Amid the chaos and changes of 2018, Americans have rediscovered their love of movies. Despite some serious stepping-up by streaming services, movie attendance is up 4 percent from last year, while global box-office revenue reached an all-time high of $41.7 billion. The year’s biggest hits pushed the boundaries of favorite genres, paid attention to underserved audiences and sent us home humming the soundtrack. But even in a good year, they can’t all be winners. From a rare Star Wars stumble (Disney is the only studio that could consider a $213 million movie a misfire) to a new holiday classic, here are the biggest box-office winners and losers of the year.
WINNER: Superheroes, 2018-style
This was a boundary-pushing year for Hollywood’s favorite genre — and it’s a good thing, too, because superhero movies will need to keep evolving in order to stay on top. Black Panther, the year’s No. 1 film, with a $700 million take, boasted Marvel’s first black ensemble cast, its first chart-topping soundtrack and an Afro-futurist visual style that had immediate cultural impact. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($73.7 million so far) pioneered a comics-inspired animation style that could influence the genre for years to come. Sequels The Incredibles 2 ($608 million) and Ant-Man and the Wasp ($216 million) both put female heroes at the center of their stories, with lucrative results. Avengers: Infinity War ($678 million) showed us a superhero ensemble of unprecedented scale. Deadpool 2 ($318 million) literally doubled down on its barbed satire of other studios’ superheroes, squeezing an additional $5.9 million from viewers with the holiday-themed, PG-13 recut Once Upon a Deadpool. And DC got into the action as Aquaman closed out the year with a splashy $189 million and counting.
LOSER: Recasting Star Wars
Even with a champion performance by Alden Ehrenreich, audiences didn’t want the Millennium Falcon piloted by anyone but Harrison Ford. Solo: A Star Wars Story made $213 million, which looks great until you stack it against Rogue One ($532 million) or The Force Awakens ($936 million). The low-flying film seems to have made Lucasfilm rethink its approach to Star Wars prequels while directing more attention to streaming TV shows.
WINNER: Dr. Seuss
It’s been years since a Seuss adaptation was seen
In bright animation upon a big screen
Yet this year’s superfluous movie The Grinch
Made millions of dollars like it was a cinch
$257.9 million to be exact
It’s a top 10 earner, and that’s a fact
LOSER: Whiffs (or full-on stink bombs) of controversy
In 2018, accusations of misconduct continued to accumulate against Hollywood power players, which no doubt contributed to poor box-office numbers for the Kevin Spacey-starring All the Money in the World ($25.1 million), the John Travolta-starring Gotti ($4.3 million) and the Johnny Depp-starring Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (which fell far short of previous Potterverse films, with $155.3 million). The Predator ($51 million) fizzled after it came to light that director Shane Black knowingly cast a registered sex offender in a small role. But even a hint of controversy seemed enough to poison a film’s earnings this year. First Man ($44.8 million) was accused of being unpatriotic; Green Book ($29.1 million) and Isle of Dogs ($32 million) of being racially insensitive; and The Happytime Murders ($20.7 million) of being mean to Sesame Street.
WINNER: Taboo-smashing comedies
The independent box office drew strength this year from films that audaciously mined forbidden topics for laughs. The candid puberty comedy Eighth Grade ($13.5 million); the racism allegory Sorry to Bother You ($17.4 million); the sexually charged, revisionist-history film The Favourite ($11.4 million so far); and the white-supremacist-skewering BlacKkKlansman ($48.2 million) all generated laughs, gasps and box-office dollars by speaking truth to power.
LOSER: Franchises that weren’t
Hollywood is currently hell-bent on turning every film into a franchise, but audiences just don’t have the energy — especially when the films are something they feel like they’ve seen before. The Mad Max-ish Mortal Engines ($13.2 million), the YA dystopia The Darkest Minds ($12.6 million) and the latest gritty retelling of Robin Hood ($30.4 million) all lost money and ended on cliffhangers promising sequels that will never happen.
WINNER: Rousing musicals
Whether feel-good or sob-inducing, musicals with infectious soundtracks were an audience favorite in 2018. The deeply bittersweet A Star Is Born ($200 million) and Bohemian Rhapsody ($185 million) both surpassed box-office expectations. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ($120 million) didn’t out-sing the first film but easily turned a profit. Even the year’s biggest Christian film, I Can Only Imagine ($83.4 million), sent audiences home singing. And while Mary Poppins Returns ($100 million so far) was sunk by Aquaman on opening weekend, it seems likely that Disney-loving families will be tripping the light fantastic for weeks to come.
