Hits and Flops: Analyzing the Box Office Trends of 2013

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Iron Man 3 Box Office Hits and Flops: Analyzing the Box Office Trends of 2013

DISCLAIMER: For the purposes of this article, we are only focusing on the domestic box office numbers. All totals are as of December 29, 2013.

2013 was a record-breaking year at the domestic box office. Despite a variety of flops during the summer months, hits such as Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Despicable Me 2 contributed to a domestic ticket hall estimated at $10.9 billion this year. Even with rising prices and a variety of alternatives to watching movies, people still enjoy going to the theater to see the stars and franchises they love.

A total of 669 movies were theatrically released over the past 12 months and the performances of those films brought about a number of trends that could potentially have a major impact on the industry. Here, we examine four of the biggest ones and what they might mean.


Superheroes Dominate (Again)

Iron Man 3 Action Hits and Flops: Analyzing the Box Office Trends of 2013

Anyone hoping that the superhero genre reached the peak of its popularity last year with The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises was surely disappointed with the box office totals this year. Two of the top five highest grossing films of the year (Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel) were comic book adaptations, making over $409 million and over $291 million domestically, respectively. Thor: The Dark World currently sits just outside the top ten at $202.2 million while The Wolverine posted a solid $132.5 million.

It isn’t exactly news that Marvel and DC characters have dominated the domestic box office (the genre has been the go-to blockbuster movie since 2000), but it is noteworthy for the prolonged reign at the top of the charts. Despite numerous reports that the superhero genre could see a decline in the near future (which, not so coincidentally, gain significant traction anytime a superhero film flops), people still love watching these characters up on the big screen. And if this year is any indication (between box office numbers and Comic-Con response), superheroes will be here for a very long time.

Warner Bros.’ Superman reboot Man of Steel was even considered a possible box office risk (given the damage another lukewarm Superman movie could caused the brand) prior to its release this June. Outside of Batman films, the studio had not had much success with the impressive roster of DC characters, including the mildly disappointing Superman Returns in 2006. Bryan Singer’s love-letter to the classic Richard Donner films grossed just over $200 million domestically (on a reported $270 budget).

Man of Steel Star Justice League Challenges Hits and Flops: Analyzing the Box Office Trends of 2013

Setting a new June record by opening with $116.6 million, Zack Snyder’s film finished off its run with an estimated $291 million. That’s nowhere near Dark Knight territory, but it’s important to keep in mind that Man of Steel was the first in a planned franchise (Batman Begins was the lowest-grossing installment from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy) and the movie also became the highest-grossing superhero reboot of all-time. Those numbers inspired WB to approve a sequel where they will expand the movie’s universe to include new characters like Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Despite a mixed critical and fan reaction to the final product, the Man of Steel series is poised to be a solid tentpole for WB for the next handful of years.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe also had another very successful year. Marvel Studios enjoyed the post-Avengers momentum with Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World raking in hundreds of millions. The massive total of May’s Iron Man 3 was expected – as Robert Downey, Jr. has long been the poster boy for the Marvel universe. It was the $200+ million intake of the Thor sequel that was most notable. Becoming the first Marvel movie not featuring Tony Stark to cross the $200 million plateau, The Dark World not only surpassed the 2011 original’s $181 million gross, it also showed that The Avengers increased the popularity of several of Marvel’s “secondary” characters – meaning people are interested in seeing more heroes (not just Superman, Batman, Iron Man, and Spider-Man).

Guardians of the Galaxy Character Roster Concept Art Line up Hits and Flops: Analyzing the Box Office Trends of 2013

It’s good news for Marvel that their films remain popular choices among moviegoers, as the next few years will see them try riskier propositions like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. By creating fun, entertaining spectacles, they have built a reputation as one of the more reliable studios in the business and have formed a trust with mainstream audiences. The Marvel brand carries a lot of weight and that will make Rocket Raccoon and Groot more accessible.


NEXT PAGE: Young-Adult Flops


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    • That’s funny, I walked out with a smile on my face, having enjoyed a great movie with a brilliant and funny plot twist that made a lot of sense.

      • IM3 plot brilliant. lol

      • Wow, nasty attitude you got there.

      • Iron Man 3 was a bad movie and a waste of Tony Stark and Co!
        Anyway glad you enjoyed it !

      • I thought it was great too. I didn’t even know who The Mandarain was before going in so I didn’t care that he was totally changed. I found it quite entertaining actually.

