Ahh yes, the 4th Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a film everyone totally remembers.

In 2011, Disney made 1.19 billion dollars at the domestic US box office - a 31% decrease from their total in 2010. Their top grossing film of the year was Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides at $241 million, which made it the 5th highest grossing film of the year overall, but a $70 million drop from the previous film in the franchise. Their second highest grossing film was Cars 2, a film that didn't even break the $200 million mark (the first Pixar film to fail to reach $200 million domestically since 1998's A Bug Life). Their big new attempt at a live action sci-fi franchise, Tron: Legacy, was a box office disappointment, barely recouping its production budget (despite having the dopest soundtrack ever). Their 4th highest grossing film of the year was Gnomeo and Juliet, a cheap animated film that didn't even make $100 million domestically.


Speaking of films that no one remembers...

It wasn't the worst year Disney had at the box office, but it was certainly not a year that lent itself to optimism for Disney's future (especially when their top grossing film is one that most people barely remember). However, Disney's future ended up being pretty amazing.


Disney's biggest movie that made you weirdly attracted to a fox since that 70's Robin Hood.

In 2016, Disney ended the year having made more at the domestic box office than any studio in history - $3 billion. A 142% increase over 2011. 7 releases made over $100 million domestically, with the top 4 all making over $300 million. This is not only the biggest haul for any movie studio ever in a single year, it marks the first year Disney has led the yearly box office since 2003. The next highest grossing studio for the year is Warner Bros. - which came in at around $1.9 billion (over a billion less than Disney), despite releasing TWICE AS MANY MOVIES.

How did they do it? BY MAKING GOOD MOVIES. Wild idea, right?

Disney spent the year redeveloping their own properties for new audiences (the live action remakes of The Jungle Book and Pete's Dragon), making their own non-Pixar animated films amazing (remember the days when Pixar movies were the top of the heap? Well now, Zootopia was the top-reviewed film of 2016), And continuing to ride the wave of Pixar (Finding Dory was - by far - the highest-grossing film of the year). A focus on quality mixed with business savvy has given Disney an edge that no one else can match

Basically, they made their own stuff better. But they did something else too - something no other studio has done on this scale: they bought other studios' big franchises and made them better, too.


Of course, it was really two major franchises that Disney acquired, and each came at a hefty price: Marvel and Star Wars. Both came in at nearly identical amounts - about $4 billion each. But there was ample opportunity with each as well: while both had been (very) successful in the past, there were issues plaguing them both.

One of the few modern photographs of Ike Perlmutter that exist. Yes, for real.

Marvel's films had been stymied by infamous CEO Ike Perlmutter and the so-called "creative committee" (consisting of Alan Fine, Joe Quesada, Dan Buckley, and Brian Michael Bendis). Some of the more notable problems coming from these sources range from the awkward insertion of SHIELD plotlines in Thor and Iron Man 2 (which is rumored to be the reason for Jon Favreau's departure from directing for Marvel) to strange stories about cheap production details (supposedly Perlmutter refused to pay for Chris Evans' gym membership during the production of The Avengers, despite an expectation that he remain in peak physical condition.)


Ah yes, the classic plotline of Tony Stark making his chest light shaped like a triangle instead of a circle.

Thanks to Disney, Ike Perlmutter's role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was cut off and the creative committee disbanded, giving MCU frontman Kevin Feige essentially complete creative control over the future of the franchises (beginning with the production of Captain America: Civil War, which worked out pretty well!). Marvel's releases in 2016 - Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange - were each amongst Marvel's most successful films yet. Civil War was the highest grossing live action film of the year (well, until Rogue One in late December) and made over $1 billion worldwide. Doctor Strange was the highest box office debut for any Marvel character since the MCU began with Iron Man.


Ahh yes, the classic Star Wars character of Rotta the Hutt. Who could forget?

Star Wars had a fair share of issues as well - the franchise's previous theatrical foray was 2008's animated Clone Wars movie, which was literally a few episodes of the TV series of the same name that had been strung together on the whims of George Lucas. No, seriously - George Lucas saw some early footage of the episodes and just went "hey, let's release this in theaters!" because George Lucas stopped giving a shit long ago. On that note, the franchise's image had been badly damaged by the Prequel trilogy, which - while financially successful - was largely disdained by fans and critics alike, particularly in comparison with the original films in the franchise. In short, the Star Wars brand had never been at a lower point prior to Disney's purchase of it.


Disney's purchase of Star Wars wrestled it away from the hands of George Lucas for the first time in its history - and led to a bold plan (spearheaded by longtime Steven Spielberg-collaborator Kathleen Kennedy) of a new franchise that would move the series forward and spin-off films to explore adventures in the Star Wars universe that weren't (exclusively) about Skywalker family drama. Lawrence Kasdan (writer of Empire Strikes Back) and JJ Abrams (who made the very fun Star Wars film called 2009 Star Trek) were brought into the fold, with the intention of bringing in new creatives consistently to diversify the storytelling and make for the best films possible (the next film, Episode VIII, is being helmed by Looper director Rian Johnson). Thus far two films have been released - The Force Awakens (which made $936 million at the domestic box office, making it the highest grossing film in the US ever) and Rogue One (which has grossed nearly $400 million after two weeks, and is already the 2nd highest grossing Star Wars film ever).

Disney Made More Money in 2016 Than Any Studio Ever - By Making Everything Great

Baby Dory's design alone made Finding Dory worth watching.

Of the top ten films of the year, Disney released 6 of them:

  • Finding Dory (#1 - $486 million)
  • Rogue One (#2 - $439 million)
  • Captain America: Civil War (#3 - $408 million)
  • The Jungle Book (#5 - $364 million)
  • Zootopia (#7 - $341 million)
  • Doctor Strange (#10 - $230 million)

All were very positively reviewed (the Disney film in the top 10 with the lowest RottenTomatoes score is Rogue One, which sits at 85%. The highest RT score for any non-Disney release in the top ten is Deadpool at 84%) because all were quality films, and audiences responded by handing Disney more cash than they had to any studio before in history.

In case Hollywood has forgotten the lesson I spoke about in my recent article about the success of Deadpool: MAKE GOOD SHIT, AND PEOPLE WILL COME. Disney did something very smart - not only did they make their own properties better, but they made OTHER studios' films better. That's dedication.