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The North American box office is set to break records in 2018, with Christmas Day movie-going adding an estimated $80 million to studio coffers, according to the latest projections from Comscore.
The Warner Bros. underwater adventure “Aquaman” took Tuesday's coveted number-one spot, raking in $22.65 million. Based on a DC Comics character and starring Jason Momoa, the movie has now grossed in excess of $500 million globally.
It's just one of the smash hits that has led to a record-breaking year for movie studios, with historic gains in February, April, June and October — and a banner year for Disney.
“Black Panther,” produced by Disney's Marvel Studios, earned $428.8 million, breaking records for prior Februarys. In April, “Avengers: Infinity War,” another Marvel production, brought in $282.4 million, posting the biggest opening weekend in North American history. Another Disney hit, “The Incredibles 2,” in June earned $425.5 million. And “Venom,” from Marvel and Sony’s Columbia Pictures, took in $800 million, making it the biggest October on record.
Total box office revenue for 2018 is expected to exceed $11.8 billion by year’s end, a 6.1 percent jump on last year, and an all-time record for an industry that was almost written off last year after failing to match 2016’s $11.3 billion haul.
The uptick is also unprecedented, given the extent to which Netflix and Amazon have moved into the theatrical movie business, posting films immediately online or in tandem with cinema releases.
While quality of content remains the driving factor for movie attendance, improved cinema seating and food may also have lured audiences to theaters.
Even President Donald Trump may have had an effect on ticket sales, with audiences seeking to escape the news cycle.
“When you live in tumultuous times, the movie theater can provide a great respite,” said Comscore’s senior media analyst, Paul Dergarabedian, who tracks box office performance.
“Super heroes are a mainstay," he told NBC News. "I don’t know where we’d be without them.”
But multiculturalism, a new world order, and diversity of content were also winners this year, with top-grossing movies such as "Black Panther" and the Warner Bros. hit "Crazy Rich Asians" reflecting the nation's mood.
Separately, Disney’s already dominant position in movies is about to get more muscular with the acquisition of Fox’s assets. According to Comscore, Disney took in $3 billion in 2018, with a market share of 26.37 percent. That jumps to 37.13 percent when 20th Century Fox is added into the mix.
Universal, owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC News, came second, with $1.9 billion. Warner Bros. rounded out the top three, with annual revenues of $1.76 billion for 2018.