        Heck, there was no indication that he’d have magical powers, and he wasn’t even Chinese like the original Mandarin, so I wouldn’t have expected a faithful rendition anyway.

        • There’s a difference between changing the character and turning the character into a joke. Mandarin may not be famous, but deserves WAY better treatment than that. I would have settle for the real bearer of the Makluan Rings to show in the after credits.

    • It sicken me too! I’m so glad I saw it for free online.

    • Completely agree about the “sickening” twist of Iron Man 3. Who thought that was a good idea? I may not be a “true” comic book fan, having never purchased more than 10 actual comics, but even I knew who the Mandarin was/is to Tony Stark.

      Anyway, other than Pepper, the entire movie was a mess. Agree wholeheartedly.

  2. Superheroes!

    Congrats to IM3 and MOS for there reign in theatres and representing comic nerds of DC and Marvel

  3. This article was a ‘meh’ for me,and I wish these writers would quit trying to find new ways to slap around ‘Pacific Rim’,this movie obviously has a passionate fanbase,it did moderately well at the box office and from what I have read on some websites it is doing really well on the home video market,and may yet still spawn a sequel someday,so debating if Pacific Rim was a sucess or a failure,is moot at this point,IMO.

    • It’s not a moot point when you’re writing an article about the money that the big movies made this year. They’re going to mention Pacific Rim.

    • By your logic… ALL of this is a moot point. And you are sort of right. It is what it is, but it is an interesting read for me.

      And “Even Pacific Rim, which made $101.8 million domestically, was labeled as a disappointment because it did not meet studio expectations.” is so far away from “slapping around” Pacific Rim. You are obviously overly sensitive on the subject. If you like it, fantastic. I enjoyed it. On the second weekend at the 3D IMAX. With 4 other people in the theater. That isn’t good.

      • @JB

        You’re American, right?

        No wonder. The movie didn’t so so well there.

        I went on the second weekend in the IMAX 3D format and the entire place was packed. Not a single empty seat. The cinema told me it had been packed like that since PR’s release date the week before. I still saw massive lines that snaked around the building to get into Pacific Rim when I saw The World’s End not long after.

        Maybe the US doesn’t appreciate good movies? (Fact: a poor Adam Sandler sequel did bigger money in the US than PR did on that same weekend, make of that what you will)

        • @Dazz – pacific Rim wasn’t really a “good” movie but it wasn’t crappy either. It was everything I wanted in a mid-summer blockbuster honestly. Sequels always do well in the States though because audiences know what to expect – it’s a “safe” bet. Maybe PR was just too original of an idea for people to get behind?

          Was sad to see it under perform so poorly domestically though. It dipped into Lone Ranger territory (eek) and it was definitely better than that mess of a film.

          Paul Young

        • Once again, you can’t hide your anti-American bias (even though you have claimed that you aren’t). JB was absolutely correct to point out that what was written about Pacific Rim in this article wasn’t an example of the movie being “slapped around.” Furthermore, the op wrote that he enjoyed the movie. Yet, you’re still overly sensitive to any perceived criticism of your favorite movie ever. Also, it’s only your opinion, not a fact, that Pacific Rim is a good movie. For 2014, you should strive to dial down your rants about America and how butt hurt you get when people write “negative” things about Pacific Rim.

          • I also responded to him, before I saw your comments.

            It’s as if an American stole his lollipop from him when he was a baby, and he has held onto the hurt ever since (likely only ten years now).

            • Also, Dazz failed to mention that PR did worse than GU II in GB. By Dazz’s “logic”, maybe the UK doesn’t appreciate “good” movies.

        • Eyes rolling. There you go again, Dazz…

          “Maybe he US doesn’t appreciate good movies?”

          Whom else do you dislike and belittle so absolutely, you poor boy?

        • Maybe the US audience just doesn’t care for a movie about giant robots and monsters, Dazz. Have you got action figures from the movie to play with?

    • @Lando’s Son – Actually, American audiences by and large didn’t care for Pacific Rim and it made $90M less than its posted production budget domestically. However, the international market LOVED it and it made over $300M.

      Doesn’t mean we think it was a bad movie but it’s hard to argue with performance numbers.

      Paul Young

  4. *success,sorry my spelling sucks sometimes.

  5. I think superheroes will be big money for the studios for some time to come. Disney and WB will be fine but I worry about FOX work with X Men and FF.

