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Box Office ’10: Win, Lose Or Draw

Box Office '10: Win, Lose Or Draw

Despite rising 3D surcharges, studios posted major box office and attendance drops in 2010, suggesting moviegoers were not entirely intrigued by the year’s product. Some distributors executed a winning game plan with success, while others floundered, making a series of unwise decisions that probably got a number of respectable people fired.

But when looking at the box office, it’s wise to remember that gross often has little relation to profit. Moreover, reported budgets are not always to be trusted: often, the number a studio releases are highly inaccurate. This could be because no one wants to admit how much they actually spent on a film. Or it could be because someone is trying to alter public perception by claiming cheap product was actually top-of-the-line expensive. And no one ever wants to mention marketing, which usually sets studios back somewhere in the wide ball park of $30-$50 million depending on the film, with some gigantic blockbusters pouring anywhere close to 60-$100 million in that department (again, depending on the size of the tentpole). Not to mention the fact that distributors often collect only 55% of the total gross, the rest going to various gross participants.

The evolving film landscape has led to studios demanding that most films make 40-50% or more of their gross overseas, so domestic numbers are often reported on in lieu of international stats, which can be challenging to compile due to staggered release schedules. Nonetheless, a lot of studios had their asses pulled from the fire this season because of international waters, a changing reality of the way Hollywood does business. We decided to take a look at how the major studios fared in 2010, taking into account the domestic and international takes of the year’s biggest hits and flops.

Note: all figures cited are worldwide grosses unless specified otherwise.

Disney – In 2010 Disney achieved a rarity with two billion dollar-grossing films in “Toy Story 3” and “Alice In Wonderland,” the two highest grossing films of the year. More than any other studio this year, Disney also benefited from the generosity of foreign audiences, as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” ($215 million) “Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time” ($335 million) and “Step Up 3D” ($159 million) each more than doubled their disappointing domestic takes overseas. And during a quiet holiday season, they were able to dominate with “Tron: Legacy” ($344 million) and “Tangled” ($418 million) somehow trumping industry expectations, with both tentpoles relying heavily on massive merchandising ancillaries.

Warner Bros. – It may have looked like a gamble at the time, but $824 million later, “Inception” is one of the year’s biggest winners. Knowing Chris Nolan was in the bag for another “Batman,” they were willing to break even on his expensive dreamscape thriller, but a smart marketing campaign made it one of the year’s most talked-about movies. With that gamble accounted for, the rest of the WB’s stable seems relatively safe, with another billion dollar “Harry Potter” outing and massive overseas tallies for “Clash of the Titans” ($493 million) and “Sex and the City 2” ($288 million). The WB can also pride themselves on two blockbuster-sized R-rated off-season hits in “Book of Eli” ($157 million) and “The Town” ($144 million) the latter which even threatened to be a major Oscar player.

Sony/Screen Gems – The $100 million+ budgeted “How Do You Know” ($32 million) led a generally poor fourth quarter, diminishing Sony’s superstar summer. But “The Karate Kid” ($359 million) had the lowest budget of any of the year’s top fifteen highest grossing films, while “Grown Ups” ($271 million), “Salt” ($293 million) and “The Other Guys” ($170 million) had strong word of mouth and played throughout large chunks of the summer, the first two even flirting with $300 million worldwide. There was a lot of bad buzz surrounding “Eat Pray Love” and “The Tourist” as well until receipts for $204 million and $205 million global grosses respectively were tallied. And Sony might be able to have a fairytale ending, as “The Social Network” ($208 million) was both a fall hit and one of the frontrunners for the Best Picture Oscar.

All this is ignoring Sony’s Screen Gems division, which had their all-time best year. The fourth “Resident Evil” ($296 million) was by far the most successful of the series. While keeping budget numbers in check, they also scored a number of mid-range hits, including “Takers” ($68 million), “Easy A” ($73 million) and “Dear John” ($114 million), the Nicolas Sparks romance finally unseating “Avatar” from the number one spot at the box office last winter. Of course, the less said about Screen Gems’ all-time priciest film, the $55 million-budgeted “Burlesque” ($70 million) the better.

Summit – The overhead remains very low at this upstart studio, and as long as they have an annual “Twilight” film (“Eclipse,” $694 million), they could consider the year a success. But they also surprised many with “Red” an independent production that the studio picked up domestically for $20 million. A few ad dollars later, and they were sitting on their biggest non-”Twilight” film of all-time, nailing a stateside $90 million total (the film also generated an additional $74 million abroad).

MGM – MGM had only one release this year, “Hot Tub Time Machine” ($64 million) but it goes to show you how important the film was to the company’s future. After “Machine” grossed only $50 million domestic, it was like the sky was falling, as “The Hobbit” and the James Bond franchises suddenly disappeared, future MGM releases simply vanishing from sight, still nowhere to be seen. While “The Hobbit” and Bond are back on track, 2010 was a dark year for a once-proud distributor.

