is on a winning streak and blockbuster “Jurassic World
” hitting on all cylinders
(a record $524 million worldwide and counting) will make 2015 a profitable year indeed for veteran studio chief Ron Meyer and his chairman Donna Langley–probably more than any other studio.
Actual numbers pushed “Jurassic World” to the number one highest-grossing opening ever, domestic and worldwide. The movie notched $208.8 million in North America, passing 2012’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” ($207 million), and internationally, the film’s final gross went up to $315.3 million, passing 2011’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” ($314 million). And as of this weekend, Universal Pictures crossed the $1 billion mark at the domestic box office, beating the previous record climb achieved on June 22, 2008 by Paramount, and $3 billion worldwide, passing 20th Century Fox, which reached $3 billion on June 30, 2010.
Read: Cinemacon: Universal Posts Strong 2015 Slate
At CinemaCon in April, Langley grinned with confidence as she celebrated the global box office of “Furious 7”– which has grossed $1.5 billion, the fastest to get to $1 billion and the highest-grossing film in Universal’s history; the eighth “Fast & Furious” installment is set for April 14, 2017– and “Fifty Shades of Grey” ($570 million), which she pushed hard to bring to the studio. (The next two titles, “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed,” will open on successive Valentine’s Day weekends in 2017 and 2018.)
Since last November’s $40-million hit “Dumb and Dumber Too” ($170 million worldwide), the studio has scored with a diverse and profitable slate –including “Unbroken” ($161 million) and “Pitch Perfect
2” ($260 million) –that appealed to a wide range of audiences, both domestic and foreign, male and female (three were directed by women). While some lower-budgeted entries did less well, the only big loser among them is $70 million “Blackhat” ($18 million). Universal will compete for top studio share this year with Disney and Warners, but because their slate is less expensive, they’ll make the most profits.
2014 was a record $1 billion year for the studio–17 films grossed over $100 million in a diverse, spread-out slate devoid of franchise titles with no movie costing more than $80 million: an accomplishment indeed. Of course they are chasing franchises, from Colin Trevorrow’s “bigger and better” “Jurassic World,” which grossed a record-breaking $511 million this past weekend. After recent hit musical “Pitch Perfect 2,” a third is in the works (July 21, 2017) with Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson returning, along with sequels to “Ted” (June 26), “Despicable Me” (“Minions” origin myth will be huge when it opens July 10), “Neighbors” (2016), “Ride Along” (2016) and “Snow White and the Huntsman” (starring Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth).
But there are non-sequels and originals coming too.
Amy Schumer rocked CinemaCon with her story of being elevated by Judd Apatow from mere writer to star of her very personal story, “Trainwreck” (July 17), which also wowed SXSW. “Maybe I’m really pretty,” she said. “But my stunt double was a guy.” Bill Hader plays her romantic interest.
Ice Cube effusively thanked Langley for having the balls to release “Straight Outta Compton” (August 14), an F. Gary Gray biopic produced by Dr. Dre about the rise of 80s rap group NWA, the “real heroes of the summer,” said Ice Cube. “We gave other artists the courage to be themselves. We just wanted to be real. In this movie there’s gang-banging, drugs, hip hop, freedom of speech. “Thank you for having the courage of showing the movie in your theaters.” In the movie he’s played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and Keith Stanfield plays Snoop Dogg.
Top of the line is Baltasar Kormakur’s true story action adventure “Everest” (Working Title, September 18), which boasts an all-star cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Robin Wright, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and Emily Watson. They shot in horrific below zero conditions at 12,000 feet where donkeys had to carry the equipment. Kormakur set out to keep the mountain-scaling drama authentic and intimate.
With “Crimson Peak” (October 16) Guillermo del Toro attempts to bring back the “Rebecca” style gothic romance–with “sick and twisted elements and chills, spectacle and scope,” he promised at CinemaCon. He wrote this “operatic fairy tale” eight years ago. Mia Wasikowska plays a young naif who marries dashing Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who brings her home to his four-story gothic mansion and Mrs. Danvers-like sister (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain). All is not right–and of course she descends where she’s forbidden, into the basement. It looks visually sumptuous–and terrifying. Del Toro build the sets and prefers practical effects when possible.
In a similar vein but on a much smaller scale is M. Night Shyamalan’s indie thriller “The Visit,” (September) which preys on our fears of old people, in this case some grandparents from hell who warn their grandkids not to leave their rooms after 9:30 PM, when many noisy creepy things start to occur. This low-budget effort was shopped around and eventually picked up by horror-producer Jason Blum (“Paranormal Activity”). Blum and Shyamalan persuaded Universal to come out to a multiplex preview screening where they could see for themselves how it played. And then they bought it. What better way for Shyamalan to be redeemed?
Less promising was Jason Moore’s more routine female buddy comedy “Sisters” (December 18) starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
Illumination’s first look at “The Secret Life of Pets” (Chris Renaud) looked promising, as comedy voice actors Louis CK, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate, Dana Carvey, Steve Coogan and Albert Brooks show us what pets do when their masters close the door every morning. One loyal mastiff waits by the door. A bird opens up its cage and flies free. A very fat cat tries to resist the temptation to raid the refrigerator–and fails. A bulldog repeatedly barks and throws itself at the window as a squirrel flits outside. A cat changes the music from classical to punk. The movie has moved from February 2016 to July 2016.
Universal did not show footage from new partner Legendary’s “Warcraft,” which will be released in 3D not on the originally-scheduled March 11, 2016, but on Friday, June 10, 2016. Legendary’s 3D “Pacific Rim 2” will move from April 7, 2017, to Friday, August 4, 2017. “Mena” will be released on Friday, January 6, 2017. “The Mummy” will move from June 24, 2016, to Friday, March 24, 2017.