Disney’s Movie Studios Are On Fire

Movie-goers can be a fickle bunch and, in some ways filmmakers are no better off than they were decades ago despite their best efforts to create films that resonate with audiences. That said, Disney‘s (NYSE: DIS) quartet of movie studios — Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Disney — have had incredible success in recent years.

This year alone, three of the company’s movie releases have broken an increasing number of records with no signs of slowing.

In spite of its sheer dominance of the industry lately, investors seem reluctant to give the movie purveyor its due. With that in mind, let’s look at the highlights and low points of each studio division in recent years and what this success has done overall for the company’s financial results.

Image source: Getty Images.

Walt Disney Animation Studios & Walt Disney Pictures

There was a time when it seemed Disney’s animated fare could do no wrong. For the decade beginning in 1989, the studio pumped out one classic after another, with fan favorites like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Disney fell on hard times during the first decade of the new millennium, producing forgettable fare like The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Chicken Little.

Since 2010, however, Disney seems to have gotten its mojo back, generating such box office smashes as Frozen and Zootopia, which each garnered more than $1 billion in worldwide box office revenue. It also produced the likes of Big Hero 6, Moana, and Tangled. All told, Disney animation has generated $5.4 billion over the last decade, averaging $544 million per film.

Disney has also had a successful string of live action remakes that began with 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and included last year’s Beauty and the Beast, both of which crested over $1 billion in global ticket sales. These eight films have generated $5.5 billion, and averaged $687 million per movie.


Pixar saw a rare misstep in 2015 with The Good Dinosaur, but that uncharacteristic miss was given a pass, with successes like Coco, Finding Dory, Inside Out, and Brave. In all, the movies under the Pixar banner have generated more than $12 billion in worldwide box office revenue, averaging more than $600 million in ticket sales each.

The studio’s most recent success was that of Incredibles 2, which just broke the opening weekend box office record for an animated feature, smashing Finding Dory‘s record set two years ago. With $182 million in ticket sales, it also took the No. 8 spot for all-time opening weekends.


Marvel Studios had already established itself as a force to be reckoned with when Disney announced it would acquire the comic book company in late 2009. The release of Iron Man the year before broke the mold for movies inspired by comic books, and set off a decade-long run that culminated with Black Panther achieving the highest ever domestic box office, with nearly $700 million in ticket sales, while Avengers: Infinity War climbed the charts with the fourth-highest worldwide box office, recently topping $2 billion. Marvel movies have seen unparalleled success, generating nearly $17 billion in box office revenue over the past decade, with an average of $888 million per entry.

Not every Marvel entry was a chartbuster, though. The Incredible Hulk and Captain America: The First Avenger, which introduced the titular characters, only booked $263 million and $371 million, respectively.

Lucasfilm and Star Wars

Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in late 2012, the latest films in the Star Wars saga have killed at the box office — but not all were created equal. The first installment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, capitalized on 20 years of pent up demand generating more than $2 billion in worldwide box office revenue — and surging to No. 3 in all-time ticket sales. The latest entry, Solo: A Star Wars Story, has struggled to resonate with fans, taking in just $341 million at the ticket counter, thus far.

The four Star Wars films produced to date under Disney tutelage have generated $4.8 billion in box office, for a $1.2 billion average per film.

What has all this meant to the bottom line?

Revenue from Disney’s Studio segment has remained fairly constant as a percentage of the company’s total sales — growing from $6.35 billion in 2011 to $8.38 billion in 2017. At the same time, its operating income has soared, growing from 7% of the total in 2011 to 16% in 2017, and quadrupling from $618 million to $2.4 billion. That growth is likely to continue this year, with more than $4 billion in ticket sales less than halfway through the year.

Data source: Disney’s financial results. Chart by author.

While investors remain focused on the company’s stagnant media segment, they’re failing to give sufficient weight to Disney’s growing, and wildly successful, film business.

The company still has several potential box office hits waiting in the wings, with Ant-Man and the Wasp set to debut next month, a live-action reimaging of Christopher Robin of Winnie the Pooh fame, Wreck-It Ralph 2, and Mary Poppins Returns.

Disney’s movie studios have been on fire in recent years, and there’s no indication that will change any time soon.

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Danny Vena owns shares of Walt Disney and has the following options: long January 2019 $85 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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