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'Lion King' to bolster Disney's box office dominance

Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES -- The Walt Disney Co. doesn't have to wait to be king, unlike the little cub Simba. But the release of its latest remake, "The Lion King," should further cement the company's rule at the box office.

Disney's high-tech re-imagining of its 1994 animated hit is expected to lord over the multiplex once it hits theaters Thursday night. The big-budget film will probably collect $150 million to $175 million in ticket sales through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys.

The movie, which uses innovative computer graphics to create a photo-realistic version of the animated musical, should become another hit for the Burbank entertainment firm, which has dominated the box office. So far this year, the company's pictures have accounted for about 35% of domestic ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo, not counting the Fox films it has distributed.

Four of the top five movies at the global box office in 2019 have been released by Disney: "Avengers: Endgame," "Captain Marvel," "Aladdin" and "Toy Story 4." The exception, "Spider-Man: Far From Home" (at No. 4), was released by Sony Pictures, but co-produced by Disney's Marvel Studios.

As Disney feasts at cinemas, rivals have been left to scavenge for box office leftovers. Domestic ticket sales this year have been sluggish compared to the record-breaking business of 2018. Theatrical receipts have totaled $6.2 billion through last weekend, down 8.6% from the same period last year, according to data firm Comscore.

Theater stocks have suffered as a result. Shares of AMC Entertainment, the world's largest exhibitor, have fallen 41% in the last three months, according to data compiled by FactSet. Plano, Texas-based Cinemark, the third biggest circuit, has declined 8.4%, while big-screen company Imax Corp. has slid 17.9%.

"It's not like the industry's falling apart, but there's definitely been a lack of depth," said Eric Handler, an analyst at MKM Partners who focuses on the theatrical market.

Disney's run of hits is the result of the company's long-term strategy of acquiring popular brands and franchises, including Pixar Animation Studio, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm. The company in March completed its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, in a major consolidation of entertainment industry power.

Multiple attempts by other studios to extend franchises have fallen short. Sony Pictures' "Men in Black: International" and Warner Bros.' "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" produced lackluster results, and Universal Pictures' "The Secret Life of Pets 2" did worse than expected.

Some movies have faltered simply because of their perceived low quality. "Dark Phoenix," which Disney inherited as part of its Fox purchase, bombed with $65 million in domestic ticket sales. Last weekend, another poorly reviewed Fox holdover, the R-rated buddy comedy "Stuber," opened with a weak $8.2 million.

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