It’s nice for studios to boast about market share, but what really matters in these challenging times is profits and losses and returns on investment. Now that most of the year-end films have sorted themselves out, we dig into which 2013 films were hits or misses (or something in between), based on worldwide results. Domestic gross totals tell far less than the full story, since far more than half of theatrical revenues come from international. You need to look at revenue as well as production and marketing costs to assess global returns.
Note: These analyses are for the films released by the company during the year. The market share totals are for calendar year playoff in 2013, so includes films released in 2012 and some that will do substantial grosses, particularly foreign, in 2014. See the 2013 Hits and Flops Charts below.
1. Warner Bros.
Warners is usually at or near the top of the studio share list, with a decades-long reputation for stable management and constancy of product that is the envy of the industry. 2013 was a tough year for them with executive shuffles and bruised feelings all-around, but if this had any impact, it didn’t show in their standing for the year. More than 1/6th of all dollars spent on movie theater tickets this year went to Warners. But getting there wasn’t easy, and their overall return might be down a bit.
Worldwide, their biggest hit was “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” which, though it will fall a bit short of the $1 billion take of 2012’s series starter. Their deal (it’s a New Line production, part of the initial deal that included “The Lord of the Rings,” likely gives Peter Jackson a high share of the profits). Another lucrative but expensive partner, DC Comics, presented the Superman reboot “Man of Steel,” which opened strong in the U.S. but was off most screens after a bit more than a month. It likely will produce slightly smaller profits, which seems to have caught everyone’s attention to the point of announcing the next entry will include Batman, a surefire way to keep interest up.
But in the middle of their franchise management, they also released Alfonso Cuaron’s $100-million “Gravity,” which is a rarity these days among high-end films as a stand-alone original with no chance of becoming a series. Worldwide it has outgrossed “Man of Steel” at less than half the expense, and could result in the studio’s second consecutive Oscar Best Picture winner.
Two other smash hits also came from lower budgets — from comedy, “We’re the Millers,” and from horror. “The Conjuring.” Three high-budgeted films dodged bullets and look to see some profit – “Pacific Rim,” “The Great Gatsby” and “The Hangover – Part III.” All three benefited from strong international returns.
Their one big loser, not quite making the list of very worst of the year, but still bad enough to eat up a lot of the earnings elsewhere – was “Jack the Giant Slayer,” which somehow ended up costing nearly $200 million with little clear idea who the audience was for it. At least six other not inexpensive flops – not all fully or even partly financed by Warners – take some of the luster off their showing.
Blockbusters: 3, Smashes: 2, Hits: 3, Underperformers: 1, Recoupers: 2, Flops: 6
2. Buena Vista
It is actually something of a surprise that Disney didn’t end up #1 for the year. With two massive animated blockbusters, two others from their Marvel partners (including worldwide #1 hit “Iron Man 3“) they definitely had a shot. Five of their 10 films grossed between $500 million and $1.2 billion. But because they released fewer films than most other studios, two costly disappointments dragged them down. “Oz: The Great and Powerful” might eventually recoup but fell far short of their hopes as a series starter, and “The Lone Ranger” was one of the biggest flops of the year, yielding a $160 million write-off, and ended their long relationship with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who made a first-look deal at Paramount.
Still, the Disney animation brand is a license to print money. “Planes,” originally expected to be a DVD/cable project, ended up going theatrical, grossing more than $200 million worldwide.
Blockbusters: 4, Hits: 2, Underperformers: 1, Flops: 3
For much of the year the studio was on a roll, particularly overseas, as Universal, with massive hits “Fast & Furious 6” and “Despicable Me 2” (which might reach $1 billion worldwide) seemed to be hitting on all cylinders. But a September executive shake-up suggested some dissatisfaction, at least in part because of high-profile production failures in the recent past (2012’s “Battleship”), present (the summer’s “R.I.P.D”) and future (“47 Ronin”). The last two are among the three biggest flops of the year (along with “The Lone Ranger”) and took a lot of gloss off the sheen of otherwise successful projects. (Expensive space epic “Oblivion” just barely escaped loser status, but it was close.)
The schedule was fleshed out with low budget successes– “Identity Thief,” “The Purge,” “Mama,” and 2014’s “Lone Survivor” — which maximized their modest assets into strong success. However, underachieving pictures such as “Riddick” “Kick-Ass 2,” and “2 Guns” still showed that high concept doesn’t always equal high gross.
