The year 2015 will be remembered on Wall Street as one of the more unpredictable in recent memory. Although the key benchmarks S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the year in red ink — down -2% and -3.5%, respectively — investors should largely consider themselves fortunate. Back in late August, a sudden collapse in sentiment saw $2 billion of market capitalization being wiped out over a matter of days. The rest of the year was spent on recovering what was lost, but many technical analysts would agree that the markets currently rest on precarious ground.
One industry, though, has done unquestionably well in the year of tumult. Hollywood movie blockbusters went against the grain of a generally bearish atmosphere, registering multiple records at the box office thanks to a series of highly anticipated releases. The old adage of the movie industry being recession-proof rang true in 2015 — despite worrying economic trends, millions of Americans sought escapism from their daily stresses through film.
The hits started early in the year with Furious 7, which garnered substantial interest beyond the core 18 to 40 year old male demographic due to the tragic passing of lead actor Paul Walker. At issue was the fact that Walker had yet to complete all of his scenes for the movie, and both scriptwriters and editors had to creatively rework the film in order to give Walker’s character a final sendoff.
Furious 7 vastly exceeded expectations for distributor Universal Pictures, which is owned by parent company Vivendi SA (OTCMKTS:VIVHY). It was the fastest film at the time to hit the $1 billion mark, doing so in 17 days. Vivendi shareholders saw an immediate impact in their investment, with the stock rising 13% between April and early August. However, shares would eventually crumble under the weight of a broad market correction, as well as the Paris terrorist attack. For the year, Vivendi shares closed down more than -16%.
Though not as financially successful, Columbia Pictures‘ distributed Spectre was still a force with which to be reckoned. Combining a star-studded ensemble for the latest James Bond flick, Spectre did not disappoint, racking up more than $850 million against a budget estimated to be between $245 and $350 million.
Columbia’s parent company Sony (NYSE:SNE), however, did not receive much benefit in the markets. Since its British opening on October 26, Sony shares briefly traded sideways before tumbling fairly rapidly. It would eventually go on to close -15% down against the release date, although to be fair, Sony investors had a terrific year overall, with shares up nearly 16%.
Finally, who can ignore the phenomenon that is Star Wars: The Force Awakens? There is not a single place that one can go to where Star Wars plastered advertising and product labeling isn’t everywhere. And there’s good reason for it: in less than two weeks since its December 18 release, The Force Awakens has shattered box office records with more than $1.3 billion in global ticket sales, becoming the fastest film ever to hit that elusive mark.
Unfortunately, parent company Walt Disney Co. (DIS) isn’t feeling the love. Not only did Disney stock fall apart on the heavily anticipated release date of The Force Awakens, investors would eventually lose more than -8% of valuation for the month of December. The long-term faithful shouldn’t be too perturbed, since Disney is still up nearly 11% for the year. However, it does demonstrate that no one single product can indefinitely hold a company together, no matter how good it may be.