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Box Office 2013 Year In Review: The Good, The Bad And The ‘Oldboy’

Box Office 2013 Year In Review: The Good, The Bad And The 'Oldboy'

The standards for what constituted a megahit used to be
reaching the fabled $100 million milestone. But the goalposts have been moved: only
taking into account domestic numbers, a whopping thirty films this year crossed
that mark, and a couple more stragglers might join them soon. Yet profit
isn’t that easy to come by today—studios have attempted to get creative in
putting caps on budgetary spending, but often the promotional efforts for a
four-quadrant tentpole can be a significant chunk of change too. And while international audiences are
a bigger part of that revenue stream now, studios collect a smaller percentage from international grosses than domestic ones. It’s a competitive
marketplace, and a more complex picture than just a few years ago, that’s for certain.

There weren’t a whole lot of surprises in 2013. Earlier this year,
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas sounded the death knell for big blockbusters,
and during a period in mid-summer, it looked like they were right. All it took
was a little course correction and a strong finish to the year to stave off
those projections, while studios had long set up slates for the next two years
based on what worked in 2013. And what did work? Let’s find out.

All numbers are total worldwide tallies unless otherwise
noted.

MEGAHITS
Every year, the film that opens May, the start of Hollywood’s
“summer” season, stands a good chance of being one of the year’s biggest
blockbusters. It’s no surprise that following “The Avengers” last year, “Iron
Man 3
” followed the plan to perfection. Marvel has begun snagging these dates
aggressively in recent years, to the point where when the only non-Disney Marvel films in that slot up until 2018 are Sony‘s own Marvel property, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 4.” “Iron Man 3” was the first of the “Iron Man” films in the 3D
format, and it easily outpaced its predecessors with $409 million in domestic
ticket sales and a $1.2 billion (with a “B”) final gross, the year’s only film
to surpass the billion-dollar mark. Also riding the same wave was “Thor: The
Dark World
,” which should close around $620 million in global receipts,
considerably higher than the $449 million take of 2011’s “Thor.”

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” also registered strong
numbers in its recent opening and is set to surpass the $400 million take of the first
picture. Katniss and company are also attempting this without the benefit of
3D, and while overseas audiences gave “The Hunger Games” a lighter reception ($283 million internationally compared to $408 million domestic),
the global crowd has shown up for this latest adventure and $800 million worldwide
is a strong possibility. This likely solidifies Jennifer Lawrence‘s status as a bonafide A-Lister who can probably open a movie on her own. And hopefully that movie is a “Buckaroo Banzai” sequel.

In what was ultimately a soft year for animation, Universal
claimed to register their most profitable movie of all time with “Despicable Me
2
.” The monster hit will likely finish the year as the third-highest-grossing
film in America, though globally, the numbers are soaring towards $950 million, which comes from a reported $75 million budget, much lower than the
average animated picture. “Frozen” was undoubtedly more expensive, but it
should also join the box office winners’ circle with $600 million in receipts.
Meanwhile, Pixar’s “Monsters University” couldn’t match the domestic gross of “Monsters
Inc.
” despite a decade of inflation and 3D numbers, but no one is scoffing at its
$743 million worldwide. The
one takeaway from all that may be that Pixar may be a gold standard to many,
but their films are no longer locks for Best Animated Feature Oscars, and now
they aren’t even the biggest moneymakers on the block, particularly with the
lower budgets of films from Imagination Studios (“Despicable Me 2”)
and Blue Sky (“Ice Age“).

OUTLOOK HAZY
There were several mega-grossers this year that don’t paint
as rosy a picture due to expectations and budgetary concerns. Warner Bros. had
very high hopes regarding “Man of Steel,” their Superman relaunch, and the film
over-performed with a spectacular $116 million opening weekend. It does take the
bloom off the rose, however, when a film opens to triple digits and can’t make
it over $300 million, as the picture stalled at $291 million domestically. The
$662 million in global receipts makes the $225 million budget (before prints
and advertising) easier to swallow, but it’s no surprise that Warners are
moving ahead with a sequel that has the last son of Krypton sharing screentime
with Batman, Wonder Woman, and several other heroes. Getting outgrossed by a Marvel film
by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio also increases the level at which this Superman fellas is
starting to look like an expensive box office chump.

