Note: For the purposes of this article, we primarily use domestic box office numbers. All totals are as of December 30, 2015
Another year is in the books, and Hollywood found great success at the box office in 2015. As of the time of writing, the 688 films released domestically have collectively grossed $10.9 billion, which is a slight increase from the $10.3 billion the 702 movies from 2014 brought in. That's a 5.2 percent difference, illustrating that people were more inclined to go to the theater this year. It certainly helps when some of the most anticipated movies of all time come out.
As we did in 2013 and 2014, we're taking a step back to examine the noteworthy box office trends that took place over the past 12 months and examine what they mean for the industry moving forward. Whether they're a sign of things to come or just a one year fluke remains to be seen, but they all paint an interesting picture.
What's Old is New Again
2015 will go down as the year of the franchise revival. A plethora of projects - ranging from Star Wars: The Force Awakens to Creed - brought back classic Hollywood properties after years (or decades) of absence from the big screen. For the most part, these endeavors were largely beneficial. The commercial prowess of The Force Awakens has been well-documented by now; J.J. Abrams' film is setting new records every other day and has crossed $571.4 million in just 11 days of release. Its performance makes the strong showing of Jurassic World seem paltry by comparison. Still, Universal has to be more than thrilled with the return trip to Isla Nublar, which had the opening weekend record for six months and topped out at $652.2 million.
Even though they never got as high, the comebacks of both Mad Max ($153.6 million) and Rocky (Creed made $96.9 million) were impressive as well, showing that there's still an interest in various big name brands after all these years. However, not all of them were so lucky. Terminator: Genisys ($89.7 million) went so badly that Paramount is now rethinking the entire future of the franchise. And Fox would rather nobody talk about Fantastic Four ever again, since its $56.1 million intake was not even close to either of the maligned adaptations from the mid-2000s ($154.6 million and $131.9 million) despite years of inflation. Superheroes are most definitely in these days, but certain ones apparently don't have much pull.
There seemed to be a correlation between commercial performance and critical reception (more on that in a bit), indicating that just merely the return of a well-known series isn't enough to draw people in. At the same time, there's certainly a market for revivals that are done "right," so it'll be fascinating to see which ones are next in this trend. Universal will be looking to strike gold in 2016 with Bourne 5, which sees Matt Damon return to his iconic role nearly 10 years after The Bourne Ultimatum. If word-of-mouth is strong, then the film will most likely join the ranks of 2015's biggest hits. A lengthy delay between sequels can increase anticipation, and if it's good then that's even better.
Top Heavy Box Office
One look at 2015's box office chart makes it clear that not every studio had a year to remember. The top five grossing films domestically were all from Universal or Disney, and those two studios accounted for 70 percent of the top 10. Considering that they have the rights to several of the most popular franchises in the industry, this was to be expected. It also should be noted that a couple of studios dominating the top of the charts isn't anything new (2014 saw Disney and WB combine for 60 percent of the top 10), but this year seemed a little more top heavy than most. A select few became bona fide box office sensations, but most of the others had to settle for very good to solid numbers.
So far, only nine films have crossed $200 million domestically (though Spectre should get there soon at $196.4 million). Even if the latest James Bond film reaches that mark, 2014 saw 13 films gross more than $200 million. That may not seem like a big difference, but the last time this few movies made $200 million or more was 2011, when only seven pulled it off. The cumulative totals indicate that business as a whole was up, but that's mainly because more people went to see specific titles instead of everything that came out. Many records were broken in 2015, but it was hardly a well-rounded year.
This is most likely a case of circumstance than anything else. People aren't going to see a film because of the studio logo that plays before it, they're more attached to franchises. Universal and Disney arguably had the biggest tentpole events of the year under their roofs, so people were just going to be more inclined to check them out. Next year, Warner Bros. should be well off with Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Paramount has Star Trek Beyond, and Universal is back with Bourne 5. And of course, Disney still has their annual Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars releases. There may not be enough room in the top 10 for all of them, but there's a good chance a majority of them will hit $200 million.
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