The 2014 box office showed a dramatic domestic box office drop but international uptick. Here we dig deeper into the numbers, listing the top ten distributors in order of their market share and compare their statistics for 2014 and the two previous years and summarize their performance.
And below we assemble our comprehensive chart showing the top 20 domestic releases, their domestic, foreign and combined grosses, their relative rankings in each group (often very different) and their estimated production costs. And we attempt, to the best of our ability, to assess the success level of each of the 132 films that initially played over 1,000 theaters in 2014 (or immediately after). This includes a handful of late 2013 platform releases that first expanded in January, and excludes others just now going into wide release (“Selma,” “American Sniper”).
We make these estimates by gauging results from a myriad of sources. The toughest part is trying to guess marketing costs, both domestic and foreign, which vary widely but can for the biggest hits often exceed $100 million. Film rental varies, not only domestically (where an expected major hit will earn in excess of 50%, but other films, particularly from less powerful distributors might earn below that).
Internationally, the returns are all over the place. (Those films that manage to make it into the huge Chinese market usually, unless they have some specific production connection with the country, only recoup 25%). And assessing ultimate profit or loss also needs involves guesses about non-theatrical revenues in this rapidly evolving phase.
Domestically, enhanced video on demand play (on cable outlets and otherwise) has made up for much of the decline in DVD/Blu-ray sales, but these figures don’t get published. Regular later cable play usually is tied in to the domestic gross, and some films have considerable marketing-related revenue they take in. Kids-oriented films often have an enhanced afterlife that makes them more valuable. In all cases, we have attempted to calculate all of these into our rankings. But this is not science, and it needs to be understood that for many films, they are an approximation.
Domestic Studio share:
1. 20th Century Fox – 17.3%/$1.790 billion (2013 – 6th,1.064 billion, 9.7%; 2012 – 6th, $1.025 billion, 9.5%)
Fox hasn’t been #1 this century, made #2 only once, and is usually ranked 4th-6th. The difference in 2014 was their second year of handling Dreamworks Animation. Take away their $268 million gross and Fox would have been 5th. Fox was in the middle of the pack of the seven major companies in terms of number of releases (17, including the barely released “The Pyramid”). Remarkably, their best performer was “X-Men: Days of Future Past” at #7. But they had nine of the top 33 and 13 in the top 50.
Their lineup included the usual franchise players (an “X-Men,” “Planet of the Apes,” and the latest and likely last “Night of the Museum”). None were cheap, but the first more expensive two were very strong worldwide. All five animated films (“Rio 2” and “The Book of Lie” homegrown, three from Dreamworks) underperformed domestically in varying degrees, none hitting the top 15 at home.
But a big factor in their overall profits were their reasonable budgets, which totaled around $1.4 billion plus marketing. Their worldwide theatrical alone of $5.3 billion-plus ultimately could put them in the black before all the library value. They produced a creative diversity and their risk-taking paid off. David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” made for a thrifty $61 million, has done six times as much total so far. That’s nothing compared to to 25 times return on the $12 million “The Fault In Our Stars” or ten times for the $34 million “The Maze Runner.” And impressively, all three films, despite being non-franchise films without guaranteed international draw, have taken in more overseas than at home.
A minor fly in the ointment is that the year ended on a more mixed note. Dreamworks’ “The Penguins of Madagascar” won’t hit $90 million stateside (and was totally outclassed by Disney’s concurrent “Big Hero 6.” Ridley Scott’s epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” could end up being an expensive flop. And the third “Night at the Museum” look headed toward recouping at best.
Going forward, DreamWorks’ experienced executive Stacey Snider has come on board to help steer the ship with Jim Gianopulos.
Recap: 3 major blockbusters, 2 lesser blockbusters, 2 smashes, 2 hits, 4 recoupers, 1 major flop, 3 minor flops.
2. Buena Vista – 15.6%/$1.618 billion (2013 – 2nd, $1.711 billion, 15.7%; 2012 – 3rd, $1.551 billion, 14.3%)
Consistency and branding remain the hallmarks of Disney and its film brand. Their two live action Marvel titles came close to equaling 2013’s pair. In part because of the absence of a Pixar title, their animation totals were down (although “Big Hero 6” will end up a surprising half-billion plus worldwide), but “Maleficent” will end up 50% bigger worldwide than their similar classic-rebranding, the more expensive “Oz the Great and Powerful” in 2013.
