Disney’s record year in movies has been years — and billions of dollars — in the making

What do a Blue Tang with short-term memory loss, an egomaniacal neurosurgeon trained in the mystic arts, a Polynesian demigod and a rebel soldier in a galaxy far far away all have in common? They reside at the House of Mouse and are integral to Walt Disney Co.’s strategy for box office dominion in 2016 and beyond.

“Finding Dory,” “Doctor Strange” and more recently “Moana,” as well as a host of other animated and live-action films this year, have helped Disney DIS, -0.55% break records at the box office. And that’s in a year that’s been widely perceived as lacking in quality blockbusters.

Of the biggest-grossing films in North America this year, three of the top five belong to Disney, and five of the top 10. Disney has two films that took in over $400 million, and four over $300 million. And the studio has garnered more than $2.4 billion domestically to lead all other major studios this year.

Also see: Hollywood had a horrible summer — except at the box office

Disney’s 2016 slate of films have so far generated more than $6.0 billion world-wide.

During a recent quarterly conference call, Chief Executive Bob Iger told analysts the studio has plenty of quality films in the pipeline well into the next decade.

“It really is awe-inspiring. This is a strategy years in the making,” ComScore media analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. “They’re teaching a masters class in business if you want to have massive success and consistent quality.

“Disney has absolutely killed it this year and the year isn’t even over yet. We still have one of their biggest films of the year to come.”

Final Trailer: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

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“Rogue One” tells how a group of unlikely heroes unite to undertake a daring and seemingly impossible mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

That is “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The film, about a rebel soldier tasked with stealing the plans to the Death Star, opens Dec. 16 and will be the first Star Wars film not centered around the Skywalker family. Early tracking suggests “Rogue One” could pull in upward of $130.0 million in its debut weekend.

Disney’s 2016 box office draw has already topped the $2.3 billion domestic haul last year, which had been the studio’s best ever. The seed for this level of continued box office success was sowed more than a decade ago, with Disney’s $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios. Disney followed by snatching up Marvel in 2009 for $4.9 billion and Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.0 billion. And Disney expects those investment to keep paying off.

Check out: How Marvel went from bankrupt dweeb to financial superhero in 13 charts

“There is somewhat of an annuity when it comes to our slate of films,” head of distribution at Walt Disney Studios Dave Hollis told MarketWatch, as he laid out the one film from Lucasfilm, two from Marvel, two to three from Disney Animation and Pixar and two to three from Disney Live Action expected in coming years.

“This is the first year where all five brands have films being released in the same calendar year and what you’re seeing is the strategy [Bob Iger] certainly teed up through those acquisitions,” Hollis said.

Counting Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm and increasingly Disney Animations among its most-valuable brands, Disney has manufactured a slate of films that cover an array of genres, topics and themes without missing a beat on quality. This year’s diverse slate, of “Captain America: Civil War,” “Moana,” “Queen of Katwe,” “Finding Dory,” “The Jungle Book” and “Doctor Strange,” as a sampling, have an average Rotten Tomatoes rating of over 90%.

Inside Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’

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This exclusive behind-the-scenes clip shows how director Jon Favreau helped young star Neel Sethi bring Mowgli to life in the blockbuster remake. The movie will be released digitally Aug. 23 and Blu-ray on Aug. 30. Photo: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

There were stumbles this year, of course. With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 30%, “Alice Through the Looking Glass” contributed to what ComScore’s Dergarabedian called the worst-reviewed crop of summer films ever. The movie ended up taking in $77.0 million in North America and $299.4 million world-wide on a $170.0 million production budget.

In Hollywood, as long as you’re turning out more hits than duds, you’re ahead of the curve.

Read: Why does Hollywood keep turning videogames into movies?

Since 2006, Disney has released 29 films under the Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Disney Animation banners, with those films have garnered an average of $800 million world-wide.

“More than anything it’s a testament to the great quality of our films,” Hollis said. “In a world where there are so many options to keep people out of the theater, we have brands than mean something to people.”

Disney’s big year was no accident

While Disney has been able to cobble together a dependable rotation of production studios, Dergarabedian said you need a lot more than just a good film to have the kind of success Disney had this year.

Also see: Disney plans to thrust ‘Indiana Jones’ back into the spotlight

“You can’t just throw a good movie out there,” Dergarabedian said. “It’s like looking at the entire slate like a 3-D chess board. You have to have a great release date and terrific marketing.”

There are the obvious holidays and seasons to release a film, but Disney’s Hollis said they have to be sure to spread releases out as to not cannibalize each other, while also trying to create and maintain tradition around when people expect films from certain brands.

Over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend “Moana” climbed to become the second-biggest Thanksgiving opening behind another Disney box office, critical and merchandising hit, “Frozen.” “Doctor Strange,” a title from one of Marvel’s more obscure comic books, kicked off the holiday season Nov. 4 and is now the highest-grossing franchise-starting film ever for Marvel.

Moana: Disney Returns With Another Spunky Princess

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’Moana’ sees a princess defy tradition and venture beyond her island home of Motunui to save her people. It features voice talent from Dwayne Johnson and Jemaine Clement with music composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i. Mark Kelly reports. Image: Disney

This year, Disney became the fastest ever to reach $1 billion and $2 billion at the box office in North America, as well as the fastest to $5 billion globally.

Don’t miss: China embraces ‘Warcraft,’ showing Hollywood movies yuan way to profit

Disney’s record-breaking 2016 wasn’t a one-year wonder

As the studio closes in on the end of the year — a time at the box office reserved for potential Oscar fare — the blockbuster hype train is revving once again for one of the year’s most highly-anticipated films, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

Last year “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was the studio’s and the industry’s biggest hit, ultimately pulling in $936.7 million in the U.S. and Canada and $2.1 billion world-wide. “Rogue One” isn’t expected to match those numbers, but advance tickets for the film managed to give online movie ticket retailer Fandango it’s biggest first-day of presales of the year.

Hollis chalks Disney’s continued success up to its brands pieced together by Chief Executive Bob Iger, the creatives “working at the height of their ability” with all the freedom and trust studio head Alan Horn grants them, and a strategy that calls on fewer, but bigger branded bets.

See also: Money talks, and it’s saying moviegoers are tired of Hollywood sequels

Hollywood is fickle. And so is Wall Street, as Disney’s stock has lost 5.7% year to date despite the studio’s success, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.01%  has climbed 9.8%.

But while nothing is guaranteed, Dergarabedian said Bob Iger’s promise of great movies means the future seems bright for years to come.

“It’s one thing to have a consistent year, but another thing to have a consistent decade and it looks like that’s what Disney is headed toward,” Dergarabedian said. “Not to put too much pressure on them.”

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