NOTE: For the purposes of this article, we are mainly focusing on the domestic box office numbers. All totals are as of December 29, 2014.
2014 made a lot of headlines for being one of the worst box office years in recent memory, but the films released in the past 12 months still posted some solid numbers. At the time of this writing, the 681 films released have cumulatively made $10.2 billion, domestically. That’s the lowest the domestic box office has been since 2011, but it’s still an indication that trekking to the theater is still a favorite pastime for the public.
Last year, we broke down some noteworthy box office developments and examined how they might impact the film industry moving forward. As we await the bevy of major tentpoles and intriguing auteur projects that will grace the screens in 2015, it’s time to take a look back at what we said with our dollars in 2014 and explore what effect they’ll have on future projects.
Guardians of the Box Office
Entering the year as one of the riskiest box office bets, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy ended up becoming a worldwide phenomenon that captured the zeitgeist in a way few other blockbusters did this year. Despite being based on a comic few had even heard of, and featuring an untested leading man, James Gunn’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe became one of the studio’s most lucrative offerings, scoring $332.7 million in the States (the only movie to cross that milestone this summer) and out-grossing established franchises like Planet of the Apes and Transformers.
As Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon became household names, other studios took notice. It’s no small coincidence that shortly after Guardians broke August box office records, Warner Bros. secured release dates for future DC Entertainment projects that would go on to become their Justice League shared universe. Fox was also quick to capitalize on the popularity of Guardians’ irreverent humor by finally green-lighting the Deadpool film. Superheroes have been the thing for a while, but it seems as if The Avengers was only the tip of the iceberg. Executives are looking deep into their library of characters knowing that as long as it’s good, audiences will show up.
And that’s what made Guardians a landmark occasion for the comic book genre as a whole. At one point confined to more mainstream titles like Batman or Spider-Man, the impressive haul of Groot and friends gave studios the freedom to blow this thing open and get crazy with the movies they make. Marvel’s Phase 3 will include otherworldly flicks like Inhumans and Captain Marvel. WB is moving forth on their star-studded Suicide Squad adaptation. If you thought we were nearing the end of the Age of Superheroes, Chris Pratt was there to tell you that you were wrong. We’re all hooked on a feeling.
In summer 2013, there were a number of straight-up box office bombs, but the blow of such disasters was stymied by the performances of smashes like Iron Man 3 and Despicable Me 2. While there were flops this year, the blockbuster season was mainly characterized by a number of high-profile tentpoles seeing huge decreases after their anticipated opening weekends.
One of the things we mention in our weekly box office predictions is that major releases usually see a noticeable drop-off after the hype has died down, but even then they typically have strong enough legs to hold on to the top spot for consecutive weeks. Starting with the usual summer movie season kickoff date (first weekend of May), and running through the first week of August, there were only two movies that repeated, compared to four in 2013.
This summer, six of the weekend champions saw a decrease in excess of 60 percent during their second weekend, whereas only three from last summer suffered that drop. That’s an illustration that the summer of 2014 featured films that didn’t have strong legs. But in a time when business should be booming, why did the numbers suffer so much?
For starters, a few of 2014’s tentpoles (Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla) proved to be divisive amongst audiences, and that mixed word-of-mouth can hurt box office prospects during a period where there are several releases competing for attention. There were also some instances where franchise fatigue seemed to be setting in, particularly Transformers: Age of Extinction, which scored the lowest domestic totals in the series ($245.4 million). Comparatively speaking, a number of the “event” movie franchises (Avengers) sat on the sideline this summer, but it’s still surprising to see only one release make more than $300 million.
What can studios do to ensure maximum profitability? Our next point may have some answers…
Ever since Jaws became the first film to cross the $100 million mark during its record-breaking run in 1975, audiences have always associated “blockbusters” with summertime. May to July is usually seen as the busiest time for moviegoing, but in 2014, a number of the year’s biggest hits were released during atypical months and seasons.
The LEGO Movie bucked the trend of February arrivals being poor by earning critical acclaim, which certainly helped it gross $257.7 million (the year’s most successful animation). Marvel gave us Captain America: The Winter Soldier in April and took advantage of the lesser competition to dominate the charts for a record-breaking month and $259.7 million total. Even Guardians (which technically was a summer movie), came out during the less-lucrative time of August – as opposed to hanging with the big boys in June and July.
Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige said prior to the release of Winter Soldier that if you put out a good movie, people will show up to see it no matter what time of year it is; a statement that proved true in 2014. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that studios will be spreading the wealth around to cover all 12 months. This can mainly be seen in WB’s shared Justice League universe slate, with a number of projects arriving in March, April, and August to avoid the cannibalization of the Hollywood tentpole (instead of the established summer or holiday blockbuster seasons), which should help them turn a larger profit.
Families: The Key Demographic?
One of the laws of predicting the box office is that you never underestimate a film targeted at families. It’s easy to see why, since parents will be purchasing tickets for themselves and their offspring, which leads to higher numbers when it’s all said and done. 2014 saw its fair share of hit programming for this demographic (LEGO Movie, Big Hero 6), but a number of the films that were looking to be a smash came up short.
Muppets Most Wanted should have been able to capitalize on the newfound popularity for the brand following 2011’s The Muppets ($88.6 million), but the sequel couldn’t come close to the first film’s heights, managing only a weak $51.1 million. In a year where Pixar sat on the sidelines, many saw How to Train Your Dragon 2 as a surefire bet, but that too had its struggles. The $177 million gross is nothing to sneeze at, but the 2010 original Dragon made $217.5 million and the R-rated 22 Jump Street beat Dragon 2 during their opening weekend showdown. And we haven’t even mentioned those that came and went without much fuss (The Book of Life).
Last year showed us that the family film isn’t in any kind of danger with Frozen, Despicable Me 2, and Monsters University, so for now we’ll chalk this up to being a blip on the radar. Every once in a while, we’ll get a year without too many high-profile family flicks. Next year should see a reversal of fortunes with two Pixar offerings (Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur), a Minions spinoffs, and other titles. We’ll know for sure in 2015, but it doesn’t seem as if families’ tastes have changed dramatically; it was just an interesting development in 2014.
What do you think the overall impact of 2014’s box office trends will be? What were some of the biggest ones you noticed? Let us know in the comments section below.