One Last Look At 2013: The Real Winners And Losers…

With all the box office dollars thoroughly counted and stored safely in the pockets of sequel-loving, originality-hating studio executives (who in their spare time club baby seals… or is it too far? I’m sure they would if it generated profit) the time has come for the long overdue look at the state of big screen entertainment. It also comes in light of recent news that “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” overtook “Iron Man 3” in the (American) box office and ended up on top of the charts, but I think I’d like to have a look myself to see how things really are; especially when you factor in the recent ‘fantastic’ revelations that despite the underwhelming summer, 2013 was the most profitable financial year for the film industry.

jennifer-Lawrence-on-fire-in-New-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-Trailer

It’s no secret that bean-counters love to sugar-coat everything, as 2013 was also a year of the record low ticket sales, but nobody seems to go out of their way to put emphasis on it at all. What it does to the general state of cinema, and how far down the toilet the industry has gone, is a topic for a separate discussion (on which, again, I will give my two cents in due time), but let’s have one last look at the box office charts for the 2013 and see where the real winner is, who lost the most, and who holds the most promise in terms of producing profitable entertainment.

General Remarks

A quick glance at the yearly Box-Office Charts (boxofficemojo.com is a good place to go to have a look) will immediately reveal how sad things really are. As an advocate of original ideas I can only weep at the realization that out of the ten most profitable films of 2013, as many as 7 (6, if you factor out “The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug” due to it being a chunk of a bigger film and not a sequel per se) are sequels, reboots, remakes or other forms of cashing in on previous financial successes.

Ordered by US Box Office returns ($M)

  1. “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” (413.8)
  2. “Iron Man 3” (409)
  3. “Despicable Me 2” (368)
  4. “Frozen” (317.3)
  5. “Man of Steel” (291)
  6. “Monsters University” (268.5)
  7. “Gravity” (256.2)
  8. “The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug” (242.2)
  9. “Fast and Furious 6” (238.7)
  10. “Oz The Great and Powerful” (234.9)

Somehow I’m not surprised that the big summer popcorn munchers ended up on top. After all, they are targeted at the widest demographics and they all piggy-back off of other huge releases (i.e. “Iron Man 3” surfing on the tidal wave created by “The Avengers”). However, this list only factors the US market, which I will not deny is the most important for the industry, and it generates the bulk of the profits in many cases. When looked at in global terms, the list looks slightly different:

Ordered by Worldwide Box Office Returns ($M)

  1. “Iron Man 3” (1215.4)
  2. “Despicable Me 2” (935.1)
  3. “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” (846.8)
  4. “The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug” (808.2)
  5. “Fast and Furious 6” (788.7)
  6. “Monsters University” (743.6)
  7. “Frozen” (711.9)
  8. “Gravity” (670.7)
  9. “Man of Steel” (668)
  10. “Thor – The Dark World” (630.9)

Now, the list looks even grimmer than previously, because only 2 titles on it are truly original (“Gravity” and “Frozen”) and once again “Iron Man 3” ends up on top. Though, bear in mind that those results might possibly be a bit misleading due to vastly different release dates for some countries, but it won’t change the fact that the big summer releases generated the most ticket sales worldwide.

However, one should also take into account that all of those big releases (both in US and worldwide Box Office Top 10) came out with their concurrent 3D versions, which come at a larger price per ticket. With the 3D market being in range of the 10% of the overall ticket sales, it could mean that some films seen by more people have generated less profit. I can’t possibly know the extent of this phenomenon, as I have no access to the relevant data, but (in worldwide terms) the 2D-only releases start showing up only around the 20th mark (“The Hangover Part 3”, and “The Conjuring” at the 24th).

Profits

This is where things get interesting and really sad at the same time. Well, in this day and age it becomes more and more relevant to take note of the simple fact, that the highest-grossing blockbusters cost a fortune to make. Therefore, at times, what seemingly looks like a good financial result and a promising cash-cow franchise, might not exactly be as ‘blockbustery’ as one might like to think. Below you’ll find the Top 10 most profitable films of 2013 (US and worldwide):

Top 10 Highest Profits US ($M)

  1. “Jurassic Park 3D” (392.4)
  2. “Despicable Me 2” (292)
  3. “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” (283.8)
  4. “Iron Man 3”  (209)
  5. “Frozen” (167.3)
  6. “Gravity” (156.2)
  7. “The Conjuring” (156.2)
  8. “The Heat” (116.6)
  9. “We’re The Millers” (113.4)
  10. “Identity Thief” (139)

 Top 10 Highest Profits Worldwide ($M)

  1. “Iron Man 3” (1015.4)
  2. “Despicable Me 2” (859.1)
  3. “The Hunger Games – Catching Fire” (716.8)
  4. “Fast And Furious 6” (628.7)
  5. “The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug” (583.2)
  6. “Gravity” (570.7)
  7. “Frozen” (561.9)
  8. “Monsters University” (543.6)
  9. “Jurassic Park 3D” (463)
  10. “Thor – The Dark World” (460.9)

(The values do not take into account the marketing costs not included in the production budget; therefore at least the values worldwide could suffer from greater uncertainty)

And all of a sudden, instead of the big (and costly summer release), the most profitable film on the American ground is the re-release of “Jurassic Park” in 3D. It is the pinnacle (the PINNACLE!!!) of taking the easy way, because you can’t possibly think of an easier way to make money than by taking a classic, throwing 10 million dollars at it to make it 3D, and releasing it again theatrically. It’s the perfect way to utilize the gimmick of 3D and earn an easy buck.

