If there is one constant in Hollywood, it’s that money gets things done. So, if we want some idea where Hollywood is going in the future, we have to look at the highest grossing films of the past year. What secrets do they hold? What truths do they tell? Let’s find out.
Below is a list of the top ten domestic grossing films from 2013, accurate as of Monday, December 30, 2013, as they are reported by Box Office Mojo:
Is this cause for panic? Not necessarily. Last year had the 800-lbs gorilla that was The Avengers, the final installment of Nolan’s Batman franchise and the Twilight franchise. Plus, there was a Bond film thrown in there for good measure. So there are a lot of reasons why this drop could just be a return to normal rather than the start of a great decline. But it still bears watching.
2. Robert Downey Jr. might be more valuable to Marvel than they’d like to admit: To date, only two Marvel films have reached #1 in the year in box office, The Avengers last year and Iron Man 3 this year. The other Marvel film this year, Thor: The Dark World, failed to crack the top ten by about $20 million dollars. The calls to mind 2008, when the first Iron Man made it to #2 in the top ten domestic grossing films and The Incredible Hulk ranked only #17. And for the record, Iron Man 2 was the 3rd highest grossing film of 2010. Also for the record, no other Marvel film scored higher than #10 in the year end lists.
So, the most successful films put out by Marvel had Robert Downey Jr. in a featured role. This explains why Marvel was so quick to sign him to Avengers 2 and 3 so soon after the first receipts for Iron Man 3 came in. The only question was why Marvel didn’t throw buckets of money at him for more Iron Man films at the same time.
3. Man of Steel shows that Warners finally has figured out what to do with their DC Comics characters. Maybe: After years of false starts, Warners has finally had a hit movie starring a DC character other than one wearing a batsuit. Granted, is was with the most known character, Superman, but still. Superman Returns showed how hard it is to get people interested in a character as iconic as the Man of Steel.
The film overcame mixed reviews from both professional critics and comic book fans to earn more than $662 million worldwide, giving Warners the chance to capitalize on their DC characters the way Marvel has been capitalizing on theirs for years.
Of course, any continued success relies on Warners making Batman vs. Superman work. They are cramming just about every viable DC hero into that movie, hoping to create a Big Bang to get their shared universe started. That is a risky proposition. I can’t wait to see how, or, rather, if, they pull that off.
4. Gravity tells us that Oscar bait can be successful–if it has a high concept: You don’t often get a lot of crossovers between the Top Ten highest grossing films and the shortlist for Oscar glory. The highest domestic grossing Oscar nominated film last year was Lincoln, which came in at #13. Where did Oscar winner Argo rank? It was #22.
So the fact that Gravity, a film that seems like a lock for a Best Picture nomination and a very good chance of walking off with a statue, was the 6th highest grossing film domestically is kind of a big deal.
Of course, the fact that its plot–an astronaut stranded in space has to find their way back to Earth–sounds like something John McTiernan might have directed Bruce Willis in in the 90s, helps. It is certainly a high-concept, attention grabbing story. The acting of Sandra Bullock and directing of Alfonso Cuaron served to elevated to Oscar worthy status.
5. Frozen is proof that Disney’s in-house computer animation arm has become just as vital and exciting as its Pixar arm: For a long time, the tradition of quality Disney animation was shouldered by its partner-turned-subsidiary, Pixar. While Disney was releasing critical failures such as Brother Bear and box office bombs such as Home on the Range and Treasure Planet, Pixar was putting out classics like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. When it looked like Pixar was going to break away from Disney, the Mouse House made the decision to forgo conventional animation and go all in on in-house CGI fare. The results were the critically lambasted Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons. It seems dark days were ahead for the mouse.
That being said, it’s was not hard to view Disney’s buying of Pixar as a sign of defeat at the time. When Pixar’s John Lasseter was made chief creative officer of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, it would not be outlandish to think Disney was handing over it’s animation future exclusively to Pixar, a move that would have made a lot of sense.
Fortunately, that did not happen. Not only did Lasseter bring back the two-dimensional animation that was Disney’s hallmark with 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, but he started building up Disney’s in-house computer generation arm as well.Starting with 2008’s Bolt and continuing through 2010’s Tangled and 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s in-house computer animated fare began displaying better stories to add critical acclaim to the financial successes.
But with Frozen, something spectacular has happened–Disney’s in-house animation arm will have surpassed Pixar both in quality and in grosses. Yes, the film will end the year about $20 million behind Monsters University. But Frozen has only been in release for 5 weeks, and Monsters University’s take is after it completed its 26-week theatrical run. . It should over take Monsters University this week, and leave it in the dust by the time it ends its theatrical run.
And it’s not that Monsters University is a bad film, it’s just that I found Frozen to be a far better film. It was funnier, had better characters, had more emotional pull and had a much better story. Granted, you can not do a straight apples to apples comparison. After all, part of Frozen’s appeal is in its expertly crafted songs. Monsters University, not being a musical, has nothing to offer on this point in return. But I think that Frozen is good enough to not only win the Best Animated Feature Oscar, but also have a shot at a Best Picture nod.
If this trend keeps up, Disney will have two CGI animation arms that excel in quality from start to finish. As a fan of animation, you can’t help but be excited by that. And if you respect the history of animation, you should doubly excited.
6. There’s a reason why Universal is not willing to let go of Fast and Furious: In the wake Paul Walker’s tragic and ironic death in a car crash on November 30, there have been many calls for Universal to shelf the Fast and Furious franchise. After weeks of debate, it was decided that the franchise would go forward, with Fast & Furious 7‘s release date being moved from July of 2014 to April of 2015 in order to address Walker’s departure.
Perhaps in a perfect world, the film would have been cancelled and Walker’s fans would get their wish. But as you can see, Fast & Furious 6 was the 8th highest grossing film domestically last year. When you add its $550 million international gross, it became the 4th highest grossing film worldwide. Taking into consideration that sources say that up to half the film was already shot, Universal has already invested a lot in the film already. The money invested so far and the potential profits are a hard thing for any studio to give up.
And even though Walker was a vital part of the cast, as hard as it is to say, he wasn’t the biggest draw in the ensemble. Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and most of the other players, many with international appeal, will be returning. So, from a callous business standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to call it quits now, even though many people think they should.
It remains to be seen if the tragedy changes this paradigm in anyway. Walker’s death my spoil the franchise its fans and the grosses will plummet. Or morbid curiosity might carry the franchise to new heights. But the best we can hope for is that the next film honors Walker’s legacy instead of sullying it.
7. We are going to see a lot of Oz themed films come down the pike in the near future: Back in 2010, FBOL Head Honcho Rich Drees told us of nine Wizard of Oz related projects that Hollywood had in the works. Oz, the Great and Powerful was third on the list but the first to have its feature film come to fruition. And considering that the film doubled its budget in worldwide grosses, we can expect to see the seven remaining properties (The Witches of Oz had a limited theatrical release before being recut into a SyFY UK miniseries).
First up will be Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return. The computer animated film, originally titled Dorothy of Oz, will be hitting theater on May 9, 2014. The adaptation of Caliber Comics’ OZ, now called Dreams of Oz instead of Dark Oz, is still in development with an eye on release in 2014. An adaptation of the stage musical Wicked is still in development. There are a number of other Oz projects, some that Rich mentioned, some new, that are also in the works. And, of course, a sequel to Oz, the Great and Powerful is being considered.
And if you think you can escape the Oz onslaught be staying home, think again. There are no less than five TV projects based around the concept too.