Blockbusters: 2, Hits 3, Low budget Hits: 3, Underperformers: 1, Flops: 6
No management came under more scrutiny than Sony’s last year, a result of two high-profile summer flops. “White House Down” had the misfortune of following the similarly-plotted “Olympus Has Fallen.” And “After Earth” on the strength of Will Smith’s appeal still managed to gross almost $250 million worldwide. Their well-oiled international team managed to staunch their losses and maximize their successes (“Smurfs 2” was #16 for the year foreign, only #46 domestic). They also had the biggest drop in position (#1 for 2012, down from 16 to 10%).
Sony made up in quantity what they lacked in breakout successes, and many of their top grossers suffered from higher budgets that will keep their profits down (“Smurfs 2” “Grown Ups 2,” “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2”). Of their other flops, one was foreign-financed (“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”) and the other low-budget (“Battle of the Year”).
The best news for the company came from one sleeper summer hit (“This Is the End”) and two late-year awards contenders that are scoring worldwide (“Captain Phillips” and “American Hustle”). And all three combined averaged around $40 million in production budget. Any studio that can make so much from so little is on to something, and it is a strategy they plan to replicate as they proceed to cut back on total number of releases. Ex-Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman at TriStar and new production chief Michael De Luca are executing as well for the new Sony.
Smashes: 1, Hits: 5, Low-budget hits: 2, Underperformers: 1, Recoupers: 2, Flops: 4
Repeating at #5 (a placement that first came about in 2012 because of their merger with Summit), and doing so with only one of their two big franchises in play (“Twilight” finished, but the second “Hunger Games” film managing to top all 2013 releases in domestic gross while doing far better overseas than the first one), this should be a positive result for the non-studio that is increasingly among the big guys.
But a closer look at their figures shows a lot of movies that fell short of expectations, some of them expensive, and worse yet, from usual profit centers. These include two from Tyler Perry (the drama “Temptation, neither starring nor directed by him and “A Madea Christmas”), in a year which saw several African-American films soar. Summit’s sequel “Red 2” managed to lose whatever the first entry made. Lionsgate’s horror entries lacked the oomph of earlier years, with “Texas Chainsaw 2” and “You’re Next” ordinary at best.
Summit’s would-be series starter “Ender’s Game” looks unlikely to spawn more than red ink. Older stars soared elsewhere, but Sylvester Stallone’s “Last Stand” and the all-star Medicare comedy “The Big Wedding” didn’t join in. (Not all of these films were in-house productions, Lionsgate tends to make deals with outside partners more than other studios.)
Two films stand out as examples of Lionsgate/Summit at its best, and an example of their core creativity still at play. The biggest was “Now You See Me,” which with limited advance attention managed to take in almost $350 million worldwide on an initial $75 million budget. And perhaps the one with the longest-term consequences was “Instructions Not Included,” the Mexican Spanish-language comedy that with their partners Pantelion they managed to yield $45 million with targeted, limited marketing costs. Lionsgate for years was in the foreground of mining the African-American market. If anyone can find a way to turn the larger Latino market into a niche, it’s Lionsgate.
Blockbusters: 1, Smashes: 1, Hits: 1, Low-budget hits: 2, Recoupers: 5, Flops: 6
6. 20th Century Fox
Their market share stayed the same, but it felt like an off year for Fox. Their top domestic grosser, DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods,” ranked only #14 (“Turbo” was less successful). But Fox managed to turn three other films into solid successes –“X-Men” spin-off “The Wolverine,” (which did particularly well foreign), their in-studio animated hit “Epic,” and most profitably their female buddy cop “The Heat.”
They were lucky that most of their underperformers and flops were lower-budgeted – Fox has none of the year’s top losers. Their final film of the year was Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which got its reported $90 million cost economically on screen to great effect, was much anticipated, and now looks like a small money-loser (depending on how international performs).
Blockbusters: 1, Smashes: 2, Hits: 2, Underperformers: 5, Flops: 6
When has a studio with a #7 place in marketshare looked so good? With only eight wide-release films in 2013, they may not have lost money (only $25-million Michael Bay film “Pain and Gain,” had to struggle). The odds at the start of the year that their three most expensive productions – “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and particularly “World War Z” would all make money looked slim, but they did, with particularly good foreign numbers (“Star Trek” foreign for the first time in the series outperformed domestic).
