio's classic animated feature brought to life The Jungle Book ($287.6M and counting) pushed the studio over the $1 billion mark.
Looking ahead, the rest of Disney's 2016 slate looks promising as they hope to continue what they started in the first four months and seven days of 2016. The potential to top Universal's 2015 domestic earnings record is most certainly there, doing so before the ink has even had a chance to dry on their certificate.
Of course, healthy contributors to Disney's success include the acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for $4.3 billion followed by the studio's acquisition of Lucasfilm for another $4 billion in 2012. And don't forget the studio's $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar in 2006. That said, it hasn't been until recently that all the stars began to come into alignment as 2016 might be the first year Disney finishes as the #1 studio among the "Big Six" (Fox, Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.) since 2003.
As for those acquisitions, the first Marvel title Disney released on its own was The Avengers in 2012. In a deal struck with Paramount, Disney is said to have paid at least $115 million to Paramount for worldwide distribution rights to both The Avengers and 2013's Iron Man 3. In addition to that, it was reported Paramount received 8% of the box office take for The Avengers and 9% for Iron Man 3. Disney finished third in domestic earnings among the top six in 2012 and second in 2013, and still would have once these distribution deals are taken into consideration, but since then it's been onward and upward.
By 2015 everything seemed to be in alignment. While Universal took the headlines with its record-breaking year, Disney was only $164.6 million behind in second place. In 2015, Disney brought in $2.28 billion in domestic ticket sales, the second largest of all-time and only the third time any studio has totaled over $2 billion in domestic sales in a calendar year (Warner Bros. in 2009 is the third).
Disney's success last year should come as little surprise as they not only had two Marvel films in 2015 (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man), but also two Pixar films (Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur) and, of course, the first Star Wars film in eleven years. Star Wars: The Force Awakens contributed over $650 million to the studio's 2015 domestic haul and another $284+ million in 2016.
Also contributing to the studio's success is another formula Disney has tapped into and will continue to mine, the live-action fairy tale. In 2015 it was Cinderella bringing in over $200 million and in 2016 it's The Jungle Book which will be crossing $300 million in due course. Waiting in the wings is Alice Through the Looking Glass (5/27), the sequel to 2010's Alice in Wonderland, which brought in over $330 million domestically and over $1 billion worldwide. Already lined up for 2017 is Beauty and the Beast and an as-yet untitled release in July 2017 with many more lined up for release in the future.
Speaking of the future, notable titles making up the rest of Disney's 2016 slate include the aforementioned Alice Through the Looking Glass, Pixar's Finding Dory, Steven Spielberg's The BFG, Pete's Dragon, Marvel's Doctor Strange, the latest Disney Animation Studios title Moana featuring the voice of Dwayne Johnson and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in mid-December.
Disney's 2016, however, is not the only story to be told so far this year.
With $769.6 million in domestic ticket sales so far, 20th Century Fox is actually ahead of where both Universal and Disney were at the same point before both studios went on to gross over $2 billion last year. Fox's success so far this year is largely thanks to the wild success of Deadpool ($362M+) and the nationwide rollout of The Revenant, which brought in 99.5% of its overall domestic total in 2016.
Fox's highest profile remaining releases this year include X-Men: Apocalypse (5/27), Independence Day: Resurgence (6/24), Ice Age: Collision Course (7/22), Trolls (11/4) and Assassin's Creed (12/21). There is also the possibility that Tim Burton has a breakout success with Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in late September.
Combined, the "Big Six" studios are $325.3 million ahead of where they were at the same point last year with over $3.16 billion in 2016 domestic ticket sales. In all likelihood it is looking as if Disney will remain at the top of the heap once the final numbers are tallied in January and it will be the first time Disney was the top earner among the "Big Six" since 2003.
Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo and author Brad Brevet at @bradbrevet.