Studio-by-Studio Profitability Ranking: Disney Surges, Sony Sputters
The giant led by chairman and CEO Bob Iger finished its third straight year at the top of THR's rankings thanks to Captain America: Civil War ($1.15 billion in worldwide box office), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ($1.05 billion) and Finding Dory ($1.03 billion). That trio, among others, pushed Disney's film profits up 4 percent to a staggering $2.53 billion. Also packed into the financial results was Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which started its theatrical run at the very end of 2015 and last year hit the home entertainment market.
The Warner Bros. parent reached its highest profit ever with $1.7 billion thanks to DC superheroes and Harry Potter. The studio's TV production arm remains a key profit driver, and it released three big-box office tentpoles in 2016, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ($873 million), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ($811 million) and Suicide Squad ($746 million), along with such smaller breakouts as Sully and The Conjuring 2. New Line's Lights Out was also a strong performer, earning close to $150 million at the global box office with a budget of $5 million. Overall, Warner celebrated its most profitable film slate in nearly a decade. Consumer products are also a growing source of strength. Warner Bros. consumer products revenue increased close to 40 percent last year, helped by the franchise-led slate, and the company expects this to continue.
21st Century Fox
Deadpool killed it for Fox. The anti-hero hit helped the studio with a $783 million global box-office haul. Add to that the $544 million that X-Men: Apocalypse brought in (though a disappointment), and a TV production business that is a profit engine, and the studio posted a $1.3 billion profit, up 21 percent from a weak 2015, making for the strongest gain among all majors last year. Strong home entertainment performance from The Martian and a licensing deal with Hulu for the Showtime hit Homeland also helped the unit. Looking at 2017, the overperformance of Hidden Figures will mostly benefit the new calendar year since the wide release of the film (now over $150 million in the U.S.) falls into the year, even though the movie was first released in a limited run in 2016 for awards purposes.
Universal faced a tough comparison with its 2015 profit of $1.23 billion, a studio record driven by three billion-dollar grossers: Jurassic World, Furious 7 and Minions. Earnings nearly were cut in half in 2016 to $697 million amid a dearth of established mega-franchises, leading to lower theatrical and home entertainment revenue. Its big movies in 2016 were The Secret Life of Pets ($875.5 million) and Sing ($502.3 million). (Television is not included in NBCU's filmed entertainment unit.)
On the bright side, Sony delivered a $440 million profit for the studio last year — not counting a $962 million impairment charge because of write-downs on the weakened home entertainment market and the 1989 acquisition of Columbia Pictures. The charge led to a loss for 2016 as management continues to look to reinvigorate the studio unit. Its TV production and global networks operations have been strong performers, while film has been more mixed and faced challenges. The highest grossers for the year were The Angry Birds Movie ($350 million) and the rebooted Ghostbusters ($229 million), a disappointment. By comparison, Sony's 2015 James Bond hit Spectre made $855 million worldwide, though Sony's ultimate haul was limited by partners MGM and the Broccoli family.
After recording a $25 million profit for 2015, the company's Paramount Pictures unit last year remained at the bottom of the rankings by posting its first calendar-year loss ($364 million) since THR began its annual calculations. The drop is even steeper if one includes a $115 million impairment charge for Monster Trucks. The studio had a string of disappointments, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Zoolander 2 and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. New Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has made the movie studio a key priority in the ambitious turnaround plan he announced Feb. 9. Bakish told THR: "I'm optimistic about the direction of Paramount, but there is a lot of work to do."