World War Z” battled a sea of early bad buzz and questionable
reviews to gross $540 million worldwide, which may be a salve if you believe
the film’s reported budget of $190 million, which is like believing in White Santa. J.A.
Bayona
has been hired to direct the sequel of what was star Brad Pitt’s highest-grossing film, and we’re eager to see how Paramount avoids the mistakes they
made, or if this ends up being another massive sinkhole because of audiences burned by
the first film. And Disney thought they had a new
franchise with “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” but you don’t throw down a massive
$215 million budget if you’re going to be pleased with a final gross below half
a billion; ‘Oz’ could only pull in $493 million worldwide, and
Disney is left trying to catch that “Alice In Wonderland” magic by
just doing another “Alice In Wonderland” movie.

BIG IN JAPAN
The global market ended up turning several hits into
superhits. “Gravity” in particular looks to be the highest grossing among a
late-year crop of Oscar pics, currently threatening $700 million worldwide,
with almost $400 million collected outside of the U.S. “Fast & Furious 6” pulled in over two-thirds of its $788 million total
haul overseas, while “The Croods” was a $400 million hit on other shores, adding to a
$587 million global total. Sequels are coming for the last
two; might the WB kick the tires on “Gravity 2: Zero-G Boogaloo“? It
can be a musical. (That one’s for free, WB.)

Elsewhere, studios gambled by spending less on a couple of
sequels and benefiting from a stronger global market. “The Wolverine” ($414
million), “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” ($375 million) and “A Good Day To Die Hard
($304 million) all did less business than their predecessors stateside, but
made up for it with the series’ best overseas showings. Each of those installments also ran much cheaper than their predecessors according to released figures by an average of $30 million. “Star
Trek Into Darkness
,” meanwhile, was costlier than 2009’s “Star Trek,” but the
$467 million gross is a new series high by far, though domestically it was softer than the last film.

And hardcore fans keep hope alive for a sequel: “Pacific Rim
barely crossed $100 million in America, but a $407 million global tally
suggests foreign filmgoers were bigger fans, and the $190 million reported
budget suggests Warner Bros. will have to tattoo Justin Bieber‘s face onto DVDs in order to see a
tidy profit. Sylvester
Stallone
(“Bullet To The Head”) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (“The Last Stand”)
also had a rough year, but while their “Escape Plan” only pulled in $24 million
stateside, it’s thus far collected a tidy $122 million worldwide, suggesting
overseas audiences are loaded with stranded time travelers from the ’80s
who want to be reminded of home again.

LAUGHS SELL
Comedies don’t always translate, so some of the biggest ones in America weren’t very large successes abroad. That didn’t stop
Melissa McCarthy from staking her claim as the most popular big-screen personality
in comedy. Both “The Heat” and “Identity Thief” were smashes, collecting $229
and $173 million in receipts, carrying budgets of only $43 million and $35
million, respectively. Meanwhile, seemingly out of nowhere, the month of August was dominated
by “We’re the Millers,” which grossed $269 million on a similarly small cost despite not a single human being remembering seeing it. Were we Inceptioned?. Bad
boy humor was still in vogue as “This Is the End” clocked in at $132 million
and “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” pulled in over $140 million. Critics
hated them and audiences scoffed, but despite pulling in weaker numbers than
their predecessors, “The Hangover Part III” (which featured a bit part for
McCarthy as well) and “Grown Ups 2” pulled in $351 million and $246 million. By
the way, you may have not heard of “Instructions Not Included,” but the feel-good
Spanish language comedy collected $85 million worldwide while you weren’t even
looking. Maybe learn to speak some Spanish, you racist.

AS DO SCARES
Consider James Wan the king of the low-budget horror hit.
This year alone, the “Saw” helmer was responsible for two of the most
profitable horror films of all time. During the summer, he beat back much more
costly blockbusters when the $20 million period piece “The Conjuring” grossed a
spectacular $316 million. And later in the year, he followed sleeper hit “Insidious
with “Insidious Chapter Two,” which grossed $155 million on a meager $5 million
budget. In a similar vein, another new horror franchise was born with “The
Purge
,” which collected a worldwide tally of $89 million on a budget of only $3
million.

