Time for the now traditional year-end wrap up with a look at the top ten movies of 2019, thanks to the list compiled by Box Office Mojo. The top movies are
1) Avengers: Endgame – sequel to an adaptation.
2) The Lion King – remake.
3) Toy Story 4 – sequel to an original work.
4) Captain Marvel – adaptation.
5) Spider-Man: Far from Home – sequel to an adaptation.
6) Frozen II – sequel.
7) Aladdin – remake of an adaptation.
8) Joker – adaptation.
9) Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker – sequel to an original work.
10) It Chapter Two – sequel and adaptation.
Like last year, there is no original movie in the top ten. Us, written and directed by Jordan Peele, was pushed out of the top ten in the final week of 2019 by Star Wars: Episode IX. The top ten consists of sequels, adaptations, or remakes. Aladdin is a remake of the animated film adapted from a folk tale. Superheroes took up 40% of the list, down from 60% last year. One movie, It Chapter Two, is adapted from a novel. Disney is the big winner of 2019, releasing seven of the ten movies. Warner Bros has two, Joker and It Chapter Two, leaving Sony to get one slot with Spider-Man.
Movie studios are still counting on known properties to draw an audience. Budgets have exploded, especially for summer blockbusters. If the movie fails to perform, studios lose money and execs lose bonuses. The effort to redo Sonic might not have been done if less money was involved. This won’t be changing anytime soon. Studios are risk adverse. Unless there’s a number of sleeper hits over the course of a year or several star-driven original works that gain attention, expect more adaptations. Disney and Marvel are at a point where the movies are their own universe, and missing one may mean missing a key part leading up to the big ensemble film. Warner and DC are trying the same, but have had more success with their television series.
However, there is hope for more original works. Us tapped a market that is usually ignored. The film also had a much lower budget. This combination could set a path for more original works in theatres. The problem may not be adaptations but excessive budgets. There is room for smaller budget films in theatres.
Last year’s wrap-up, I predicted that Captain Marvel and Valiant’s Faith may do well at the box office. Faith is due to come out February 2020, but Captain Marvel finished fourth overall in the top ten, following Black Panther dominating in 2018. Studios will have to pay attention to audiences outside the 18-45 white male demographic. However, 2020 won’t be that year. It takes time to create a movie, from story outline to finished product. Audience demand is starting to be seen. All that’s needed now is a hit that features an atypical protagonist for the dam to crack.
The short version, adaptations continued to dominate the silver screen. With studios risk adverse, they want to maximize audiences. It’s still not a guarantee of success, but adapting a popular work is one way to draw in a crowd. Couple adapting with popular actors, and studios see a sure thing. The New Teens are looking a lot like the Fifties, where popular adaptations far outnumbered popular adaptations. Let’s break down the top ten films by box office, using the numbers compiled by Box Office Mojo. Remember that popularity isn’t necessarily a sign of quality, just of what is popular.
1) Finding Dory – sequel to the Disney/Pixar original work, Finding Nemo. A surprising entry, given the strength of what follows.
2) Captain America: Civil War – second sequel to Captain America: First Avenger, an adaptation.
3) The Secret Life of Pets – original.
4) The Jungle Book – Disney’s live action remake of its animated adaptation of the story by Rudyard Kipling.
5) Deadpool – adapted from the Marvel character and the most comic book movie ever made*.
6) Zootopia – An original Disney animated movie.
7) Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice – adapted from characters and situations seen in DC Comics.
8) Suicide Squad – another DC Comics adaptation.
9) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – an original movie in the Star Wars franchise.
10) Doctor Strange – adapted from the Marvel comic.
Note that Rogue One and Doctor Strange are still in theatres. The Star Wars prequel could finish 2016 higher in the list and also dominate the 2017 list.
For all the complaints people have about adaptations, audiences went out to see them more than original works. The breakdown has two completely original works, two sequels/prequels to original works, and six adaptations or sequels to adaptations. It’s telling that most of the original works are animated, especially from Disney, who used to plumb animated features from fairy tales. Studios just aren’t going to give up the potential income from popular adaptations, no matter the outcry. At this point, original works will need top talent just to get a budget from studios. Depending on the work, an original may need to go to television just to get noticed. For balance, let’s look at the bottom ten.
10) Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – fictionalized adaptation of the memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker
9) Assassin’s Creed – adaptation of the video game.
8) Snowden – a biopic of Edward Snowden.
7) Mechanic: Resurrection – sequel to the remake, The Mechanic.
6) Manchester by the Sea – original.
5) Free State of Jones – loosely based on a historical event.
4) Blair Witch – remake of The Blair Witch Project.
3) God’s Not Dead 2 – sequel to a movie based on Rice Broocks’ God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in An Age of Uncertainty.
2) Keanu – original.
1) Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life – adapted from Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts.
Note that Assassin’s Creed is still in theatres after being released on December 21. Manchester by the Sea opened in limited release November 18 and had a full release December 16 and is still in theatres.
The bottom ten has four adaptations, two sequels to adaptations, one original work, and two movies based on real events, including the Snowden biopic. Being at the bottom isn’t necessarily a sign of quality. Manchester by the Sea has been nominated for a number of awards, including Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Screenplay, and has been listed on the American Film Institute’s Top Ten Films of the Year. What the bottom ten show is that adaptations run the gamut of popularity and that we’re still in an era where adaptations outnumber original works. However, with two exceptions, every decade in the history of movies shows that trend. The exceptions were the Eighties and Nineties.
Adaptations aren’t going away any time soon. People are still getting out to see them in theatres. At this point, quality is important; repeat audiences are driving the numbers for several films. For now, expect more original works in unexpected media, like animation or television.
* I’d say “shamelessly the most comic book movie,” but the movie lives in audacity, contributing to its popularity.