There were ups and downs, but 2016 ultimately proved to be a record year at the box office.
Thanks to holiday hits such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the animated Sing, 2016's final tally reached an all-time high of $11.37 billion, according to industry tracker comScore.
The late push enabled 2016 to slip past 2015's previous record of $11.14 billion, the first time the box office had crossed the $11 billion mark.
"This is reason for celebration — the final six weeks of the year, movies came on like wildfire," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. "It was these big ones like Rogue One and Sing dominating, and Oscar contenders like La La Land and Fences expanding into additional cities. There’s so much film out there. We were able to catapult to a new record by the skin of our teeth."
2016 had its well-chronicled troubles. The summer was stuck in a rut with sequel-itis. Only three of 14 summer sequels outperformed their originals (Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory and The Purge: Election Year). May's Alice Through the Looking Glass exemplified the malaise, making just $77 million — a 77% drop from the $334.2 million earned by 2010's Alice In Wonderland.
The box office continued to struggle through a slow fall, without a major breakout film. But the uptick started with November hits such as Marvel's Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Thanksgiving weekend's animated Moana.
Jeff Bock, senior media analyst for Exhibitor Relations, downplays the 2016 theater record, noting that audiences are gravitating to online streaming. He says the box-office increase can be largely attributed to higher ticket prices.
In 2015, the average movie ticket was $8.43, according to National Association of Theatre Owners. By the third quarter of 2016, that price had gone up to $8.51.
"You can talk box-office records. And Hollywood will stick to that," he says. "But the dirty secret is that admission is stagnant or falling."
The increase is also being driven mostly by studio tentpole films, while independent movies continue to struggle, says Bock.
"If superheroes and sequels excite you, great. That’s what made up the 2016 box office and what we are getting for the next 10 years," he says. "If you want independent films in theaters, that’s definitely fallen off."
By Dergarabedian's estimation, audiences are up slightly, to 1.33 billion from 2015's 1.32 billion, an increase of less than 1%. But even a small gain in an increasingly competitive entertainment marketplace counts, he argues.
"The fact is that movies are holding their own and then some in 2016," he says. "That’s a win going into next year."
With huge films such as Star Wars: Episode VIII, the live-action Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman lined up for 2017, Dergarabedian expects the box-office record to be shattered again in one year.
"2017 will be the equivalent of the 100-year flood of box office with an absolutely mind-blowing selection of 'must see' movies," he says.
TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2016 (total box office in millions)
1. Finding Dory ($486)
2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ($440)
3. Captain America: Civil War ($408)
4. The Secret Life of Pets ($368)
5. The Jungle Book ($364)
6. Deadpool ($363)
7. Zootopia ($341)
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ($330)
9. Suicide Squad ($325)
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($285; released in 2015)