Among horror successes, you can also count “Mama,” which
cost $15 million and pulled in $146 million. The $17 million-costing “Evil Dead
remake collected $97 million as well, while the “Carrie” redo flopped
stateside, but collected $73 million globally off a $30 million budget. And
while they may be spoofs, “A Haunted House” ($59 million) and “Scary Movie 5
($78 million) scored tidy profits on budgets of $2.5 million and $20 million,
respectively. Horror
in 2013, proving that all you need to make some money is a respectable actor
that will accept having props thrown at him from offscreen.

MOVIES FOR ADULTS + THE ARTHOUSE
Not every film is a CGI-filled sequel or cartoon, and some
audiences seemed pretty grateful about that. The second weekend of May has
always been a tough period to launch movies, but Warner Bros. scored a hit with
The Great Gatsby,” which went on to pull in $348 million. Meanwhile, magician
thriller “Now You See Me” surprised with $351 million globally, pulling in $243
million overseas alone. And while summer was winding down, audiences were
turning out for “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” which collected $159 million on a
budget of $30 million. Still in theaters currently, fellow Oscar hopeful “Captain
Phillips
” has just recently crossed $200 million worldwide, giving your Stormfront Forum-visiting cousin plenty of ammo for his yearly awkward Christmas dinner table conversation.

The Best Man Holiday” surprised several prognosticators,
and its $70 million domestic gross is more than double the receipts of the
first “The Best Man,” on a budget of only $17 million. Woody Allen’s “Blue
Jasmine
” ended up being one of his stronger performers with $75 million, while
Ron Howard’s “Rush” was ignored stateside but collected $90 million globally on
a $38 million budget. The moody drama “Prisoners” actually performed like more
of a blockbuster, collecting $118 million on a budget of $46 million. Upstart
CBS Films scored their biggest hit, meanwhile, by going geriatric, with “Last
Vegas
” pulling in $84 million.

One of the most talked about movies of the year was also one
of the most profitable: the $5 million “Spring Breakers” ended up collecting
$31 million in a release that actually opted out of any and all TV promotion. “The
Place Beyond the Pines
” ($35 million) and “The Way Way Back” ($23 million)
were also big winners, as were “Enough Said” ($17 million) and “Fruitvale
Station
” ($16 million). Sometimes success isn’t that highly publicized,
however: “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain” became one of the most successful standup
comedy films of all time, collecting $32 million. And the Dustin Hoffman
theater dramedy “Quartet” quietly played to packed houses earlier in the year,
collecting $59 million in grosses. You’re probably asking what
“Quartet” is, but you could just search online, maybe through Google.
Why are you audibly talking to yourself?

WHEN DID WE GIVE YOU THE CHECKBOOK AND WHY?
There were no shortage of massive
flops this year, though the king and queen of the ball are probably “The
Lone Ranger
” and “R.I.P.D.Disney weathered all the bad buzz and
bravely went ahead with a loud, splashy release of their allegedly $215 million-budgeted
turkey, collecting only $260 million worldwide for their troubles. Universal,
meanwhile, basically pretended they didn’t spend $130 million on a Ryan
Reynolds
Jeff Bridges action comedy that seemed beamed in from
1985, and it proceeded to gross $78 million worldwide. There’s always fuzzy
accounting when it comes to these big would-be blockbusters however, and the
biggest loser could end up being “Jack The Giant Slayer,” which grossed
$197 million on a budget of $195 million. Maybe stop paying the crew in Faberge
Eggs, guys.

People rooted for sequels to fail
this year, but in fact it was vaguely original material that took the fall. “Elysium
grossed a respectable $286 million worldwide, but it couldn’t crack nine
figures in America, costing a dicey $115 million. That didn’t look as bad for
star Matt Damon as “After Earth” and “Oblivion” did for Will
Smith
and Tom Cruise. The former collected $243 million on a $130
million budget, but only grossed $60 million in America. And the latter ran
Universal back $120 million, but the bulk of the $286 million gross came from
overseas; the film falling short of $90 million in America before being
forgotten by summer. Meanwhile, last year’s box office golden boys Channing
Tatum
and Jamie Foxx couldn’t get anyone excited for “White House
Down
”: that film’s $205 million gross is actually more than fellow
D.C.-under-siege epic “Olympus Has Fallen,” but the $150 million budget
is the reason why it’s one of the year’s punchlines while the world prepares
for “London Has Fallen.” The world is preparing for that, right? It
doesn’t seem like they’re ready at all, to be honest.

