Superhero films win 2018 box office, setting Disney up for a stellar 2019

Key Points
  • Hollywood hauls in more than $11.38 billion at the domestic box office in 2018, according to Comscore.
  • Superhero films account for 25.5 percent of total ticket sales, according to their data.
  • Disney films perform well at the box office in 2018, and this is expected to continue in 2019.
Avengers: Infinity War.
Source: Walt Disney Studios.

If the U.S. box office's record-breaking 2018 is any indication, superhero movie fatigue doesn't exist.

So far, Hollywood hauled in more than $11.38 billion domestically, as more people went out to theaters to view this year's blockbusters. Analysts expect the final total could be as high as $11.9 billion, as the final week of the year tends to be a busy time for moviegoers.

In particular, audiences threw their support behind superhero films. Of the top five highest-grossing films in 2018, four were in the superhero genre — and three were distributed by Disney.

"The movie theater is alive and well and thriving," Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at Comscore, told CNBC.

In all, Hollywood released nine superhero films in 2018, grossing more than $2.9 billion at the domestic box office, or about 25.5 percent of total ticket sales, according to data compiled by Comscore.

"This notion of superhero fatigue, I have yet to see any evidence of it," Dergarabedian said.

Audiences also want to see these big-budget, action-packed films on the big screen and will pay to do so.

"I give a lot of credit to 'Black Panther,'" Erik Davis, managing editor at Fandango, which sells movie tickets, said. "It was the kind of film that infected pop culture in such a way that brought people back to the movie theater."

Disney's "Black Panther" garnered more than $700 million domestically and an additional $646.8 million internationally, during its run in theaters this year. It is now the third-highest-grossing movie in U.S. history.

"It reminded people how fun it is to go to a big movie in a packed theater," he said.

The film was also well received by critics. "Black Panther" received a Golden Globe nomination and is expected to be nominated for an Academy Award next year.

Disney produced four of the nine superhero films that hit theaters this year, hauling in more than $2.2 billion in domestic ticket sales, according to Comscore data.

Continued interest from audiences bodes well for Disney, which is slated to release two more Marvel films in 2019.

"Captain Marvel" arrives in March, nearly a year after the cliffhanger ending to "Avengers: Infinity War" teased that she was the most powerful superhero and the only one who could take on villain Thanos. The film will take place in the '90s and tell the origin story of Carol Danvers, who becomes Captain Marvel.

Two months later, Disney will release "Avengers: Endgame" finally giving some resolution to the events of "Infinity War" and could serve as the last film for several of the actors who donned the mask, cape or shield of Marvel's most iconic characters.

"Avengers: Infinity War" brought in $678 million domestically and $1.37 billion from international markets, which means these sequels could have a solid fan base to draw from.

Other comic book-inspired films coming to the big screen in 2019 include DC's "Shazam" and "Joker" as well as Sony's "Spider-Man: Far from Home," a project that fits into Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In all, the House of Mouse had another stellar year at the box office, raking in nearly $3 billion in the U.S. alone. Disney accounted for 26.3 percent of all U.S. ticket sales in 2018.

Disney "could be looking at beating [its] own record next year," Dergarabedian said, referencing its slate of films, which includes another "Star Wars" film, two animated features and three live-action classics.

For comparison, Universal Studios represented 16.9 percent of total U.S. ticket sales, while Warner Bros. accounted for 15.5 percent and Sony 10.6 percent.

Source: Comscore

Disney hasn't always been a powerhouse at the box office, however. While the company has held a significant portion of the market share over the last few decades, it was only in the last five years that Disney has captured such a high percentage of sales.

In 2008, Disney accounted for only 10.5 percent of the U.S. box office. However, its 2009 acquisition of Marvel Studios and subsequent release of "Iron Man 2" in 2010, which garnered $312 million domestically, helped boost Disney's market share.

The production company got another lift in 2015, with the release of its first Star Wars film, "The Force Awakens."

"The Force Awakens" earned $2.06 billion worldwide and paved the way for Disney to release a new "Star Wars" film in each of the subsequent years. While 2018's "Solo" disappointed at the box office, the franchise has made more than $4.8 billion at the theater, not including sales of merchandise, apparel and toys.

In 2019, Disney will release "Star Wars: Episode IX," the final film in its most recent trilogy.

Disney's ticket sales have also been bolstered by its series of live-action remakes of classic Disney films. Previously, the company has produced "Cinderella," "The Jungle Book" and "Beauty and the Beast." Disney made $2.77 billion from those three films worldwide.

Next year, three more will be released: "Dumbo," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King."

Disney will also be releasing the sequel to its animated blockbuster "Frozen" as well as the fourth installment of the "Toy Story" franchise.

"Disney will probably have its best year," Davis said of the company's 2019 slate.

Disclosure: Universal Studios is owned by NBC Universal and Comcast, the parent company of CNBC. NBC Universal owns a stake in Fandango.