Disney only had four $100 million+ cost films, all of them major successes.
The rest of their less costly, most live action lineup struggled to recoup, but they avoided any major debacle close to “The Lone Ranger” last year. “Into the Woods” has yet to open in much of the world, but if its $50 million reported cost is accurate, it should turn into at least a modest success.
Their biggest news in 2014 was their plotting out dates for upcoming Marvel, “Star Wars” and animated titles over the next five years. There seems little reason to think they won’t remain in the top three studios for the foreseeable future.
Recap: 4 major blockbusters, 1 hit, 4 recoupers, 3 minor flops
3. Warner Bros. – 15.1%/$1.562 billion (2013 – 1st, $1.863 billion, 17.1%; 2012 – 2nd; $1.665 billion, 15.4%)
Warners in its first full year after their management shake-up fell less than they might have from their top spot in 2013 because of volume: 22 new films in release, 18 of them in wide breaks (one of their biggest to come, “American Sniper,” is just now moving beyond platform). “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is looking to end up #2 worldwide among all films, and with China still to open might take a run at #1 and best in the series. Yet it might not even be Warners’ best domestically (“The LEGO Movie” still leads, though hasn’t passed a half billion worldwide). At the low-end, “Transcendence” was a major loss, which managed to gross just over its budget ($100 million) total, less than one quarter domestic.
The studio’s other three expensive releases ranged from a profitable “Godzilla” and two recoupers (“300: Rise of an Empire” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” both enhanced by overseas). And they managed the year’s biggest horror bonanza, the $7 million “Annabelle” which ended up over $250 million total. The rest is mainly downbeat, with “Jersey Boys” and particularly “Winter’s Tale” ending up duds.
The third place showing again comes more from quantity that quality. As of now they show about as many titles for 2015.
Recap: 1 major blockbuster, 1 lesser blockbuster, 2 smashes, 1 hit, 1 low budget hit, 5 recoupers, 3 major flops, 4 minor flops.
4. Sony – 12.2%/$1.262 billion (2013 – 4th, $1.050 billion, 10.5%; 2012 – 1st; $1.792 billion, 16.6%
Getting away from their hacking debacle at the end of 2014, Sony actually had a bit of a rebound after a weak 2013. They also were more economical: 16 wide releases costing $840 million (closer to $900 though with the limited-play “The Interview”), with worldwide eventually coming to around $3 billion. Their top overall performer (and most expensive) entry “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” ended up over $700 million, coming in #5 overseas although only #11 here.
“22 Jump Street” cost only $50 million and was a standout success with $331 million total, the majority stateside. And they scored a low-budget faith-based success with “Heaven Is for Real.” “Pompeii” led their flops, a $100 million project that could only scare up $112 million total, mostly foreign. In between came a bunch of recoupers (which, with reduced marketing costs and higher retention from streaming, might even include “The Interview”). This is a studio treading water, but overall 2014 for 11 months was hardly a disaster.
Recap: 1 major blockbuster, 1 smash, 2 hits, 7 recoupers, 1 major flop, 4 minor flops.
5. Universal – 10.8%/1.115 billion (2013 – 3rd, $1.433 billion, 13.1%; 2012 – 4th, $1.323 billion, 12.2%)
2014’s releases were largely the result of projects nurtured by executives purged in 2013 (when the studio had several massive flops). 2014’s output incredibly had no films costing more than $70 million, totally counter to industry norms, and only two sequels. But the lower grosses came with a respectable return on investment: $2.5 billion or so in total worldwide gross on production costs under $500 million.
The biggest hit by far was “Lucy,” with its French roots, nearing $500 million. “Neighbors” was the at-home winner, with “Lucy” second for now, though end-of-year hit “Unbroken” should surpass it.
This ended up a line-up built for doubles more than home runs, and it looked like it ended up as a victory, despite the drop from 2013.
Recap – 1 lesser blockbuster, 2 smashes, 4 hits, 1 low-budget hit, 3 recoupers, 2 minor flops.