However, looking past that scathing example of the sad state of cinema, one would notice immediately that instead of the biggest titles, the bulk of the list is made up by smaller and cheaper genre films like “The Conjuring” or “The Heat”. So, at least within a confined market (even as big as the US) things can take a completely different look when the gargantuan production budgets are taken out of the equation. Quite expectedly though, everything goes (more or less) back to normal when the global profits are included, simply due to the numbers getting bigger and the budget values becoming a smaller percentage in comparison. Nevertheless, “Jurassic Park 3D” still makes an appearance in what would be a re-write of the Box Office Top 10.

Bang for the Buck

Here’s an interesting idea: let’s level the playing field now and see how things are, when the luxury of having a big budget is taken away. It is quite unfair and painfully true that the biggest blockbusters are seldom small budget releases, as they don’t get the marketing at the level of “The Avengers” and are more often than not ORIGINAL ideas, not rehashings and sequels. Therefore, I decided to see how much bang for the buck last year’s releases actually had. To do that, divide the film’s profit by its budget; the generated value depicts the amount of dollars that are generated as profit by one dollar of the budget. If the value is 0, the film broke even, if it’s 1, then it made a dollar of profit per dollar of budget. In other words, you spend one dollar and get two dollars back (the net profit in your pocket is 1).

Jurassic-Park-3D-T-Rex

Bang for the Buck Top 10 US (Dollar per Production Dollar)

  1. “Jurassic Park 3D” (39.2)
  2. “The Purge” (20.5)
  3. “Insidious Chapter 2” (15.7)
  4. “A Haunted House” (15)
  5. “Kevin Hart – Let Me Explain” (11.9)
  6. “The Conjuring” (5.9)
  7. “Jackass Presents – Bad Grandpa” (5.8)
  8. “Despicable Me 2” (3.84)
  9. “Mama” (3.77)
  10. “The Best Man Holiday” (3.1)

Bang for the Buck Top 10 Worldwide (Dollar per Production Dollar)

  1. “Jurassic Park 3D” (46.3)
  2. “Insidious Chapter 2” (31.2)
  3. “The Purge” (28.8)
  4. “A Hunted House” (23)
  5. “The Conjuring” (14.9)
  6. “Kevin Hart – Let Me Explain” (11.9)
  7. “Despicable Me 2” (11.3)
  8. “Mama” (8.8)
  9. “Jackass Presents – Bad Grandpa” (8.7)
  10. “We’re The Millers” (6.3)

Boom! No Blockbusters in sight! Instead we’ve got the mini-budget successes with the likes of “The Purge”, “Insidious Chapter 2” and “A Haunted House” leading the pack. Well, sort of… the shameful re-release of “Jurassic Park” still got the biggest bang for one dollar, but hey…

The-Purge-box-office-large

Interestingly, out of the titles normally found among the high-grossing blockbusters, only “Despicable Me 2” was left standing, and it might not be a stretch to call this film the most successful film of the 2013. Also, it goes to show that maybe comic book actioners and destruction porn are not the best way to create entertainment and get a solid return on your investment. I’d say, cheap genre films are just as good, if not better than any “Iron Man”. Of course, you can also re-release “Gladiator” in 3D next year… or “Schindler’s List”…

The Biggest Bombs

Last, but not least, here’s the Top 10 of the biggest financial disappointments of the year:

Top 10 Biggest Box Office Flops US ($M)

  1. “47 Ronin” (-138.6)
  2. “Jack The Giant Slayer” (-129.8)
  3. “The Lone Ranger” (-125.7)
  4. “R.I.P.D.” (-96.4)
  5. “Pacific Rim” (-88.2)
  6. “White House Down” (-76.9)
  7. “After Earth (-69.5)
  8. “Turbo” (-52)
  9. “Ender’s Game” (-48.3)
  10. “Walking With Dinosaurs” (-46.3)

Top 10 Biggest Box Office Flops Worldwide ($M)

  1. “47 Ronin” (-68.8)
  2. “R.I.P.D.” (-51.7)
  3. “Ender’s Game” (-21.1)
  4. “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” (-2.6)
  5. “Jack The Giant Slayer” (2.7)
  6. “Delivery Man” (5.2)
  7. “The Host” (8.2)
  8. “Walking With Dinosaurs” (17.9)
  9. “The Mortal Instruments – City o Bones” (20.2)
  10. “Don Jon” (24.4)

And there you go… “47 Ronin” was hereby unequivocally crowned as the biggest bomb of the year topping the charts both in the US and globally. Note that the worldwide list excludes some films that did not get a proper global release in 2013 (“The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Lone Survivor”, or “Grudge Match”) and it would be unfair, to say the least, to include them. Anyway, just by looking at the discrepancies between the two lists, one can clearly see that the so-called biggest flops according to the various sources have managed to soften the blow when they hit the international market. So, even though the Americans didn’t like “The Lone Ranger”, “Pacific Rim”, “White House Down”, or “After Earth”, the world didn’t let those titles stand in the cold for too long. Interestingly, only four titles still failed to break even after the worldwide profits had been included. And once again, M. Night Shyamalan got saved by the international market, as his “After Earth” did not end up anywhere near the list of shame in global terms.

Conclusions

Having looked at the box office returns for the year 2013, one could quickly make an argument that the big blockbusters and comic book movies have been the most successful, but upon closer look, I no longer think it’s the case. Having looked at the B/O revenues, profits, and profitability per production dollar, there’s only one title that kept its place near the top in all of these ranks – “Despicable Me 2”. I’d say, according to me it was the most comprehensively successful film of the year.

Despicable-Me-2-movie-trailer

It saddens me to see that originality seems to be on the brink of extinction, but it is the world we live in and we have to make the best of it. I love to see, that genre films are still in good shape turning profits and entertaining the likes of me. I’d still do without the ghastly 3D re-releases of classics, because they’re classics for a reason. Who knows, maybe this year we’ll see more creative ideas on screen… Because judging by what’s in store for 2015, things will get really brutal.

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