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…