Add to that two revitalized franchises, with “Anchorman 2” breaking out a Christmas and the Jack-Ass series coming back strong with “Bad Grandpa,” a horror hit with “Hansel and Gretel,” and year-end distribution deal “Wolf of Wall Street” looking to be a global hit, and another potentially high profile Oscar contender in “Nebraska” (though it is not at this point a moneymaker), and it looks like Paramount will be a model for other studios to try to emulate. According to Viacom chief Philippe Dauman, during a period when there’s little margin for error, it’s easier to effectively make and market ten to fifteen films than a larger slate.
Smashes: 1, Hits: 5; Underperformers: 1, Recoupers: 1
At #8, the Weinstein Company nearly doubled its 2012 share, helped by its deft handling two early year major performers, “Django Unchained” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” both of which made most of their money in 2013. But perhaps their most impressive achievement was “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” which with all marketing cylinders ablaze didn’t gross that much less.
Relativity stayed at 9th with a much increased release schedule, with only “Insidious Chapter 2” a clear hit. Most of the rest either will recoup a little or fall short, but at least their budgets are under control.
#10 Film District has now been folded into Universal, and supplanted most of the current staff at Focus Features. Their excellent work in with “Olympus Has Fallen” (after “Now You See Me,” the sleeper of the year, although it was expensive) was enough reason to capture a studio’s attention.
2013 Hits and Flops charts are below.
Once again, in order to gauge which of last year’s films were hits or misses or recoupers, domestic gross totals tell far less than the full story, since far more than half of theatrical revenues come from international. Remember, theaters return a bit more half of what they take in at theater wickets on average to distributors. Here’s our stab at sorting out 143 films initially released in 2013 that played wide (750 screens or more) for at least one week during their runs.
The titles have been divided into eight categories, from biggest hits to flops. The list in each category is in order of U.S./Canada gross, but in determining placement, the total world-wide gross is a significant factor. Although the normal pattern for studio films these days is to gross more internationally than domestically, the degree of difference varies widely.
Keep in mind the following caveats:
- Listed production budgets are estimates derived from a variety of sources.
- Distributors retain only part of the revenue that comes into theaters. The overall average in the U.S. is somewhere above 50%, but this also varies, with biggest hits often taking in considerably more, while other lesser films sometimes falling below this.
- Marketing expenses are a major factor in calculating ultimate profit, but exact figures are hard to come by. In the U.S., a wide release backed by TV and other media, extended over several weeks, fully paid for by the distributor can reach $50 million or more for a major film that opens during a prime playtime, and costs of at least $25 million at least are normal. The distributor also bears costs for prints and their shipping (less common) and digital delivery.
- Later revenues — DVD, Blu-ray, cable and TV showings (a much higher share of which goes to the studio than theatrical receipts) and other ancillary items, including licensing, games, merchandising and other side businesses that increasingly are part of the overall plan for a major movie– also aren’t known, but are factored into the financial picture.
- In many cases films are acquired by a distributor after production, or deals are made with a distributor to handle a film’s release for a fee. Also, some movies with U.S. distributors were released by multiple parties overseas. Figuring a film’s ultimate success comes down to the fortunes of the original producer, irrespective of the film’s distributors.
- For late-year releases, current grosses are listed, but we are making projections on their ultimate success. In a handful of cases (“Saving Mr. Banks, “Wolf of Wall Street”) for example) they are listed in a category higher than current gross totals suggest. Others (“American Hustle”) could end up as smashes rather than hits as listed now. Those films have (****) listed after the titles. Two of these which have not yet gone to wide or full international release are listed under “To be determined.”
- NA means not available (in the case of international grosses, usually because a film hasn’t opened, but in others because they have not been reported).
- Grosses are through Jan. 12, 2014 for U.S./Canada, generally Jan. 10 for international (which is less exact in reporting).
Distributor analysis for 2013:
Total domestic gross for 2013 (which includes many later 2012 releases that earned large sums in the first part of the year, and not included in the chart above) was up by about 1%. The distributor share chart is specifically for grosses earned during calendar 2013, and for some companies made up a substantial part of it (The Weinstein Co. for example thrived with “Django Unchained” and “Silver Linings Playbook” during the first three months), so there is a degree of disconnect because of the year of initial release. But the full story is not just market share and the bragging rights for being high up or increasing, but how each company accumulated its share. The major company by company summaries below are intended to explain how each really performed beyond just the numbers.
INDIVIDUAL FILM RANKING CHART: HITS AND MISSES OF 2013