Disney’s weekend haul ‘saves’ second-quarter box office, sets studio up for stellar year

It is official: “Avengers: Endgame” has surpassed “Avatar” to become the highest-grossing film of all time, while the live-action “The Lion King” dominated the weekend box office, setting Walt Disney Co. up for a stellar year.

“Avengers: Endgame” has generated box office receipts of about $2.79 billion in 13 weeks.

“Avatar,” backed by Twentieth Century Fox which is now owned by Disney

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held the record for a decade at $2.789 billion, after it knocked “Titanic” off its perch. (That now places those two films, both directed by James Cameron, in second and third place in the rankings.)

“The Lion King,” set a July opening weekend record with box office receipts of $185 million, according to Box Office Mojo, exceeding the total gross from the same weekend a year ago and surpassing “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”, the previous record holder that grossed $169.1 million in its opening weekend in July of 2011.

“Disney has achieved great success since its purchase of Marvel Studios in 2009, including the production of Avengers: Endgame,” JPMorgan analysts led by Alexia Quadrani wrote in a note to clients as they reiterated their overweight rating on the stock, the equivalent of buy.

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Adding to the positive sentiment, Kevin Feige, head of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), announced Phase 4 of Marvel’s film plans for 2020 and 2021 at this weekend’s Comic Con in San Diego, along with some of the content plans for Disney+, the streaming service expected to launch later this year.

Disney is planning 10 Marvel films and series, including “Black Widow,” “Eternals,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” and “Thor Love and Thunder.”

For Disney+, Feige unveiled “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “Wanda Vision,” “Loki,” “What if …” and “Hawkeye.”

“We continue to be bullish on the prospects for the Studio business, particularly with the success of “Avengers: Endgame” in FQ3 and the slate remains attractive with “The Lion King” in FQ4 and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and “Frozen 2” in first fiscal quarter of 2020,” said the JPMorgan note. “We remain confident on the strong growth prospects for Disney+, particularly as the MCU drives moviegoers to the service with original Marvel series exclusive to the platform.”

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The Disney+ service is expected to appeal to a broad audience, thanks to its affordable $6.99 a month price and the company’s vast library of content. The service will offer a formidable competitor to Netflix Inc.

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as well as Amazon.com Inc.

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 and Hulu, and faces competition from Apple Inc.

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which is expected to launch its streaming service later this year. JPMorgan is expecting the Disney service to generate 8 million subscriptions by the end of fiscal 2020 and 75 million by fiscal 2024.

MKM analyst Eric Handler said “The Lion King” has saved the third-quarter box office, putting quarter-to-date revenue up about 9%.

“With solid carry-over anticipated for next weekend from “The Lion King” and a decent opening for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” July should finish up double digits,” Handler wrote in a note to clients. “A strong July is important for 3Q as it typically accounts for 40%-45% of the quarter’s revenue.”

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Disney will report earnings for its fiscal third quarter on Aug. 6, and is expected to post per-share earnings of $1.75, down from $1.87 in the year-earlier period. Revenue is expected to come to $21.470 billion, up from $15.228 billion a year ago, after its $71 billion acquisition of Fo’s entertainment assets in March.

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The mean rating of analysts polled by FactSet is overweight with an average stock price target of $117.38, that is below its current price of $140.

The stock was up 0.5% Monday and has gained 28% in 2019, while the S&P 500

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 has gained 19% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average

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which counts Disney as a member, is up 16%.

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