6. Paramount — 10.2%/$1.053 billion (2013 – 7th, $967 billion, 8.8%; 2012 – 7th; $940 billion, 8.4%)
Once again, less is more for Paramount, with only 10 wide releases. They had what so far is #1 worldwide for 2014’s releases with “Transformers: Age of Extinction” coming in at $1.1 billion, more than 75% outside domestic (it ranked only #5 locally). Even though it came in as the second most expensive film of the year at $210 million (behind “The Hobbit”), it became a colossal blockbuster, in part because of the studio’s smart placement just after the World Cup, when much of the world was hungry for an action-packed epic.
Half of their output cost $100 million or more, but their second breakout was the less expensive hit “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” whose relaunch is approaching $500 million worldwide. “Interstellar” (which co-producer Warners handled overseas) is a lesser blockbuster, but still a positive for both companies despite not quite living up to expectations.
Other high-end entries “Noah” and “Hercules” might recoup. The company managed to avoid any major flops.
Recap: 2 major blockbusters, 1 lesser blockbuster, 1 smash, 1 low-budget hit, 3 recoupers, 3 minor flops.
7. Lionsgate – 7.1%/$737 million (2013 – 5th, $1.070 billion, 9.8%; 2012 – 5th, $1.239 billion, 11.4%)
For the second straight year, Lionsgate and a “Hunger Games” film will end up as top-grosser of its year (“Mockingjay, Part 1” will barely edge out “Guardians of the Galaxy”) but despite that accomplishment the company saw the biggest tumble in revenue (over 30%) of any of the top seven companies. And “Mockingjay” itself despite its success is down more than one-sixth from the second series entry domestically (although it looks to come close to its take in overseas results).
With a total production cost of 12 wide releases coming to under $500 million, the company is not at any risk of any hardship. Keeping the cost of a major blockbuster like the “Hunger” entries to around $125 million ensures a strong position. But with that series ending this year, and “Divergent,” the first film in their next planned franchise doing a decent but less spectacular $288 million worldwide, they have some work to do to keep up the pace established by the “Hunger” and earlier “Twilight” series (the former a legacy of their now-merged partner Summit).
They also limited their losses by serving as only distributor, not producer of flops like “The Expendables 3” and “The Legend of Hercules,” as well as not being full participants in “I, Frankenstein” or “John Wick.” (They also are not an international distributor, which can both limit their profits but also cut their risk as they sell their own product to other companies). Still, their third best domestic player, “John Wick,” only totaled $42 million, making them, other than their annual essential franchise release, not as important to exhibitors as the other top studios.
Recap – 1 blockbuster, 1 smash, 1 recouper, 4 major flops, 5 minor flops.
8. Weinstein – 2.1%/$222 million (2013 – 8th, $492 million, 4.5%; 2012 – 8th, $258 million, 2.2%)
Lacking breakout hits like “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Django Unchained” and “The Butler,” Weinstein had an off 2014. In typical fashion, a late year specialized triumph is obscuring this reality (as “The Imitation Game” starts to role out to likely significant success and likely smash status). Other than this last hit, it has been a tough year. Their top three other films failed to top $50 million, and between production and marketing costs will at best be recoupers. And they had at least one major flop with “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” which worldwide won’t pass $40 million.
“Imitation Game”‘s Oscar run is a tribute to the company’s uncanny ability to elevate certain films to both awards and popular acclaim. But they overall fell far short of the nomination hauls of competitors Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics, both likely to score major wins this year as they did last (Weinstein had to settle for a Documentary Feature win last year through its Radius arm, though they should never be counted out).
As always the company made news throughout the year, and the news was significant. For whatever motivation, “Snowpiercer,” initially anticipated as a wider release, ended up as Radius release and slated for early Video on Demand release (where it did well). Then they a deal with Netflix, first for the initial showing of the upcoming “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sequel to supplement their longer-term lucrative streaming deal with the company. My guess is we will see more outside-the-box initiatives from them this year, not just for the sake of making news but because of the need for the company to continue to thrive as it has in the past.
Recap – 1 smash, 1 low budget hit, 4 recoupers, 1 major flops, 1 minor flops.
