LOS ANGELES — Fresh superheroes — Aquaman, Black Panther, Venom, the Wasp — and new twists on classic big-screen formulas delivered a box-office comeback for Hollywood in 2018. Ticket sales in the United States and Canada will total roughly $11.8 billion for the year, analysts say — a 6 percent increase from 2017.
The upsurge has not (only) come as a result of higher ticket prices, the usual way that theater operators prop up revenue. But attendance has also increased. For the year to date, attendance already stands at about 1.25 billion, up from 1.23 billion for all of 2017. “And we still have a huge Christmas week ahead of us,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, which compiles box-office data.
Hollywood had a terrible 2017, when attendance fell to a two-decade low. Some box-office watchers concluded that the increasing popularity of streaming services were keeping people at home.
But this year? Netflix appears to be less a worry.
“The narrative that streaming is killing theatrical is really overused and misleading,” said Phil Contrino, the director of media and research for the National Association of Theater Owners. “The entertainment industry isn’t a zero-sum game. People who consume a lot of content do so across multiple platforms, and when there are really strong movies in theaters they will show up.”
Contrino added: “Hit movies should be talked about as part of the normal cycle, but they are too often referred to as a breath of fresh air for an industry that’s falsely labeled dying. It’s laughable that one bad weekend, month, or season spurs doomsday talk about cinema. That conversation has been happening for decades, and it’s beyond stale at this point.”
Between Friday and Sunday, “Aquaman” (Warner Bros.) arrived to $67.4 million in North American ticket sales, enough for first place and adding a new megawatt superhero, played by Jason Momoa, to the studio canon. Sneak-peek screenings added $4.7 million.
[Read our critic’s review of “Aquaman.”]
Critics gave the PG-13 fantasy mixed reviews, but ticket buyers gave it an A-minus grade in CinemaScore exit polls — evidence that Warner’s effort to make its DC Comics-based superhero movies more consistently accessible and distinctive is paying off. The studio spent an estimated $350 million on production and marketing for “Aquaman,” which also stars Amber Heard and was directed by James Wan.
Overseas, “Aquaman” has collected an additional $410.7 million since rolling out in China on Dec. 7.
Another film backed by a pervasive advertising campaign, “Mary Poppins Returns” (Disney) arrived to about $22.2 million in weekend ticket sales, for a soft domestic total of $31 million since arriving on Wednesday. Disney spent at least $250 million to make and market “Mary Poppins Returns,” a musical sequel starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda and directed by Rob Marshall.
The third major new release of the weekend, “Bumblebee” (Paramount), a euphorically reviewed “Transformers” prequel starring Hailee Steinfeld and directed by Travis Knight, arrived to ticket sales of about $21 million. In a limited overseas rollout, “Bumblebee” generated an additional $31.1 million.
Paramount spent $137 million to produce “Bumblebee,” not including marketing, after accounting for a $22 million tax credit from the state of California. The PG-13 movie essentially turns the “Transformers” franchise inside out: “Bumblebee” is the first film in the seven-movie series to have a female protagonist. All six of the previous chapters were directed by Michael Bay.
Other new releases included Robert Zemeckis’s “Welcome to Marwen” (Universal), a dismally reviewed comedic drama starring Steve Carell as an artist who copes with trauma by creating an imaginary world populated by dolls. The movie, based on a 2010 documentary, produced in partnership with DreamWorks Pictures for about $40 million, not including marketing, was dead on arrival: Ticket sales totaled $2.4 million, the worst result for a wide-release studio movie this year.
The weekend before Christmas can be somewhat sluggish, Mr. Dergarabedian noted, as people travel or focus on holiday preparations. But the coming days — now through the end of the year — traditionally represent the busiest ticket-selling period of the year, which is why studios flood theaters with new movies. Two additional films, the comedy “Holmes and Watson” and the docudrama “Vice,” starring Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, are set to debut on Tuesday.
Even so, the box-office takeaways for 2018 are already firmly established.
Walt Disney Studios had the three biggest movies of the year — by a long shot. “Black Panther,” which combined, for the first time, an African-American cast with the enormous scale of modern franchise filmmaking, was the runaway leader, collecting $700 million in North America and $1.35 billion worldwide. “Avengers: Infinity War” was second, taking in $678.8 million ($2.05 billion), and “Incredibles 2” ranked third, with domestic ticket sales of $608.6 million ($1.24 billion).
Other superhero movies that did well have included “Venom,” about a Spider-Man villain. That Sony film blew past prerelease expectations to collect $213 million at the domestic box office and $854.5 million worldwide. A sequel is already on the way.
There were notable disappointments — “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and “A Wrinkle in Time,” among them. But studios also breathed fresh life into the romantic comedy, one of moviedom’s most timeworn genres, by focusing on diversity: “Crazy Rich Asians,” greeted as a watershed moment by many Asian-Americans, took in a stout $174 million in North America ($238 million worldwide). A new version of “A Star Is Born” — the fourth, including the 1937 original — gave Lady Gaga her first starring role in a film and generated $200 million ($382 million).
And a horror movie with almost no dialogue, “A Quiet Place,” became a spring sensation. It sold $188 million in tickets ($340.7 million).
“For the most part, studios kept the momentum rolling weekend to weekend, which is the mark of a great year,” Dergarabedian said.