LOSER: Crime dramas
This evergreen genre is thriving in the television and podcast worlds, but on the big screen in 2018, crime dramas were a crapshoot. There were a few success stories, the biggest of which was the Denzel Washington-starring sequel The Equalizer 2 ($102 million). Among the disappointments: Widows with Viola Davis ($41.6 million), Bad Times at the El Royale with Chris Hemsworth ($17.9 million), The Commuter with Liam Neeson ($36.3 million) and The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story ($14.8 million), not to mention Gotti ($4.3 million).
While films continue to be much less diverse than the audiences who watch them, 2018 made some big strides. We had two blockbusters (Crazy Rich Asians, $174 million, and Black Panther, $700 million) with nonwhite ensemble casts, two hit films headlined by biracial superheroes (Aquaman, $105 million so far, and Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, $73.7 million so far), an all-female Ocean’s film (Ocean’s 8, $140 million) and a hit rom-com about a gay teenager (Love, Simon, which made $4.8 million on a reported $17 million budget). It wasn’t long ago that Hollywood swore that audiences for these films didn’t exist — but for people who don’t exist, they’re sure buying a lot of movie tickets.
LOSER: 20th Century Fox
On the verge of an acquisition by Disney, Fox had a streak of bad luck at the box office, with some of its most anticipated films (The Predator with $51 million, The Hate U Give with $29.6 million, Widows with $41.6 million, Red Sparrow with $46.8 million) coming in far below expectations. Two sizable hits, Deadpool 2 ($318 million) and Bohemian Rhapsody ($184 million), cushioned the blow.
WINNER: American kaiju
Hollywood riffs on the giant-monster genre took a big chunk out of the box office this year, despite generally poor reviews. Killer-dino sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom took in $416 million — over $200 million less than 2016’s record-breaking Jurassic Park reboot, but easily enough to make the year’s top 10. Daddy-shark drama The Meg scored a $145 million take and, like Jurassic World, earned double its U.S. box office globally. Oddly, two of the year’s big-budget bombs, Rampage ($101 million) and Pacific Rim: Uprising ($59.5 million), also boasted giant creatures, though it’s hard to know whether to blame marketing misfires, convoluted plots or even-worse reviews. The producers of 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters may want to take notes.
LOSER: Adorable bears
You know it’s a rough year when audiences won’t turn out for Paddington and Winnie the Pooh. The universally adored Paddington 2 was big in the U.K. but sputtered to just $40.8 million domestically. Disney also tried to bring joy to mopey humans with a fuzzy bear, but the live-action Christopher Robin underwhelmed with $99.2 million.
WINNER: Scaled-down studio comedies
Blockers ($60.1 million) and Game Night ($69.1 million) were both written off by the industry as small earners — unjustly, because the critically acclaimed comedies both recouped their midlevel budgets (a reported $21 million for Blockers and $37 million for Game Night). Overboard might not have shared the critics’ love, but it did bring in $50.3 million on a reported $12 million budget. The Melissa McCarthy vehicle Life of the Party ($53 million on a reported $30 million budget) and the Amy Schumer-starring I Feel Pretty ($48.7 million on a $32 million budget) also did just fine — so let’s keep these films in perspective, shall we? It’s not like they have giant sharks.
WINNER: Conversation-starting docs
Did you hear about the twist in Three Identical Strangers ($12.3 million)? Would you believe that a man scales Yosemite’s most famous cliff without ropes in Free Solo ($10.9 million)? Documentaries were some of the buzziest films this year, and they did big business in limited release — particularly those about Mr. Rogers (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, with $22.6 million) and Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG, with a $14 million take).
LOSER: Weird science
With the exception of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One ($137 million), the box office for straight-up science fiction (no superhero chaser) remained weak this year. Annihilation, one of the year’s best-reviewed films, topped out at $32.7 million. The pricey Pacific Rim: Uprising tanked at $59.5 million. The teen-targeted Kin made $5.7 million. Even First Man, which portrayed real NASA events with the drama of science fiction, didn’t move audiences beyond $44.8 million. Hope may lie with microbudget sci-fi — like Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, which made $11.9 million on a budget reported to be as low as $3 million-$5 million.
WINNER: Horror, horror everywhere
For any producer without a Disney-sized checkbook, the most reliable moneymaker in Hollywood is still low-budget horror. The studio that rules the genre, Blumhouse, had multiple hits this year, including the Halloween reboot ($159 million) and Truth or Dare ($41 million). A Quiet Place ($188 million) and Hereditary ($44 million) were sizable sleeper hits, thanks to critical raves and excellent word of mouth. Even the terribly reviewed Conjuring spinoff The Nun was a box-office monster with $117 million. One of the few exceptions: the experimental classic-horror remake Suspiria, which made just $2.4 million.
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