9. Relativity – 1.8%/$187 million (2013 – 9th, $242 million, 2.2%; 2012 – 9th/$202 million, 1.9%)
Though Relativity maintained position and relative market share, their box office did drop over 20% for the year. And unlike the past two years, when they had two films each year gross over $50 million domestic, their top performer last year (“Earth to Echo”) didn’t reach $40 million.
Relativity releases films that they acquire or produce with varying degrees of financial commitment, but even if mainly marketing, their revenues on most of them led to a slate that at best reached recouping. Three star-driven genre films – “Brick Mansions,” “Three Days to Kill” and “The November Man” made little impact, and even the previously reliable (for them) romantic field underperformed (“The Best of Me,” “Beyond the Lights”).
Recap – 2 recoupers, 5 minor flops.
10. Open Road – 1.6%/$163 million (2013 – 11th, $148 million, 1.4%; 2012 – $136.3 million, 1.3%)
Open Road rose to the top ten companies in 2014 both because of consistent growth and mergers elsewhere. The company, formed by the two largest domestic exhibitors Regal and AMC to supplement the studios’ release schedules, particularly in periods with a dearth of product, usually acquires completed general audience films with a commitment to marketing expense. 2014 saw both their biggest success (“The Nut Job”) and for the first time three of their releases getting over $30 million (“Chef” and “Nightcrawler” also). Their other two wider films — “A Haunted House 2” and “Sabotage” performed less well–and their anticipated prestige effort “Rosewater” from Jon Stewart got far more media attention than audience response.
But their model is clearly working, with their easy access to top theaters and proven performance on films that risk going into production without a distribution deal turning into a proven success.
Recap – 3 low budget hits, 2 minor flops
See two year-end box office charts below.
The first lists the top 25 grossing films released during 2014 in the US/Canada (as of January 12, 2015). This is not the final order: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” will end up slightly ahead of “Guardians of the Galaxy” as best among them. The first column to the right is the domestic order, then next the very different foreign territory order, then last their order combined. It tells a fascinating story about how tastes are not exactly diverging.
The second lists all 132 films that had their initial wide (1000+ theaters) in 2014, plus a handful that widened in early 2015 and have played long enough to assess their performance. It includes a handful of late 2013 platform releases that initially went wide in early 2014, and exclude two key late 2014 films that have only now expanded.
Then all the films have been divided into categories by their relative success or failure, in eight categories listed at the head of each group. Their domestic, foreign and combined grosses are listed (again, as of January 12), with those still in release shown with an asterisk in the first column. The last column is their reported production budget (but not marketing costs).
This is by necessity an educated guess but it should be close to the mark, and only off by degree. An effort has been made to give these films the benefit of the doubt, ending up on the slightly generous side.
In assessing where films belonged, apart from dividing in some cases by their total gross, the following factors should be kept in mind:
1. Studios only keep some of the gross, with theaters getting the rest (internationally, sub-distributors might also share). Though the domestic industry guess is that the split is roughly 50/50, that does vary. Bigger hits usually get a higher share, flops or films from smaller or independent distributors often less. International is even more variable and unclear, but again the same general formula applies.
2. Marketing costs for a wide release vary greatly, but usually not less than $20 million for a domestic release. The more expensive the film, and the longer it plays, the higher the marketing expense. For a major blockbuster, international marketing can exceed $100 million. Awards films sometimes, despite not being as widely played, also incur greater promotional expense. Marketing costs are borne by the distributor alone.
3. Studios have access to later revenues, from which they retain a higher share. DVDs/Blu-rays, streaming, later cable showings, both domestic and foreign, add to their earnings. Many big films also have other merchandising which is considered in determining profit. And these revenues can flow in for years, then also have long term benefit for library value when assessing the overall value of a company.
All of these factors have been added in assigning a category. Again, this has been done based on best available, not always confirmed, figures and then calculating typical formulas. The standards have been consistent (including vagaries such as kids’ films often having bigger-post theatrical earnings and merchandising).
No attempt has been made to isolate films that were acquired after production or might have been released as part of a distributor-for-hire situation. These films’ success is based on the overall cost, not necessarily the division between producer and distributor.