  6. Gotta say, a 200 million dollar return on a $207 investment sounds pretty good to me.

    • Then you need to go back to school.

      • You must have missed it the first 2 times so let me spell it out for you:
        $200,000,000 > $207

      • In this context return means a return on investment, AKA profit. It cost $200 million+ and grossed over $400 million worldwide. Way to jump all over someone without first doing a little research.

    • That reminds me of the austrailian dude from Anchorman 2.

      “When I was a boy my father gave me 300 million dollars, and I labored my whole life to turn that sum into 305 million dollars..” *applause “Thank you! Thank you!”

  7. Regarding all of those “young adult” films, I am fairly young at heart and enjoy fantasy, but The Mortal Instruments could not have looked more boring, pointless, generic and uninteresting to me in previews. Many of those films hit a similar vein.

    Hunger Games has a focused-enough premise to stand out in the realm of blockbusters. But most of the other zombie love/possession/mystical whatever YA films just do not appeal to general audiences much, in my estimation. To make big money, they’re going to need to successfully sell themselves as something other than “more of the same” and also be good enough to get positive reviews.

    Generally speaking, I would like to see more original films. I love good franchises, but there is a lot of untapped potential for new stories. I did like Oblivion and enjoyed Pacific Rim.

  8. Most of the films released this year in the Geriatric action genre flopped as well.

  9. Had a free pass to see The Lone Ranger, it stank. The last act was the best part. The theater was half full and some people left. What a disappointment. Can’t see very strong DVD sales for that clunker.

  10. I’m surprised Desolation of Smaug wasn’t mentioned while other December releases were. It was #1 3 weeks in a row and has made almost $200 Million, and is still going strong (poised to make a billion or close to it).

    • Agreed, but this site, as much as I like it, is dominated primarily by fanboys of comic books, and thus, The Hobbit and other great films, some of which (like The Hobbit), make far more money than the comic book movies, aren’t as frequenly discussed, since they don’t produce as many comments from the typical contributor and reader here.

    • The Hobbit was a big earner for sure. It just didn’t really fit into any of the “trends” I chose to highlight in the article. The December releases I focused on were the smaller awards contenders.

  11. Too bad about Ender’s Game; thought it was an incredibly solid film that broached some big, relevant issues. It’s more pensive underpinning may have ultimately done it in though in terms of box office, but I do think it will be one of those films that gains more appreciation as time goes on.

    • What I’m pissed about is that Percy Jackson 2 beat it… That movie was freaking awful and shouldn’t have beaten a movie as good as Ender.

      • That prbly sounds like a super random comparison haha.. They were just mentioned back to back in the article and it stuck out to me.

  12. I’m also glad superheroes are still dominating. It was indeed a shame to see The Mandarin reduced to the position he was – but he’s an old villain for Tony Stark/Iron Man. Extensis is the ‘new’ toy they are playing with now so it kind of made sense to me.

    I also saw PR at an IMAX 3D theater and I saw it on the Thurs night premiere. Well worth it. I hate that Ender’s Game didn’t do as well – it was awesome to watch in IMAX 3D.

    I do agree there were just too many films out this year. I went every weekend during the summer (I even have the Mayorship of my theater) and I still didn’t get to see all the movies I wanted to. I hope the studios realize that releases need to be spaced out and perhaps should not make so many movies!

  13. I like the idea of more award contender films. Gravity and American Hustle were two of my favorite movies this year. I haven’t gotten around to Captain Phillips yet but everybody seems to love it.

    There are definitely too many blockbusters. I feel like Star Trek 2 for example could have had stronger numbers if it didn’t release right after Gatsby (which made a decent amount of money) and right before Fast 6 and The Hangover III. Like the article mentions the market is becoming saturated.

    On another note I’m still bitter than Pacific Rim got beat out in its first week in the states by Grown Ups 2. GROWN UPS 2!?!

    It’ll prbly take me a while to get over that haha.

  14. One of the most underrated movies that I don’t hear a lot about is Rush. I REALLY enjoyed that movie, thought the race scenes were fantastic and kept me at the edge of my seat, and the personal drama with the drivers was also really gripping. It made me really interested in reading up about the true events that inspired the film, and the true events were very close and just as interesting as the movie. I’m glad that movie opened my eyes to such an important series of events in automotive racing history. I honestly don’t see how it isn’t an award contender.