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)
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).
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).
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.