CBS Films – In their first year in distribution, CBS Films weren’t able to distinguish themselves from their television namesake in releasing middlebrow entertainments most felt they could skip. They had three big stars on their schedule in Harrison Ford (“Extraordinary Measures,” $15 million), Jennifer Lopez (“The Back-Up Plan,” $77 million) and Dwayne Johnson (“Faster,” $25 million) and their respective films became the some of the worst performers of their careers.

Universal – With the exception of “Despicable Me” ($542 million) almost everything they threw at the wall failed to stick. Budget-wise they went around $150+ million on “Green Zone” ($94 million), “The Wolfman” ($139 million) and “Little Fockers” ($288 million) only for each of those titles to underperform. While worldwide business was brisk, they’re only going to break-even on a $200 million “Robin Hood” movie no one else wanted to make ($321 million). And the normally geek-friendly studio screwed up royally by committing $60 million to niche comic property “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” ($47 million) and then releasing it against “The Expendables” and “Eat Pray Love,” a slot that no one wanted.

Fox – Nobody’s crying for Fox after their January, when 2009’s “Avatar” was still raking in billion dollar grosses. But that was little solace for the rest of the year, as their only $100 million+ domestic picture was “Date Night” ($152 million), which had to limp to reach that number. Otherwise, their two most expensive prospective fantasy franchises (“The Chronicles Of Narnia,” — which cost a whopping $155 million not counting worldwide marketing costs and only earned $366 million in total around the globe — and “Percy Jackson And The Olympians” (price tag of basic budget: $95 million, minus marketing costs, worldwide earnings: $226 million) were both not the mega-grossers that were expected, killing the chance for sequels, and two action pictures that seemed like $200 million worldwide guarantees. (“The A-Team,” $177 million, and “Unstoppable,” $162 million) didn’t even sniff that mark. Fox saved face with smaller scores, including the thrifty $9 million domestic purchase of “Machete” ($27 million domestic, $42 million worldwide) and cheap niche franchises like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” ($75 million) “Predators” (a surprisingly high $127 million) and “Vampires Suck” ($80 million) but it was Tom Cruise who pulled them out of the fire: “Knight And Day” was a solid international hit ($261 million) despite lukewarm stateside tallies. At least Fox Searchlight’s “Black Swan” is performing, at $95 million globally and headed towards Oscar success.

Paramount – The good news is Paramount was responsible for eight $100 million grossers this year. The bad news is the same as it was in 2009, however, with too many partners involved in production and back-end shares, limiting the amount of profit generated. Their top performer was “Iron Man 2” ($644 million) a franchise they have since ceded to Disney, and they co-produced “Shrek Forever After” ($758 million), “How To Train Your Dragon” ($495 million) and “Megamind” ($311 million) with Dreamworks. “The Last Airbender” ($319 million) was also a Nickelodeon co-production that won’t break even until DVD because of a massive production budget (listed at $150 million, but said to have cost upwards of $200 million all told). Fortunately, that leaves “Shutter Island” ($294 million) as Paramount‘s big hit, with very small investments allowing for the success of “Jackass 3D” ($170 million) and “Paranormal Activity 2” ($174 million) Their success continued into the new year, with “True Grit” soon to cross $150 million domestically and “The Fighter” a possibility for $100.

Lionsgate – The studio, which often only distributes stateside, scored their biggest hit yet with “The Expendables,” which only set them back a cool $20 million for domestic distribution rights ($103 million domestic, $274 million worldwide) . And the indie purchase of the year might be the cool million spent on “The Last Exorcism,” which ended up pulling in $66 million worldwide. All sunshine and roses, right? Well, consider this the year that two of Lionsgate’s reliable horses failed them. “For Colored Girls” ($37 million) was roundly ignored during awards season by critics and audiences, ranking as one of the lowest grossing Tyler Perry movies yet, while the studio also finally said goodbye to the massively profitable “Saw” series with a final entry that generated only mild audience interest despite inflated 3D prices ($130 million). They made a big splash with a reported $50 million purchase of “Kick Ass” only to see the geek favorite do middling theatrical business in comparison ($96 million, off a $30 million budget), and they had very high profile flops in ”Killers” ($93 million) and “From Paris With Love” ($24 million domestic).

Highest Grossing Films Of 2010 (Worldwide Numbers In Parentheses)*
1. Toy Story 3 (Disney) – $415 million ($1.06 Billion)
2. Alice In Wonderland (Disney) – $334 million ($1.02 Billion)
3. Iron Man 2 (Paramount) – $312 million ($644 mil.)
4. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Summit) – $300 million ($694 mil.)
5. Inception (WB) – $292 million ($824 mil.)
6. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 (WB) – $291 million ($943 mil.)
7. Despicable Me (Paramount) – $251 million ($542 mil.)
8. Shrek Forever After (Paramount) – $238 million ($750 mil.)
9. How To Train Your Dragon (Paramount) – $218 million ($495 mil.)
10. Tangled (Disney) – $187 million ($418 mil.)

*If only accounting for worldwide grosses, then “Clash Of The Titans” would earn a spot in the top ten with $493 million worth in global gross.

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