With “Twilight” and “Harry
Potter
” over, the young adult marketplace seemed ripe for a new hit outside of “The Hunger Games,” but
none emerged. Fox gave “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” a shot,
but its $199 million worldwide tally was considerably weaker than the first
film’s take. Potential franchise starter “The Mortal Instruments: City of
Bones
” was a non-starter at $80 million, more than half of which came from
overseas, while the big budget “Ender’s Game” stopped short at $87
million. And though it is still reaching overseas territories, the Orson Scott Card
adaptation is unlikely to justify the $110 million price tag. And less than half
of the $40 million take from “Beautiful Creatures” came from America,
though that’s what happens when your major climax involves your lead character
spending months alone in a library.

Despicable Me 2,” “Monsters
University
,” “The Croods” and “Frozen” proved that animation was still a
promising field for studios, but there were almost as many misses as there were
hits this year, especially considering animated films are much more expensive
to make and promote than most live-action efforts. “Cloudy With A Chance Of
Meatballs 2
” was a decent performer for Sony, but the $217 million global
take is significantly lower than the $243 million brought in by the first film.
The expensive, star-studded “Epic” never gained a foothold in the
marketplace, and it too faltered with $266 million in receipts, with $107
million coming from America. “Planes” was a cheap Disney knockoff, and
the $219 million suggests solid (plus, toys!) returns, though it’s a far cry
from the grosses of the “Cars” franchise, while “Turbo” reached
$281 million, a number that hasn’t impressed DreamWorks considering the
hefty $135 million budget. Like the earlier installment, “The Smurfs 2
was massive overseas, but the $347 million global tally is a far cry from the
first film’s $563 million take (and the numbers domestically, already unimpressive,
were literally halved this time). Even seasonal releases fell flat: “Free
Birds
” saw a release near Thanksgiving and couldn’t even crack $55 million,
while springtime release “Escape From Planet Earth” logged only $70
million despite playing in a marketplace completely bereft of kiddie offerings.

And
sometimes just about nothing goes right. FilmDistrict thought they had a
hot property with the “Oldboy” remake, which at one point had Will Smith
and Steven Spielberg attached. Instead, the pairing became Josh
Brolin
and Spike Lee, and the studio treated the movie like it was
infected. Scaled down to a 500 screen release instead of the original
nationwide bow, and barely promoted, the $30 million redo has yet to pass $4
million in global box office receipts. It’s not the biggest box office flop of
the year, but it’s certainly one of the ugliest.

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Comments

DC

How is the Oldboy remake performance not the worst? They've only made 13 percent of the cost of the film, in over a month since release. None of the other films flopped remotely as bad – some even turned a (tiny) profit.

Jamie

I was one of those people packing the art house to see Quartet. If you like great acting, intelligent dialogue, quirky characters, British sensibilities and a feel good ending, just do yourself a favor and watch it.

ASLAM SIDDIQUI

Kindly give us the yearly boxoffice charts with clear verdicts like the one you published last year.

jack

It's far less confusing when you bother to report gross vs projected budget (and hopefully promo/release costs). For most of this article you ignore that second number and just report budget vs box office, so that when you make your crass judgments it becomes entirely pointless. If I can't accurately judge profits vs loss, how can I possibly know if all your cute twee commentary is accurate or just more cinema-hipster posturing?

SAL

"Maybe stop paying the crew in Faberge Eggs, guys"

Don't get this one.

Jamie T D

Empire did a nice feature about London in movies 2013

alex

Just a quick correction: You wrote Live Free or Die Hard (4th film) instead of A Good Day to Die Hard (5th film).

sidney falco

"Sony, meanwhile, basically pretended they didn’t spend $130 million on a Ryan Reynolds-Jeff Bridges action comedy that seemed beamed in from 1985, and it proceeded to gross $78 million worldwide."

They don't need to pretend because they didn't spend a dime — Universal did!

Nick

Despicable Me 2 was made by Illumination Studios, run by the guy who brought Blue Sky to Fox. So yeah, same price model.

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