Sunday, January 03, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: 2009 Recap

2009 closed at the box office with the strongest money maker since THE DARK KNIGHT, clinching a third week atop the chart. AVATAR has now made over $1 billion internationally and is in position to become the biggest film of all time. If it doesn't make it, it may have to settle for second place but seeing as how it will be settling in behind director, James Cameron's other behemoth film, TITANIC, I'd say the one-two punch is not bad at all. Overall, the North American box office took in $10.6 billion this year, an 8% increase over 2008. Of course the higher price of 3D tickets has some influence on that but with a 4% increase in attendance as well, things are looking bright. Let's take a look at some of this year's box office winners and losers one last time before we welcome a whole other onslaught in 2010.

The biggest hit of the year belongs to TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. The Michael Bay directed sequel pulled in $402 million domestically, about $80 million more than the original film. And to think Bay was complaining that there wasn't enough promotion being given his summer tentpole before it came out. You need not have worried Mr. Bay. Of course, AVATAR will go on to easily out do the big metal machines by the time it closes its run but for now it will have to settle for second place with $352 million in just three weeks.

The year started out with a bang. A handful of unexpected titles did much better than expected business to get the year started out right. UK export, TAKEN, with unlikely action star, Liam Neeson wowed North American audiences after a successful run abroad the year before (19th place, $145 million). Kevin James proved himself a bankable star with PAUL BLART: MALL COP (18th place, $146 million). Universal was even able to revive a dying franchise with FAST & FURIOUS reuniting the original cast and taking in $155 million for a 16th place finish.

Summer was hot this year, kicking off with X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE in the first weekend of May. The film would go on to earn $179 million and finish the year in 11th place despite a rough version being leaked online just weeks before its release. STAR TREK followed and with a $257 million take, J.J. Abrams has successfully relaunched a long dead franchise. The year's biggest comedy was the unlikely hit, THE HANGOVER. With no big names to pull people into the theatres, they had to rely on laughs alone and they kept people laughing all the way to a final haul of $277 million. Being delayed from the fall before was a great move for everyone's favorite wizard as HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE would go on to earn $301 million for a third place finish for the year. That total is the second highest for the series, just behind the first installment. The later part of summer also saw solid returns for DISTRICT 9 ($115 million, 27th place), G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA ($150 million, 17th place) and Quentin Tarantino's biggest hit of his career, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS ($120 million, 25th place).

With the animated film genre forging ahead into 3D, filmgoers followed along happily and there was plenty of love to go around. Pixar would see its first 3D feature, UP! become its biggest hit since FINDING NEMO. Dreamworks got in the game with the spring hit, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, the studio's second biggest hit of the year. Mid-summer entry, ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS may have done better overseas but still took in $196 million at home - not bad for an aging franchise. Sony saw modest but impressive returns for CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (24th place overall, $122 million). Even Focus Features found some love for the dark but gorgeous CORALINE (41st place, $75 million).

This year's most unexpected box office success story has to be Sandra Bullock. Sure, ALL ABOUT STEVE tanked but Bullock saw the biggest hit of her career as a lead actress hit theatres in the summer. THE PROPOSAL, co-starring Ryan Reynolds, took in $163 million for a 13th place finish. You'd think that would be enough to lift her spirits but she would then go on to surpass even that with THE BLIND SIDE. The feel-good hit is still tracking but has already pulled in $209 million and has got the industry abuzz with Bullock Oscar talk for the first time. You can't help but feel good for her. I can't anyway.

The indie film scene, at least the Hollywood equivalent of it, was alive and well this year. The unlikely success, PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL "PUSH" BY SAPPHIRE took in over $43 million without ever playing on more than 1000 screens. Filmgoers everywhere fell in love with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, taking in over $32 million. Oscar favorite, UP IN THE AIR, continues to impress week on week as the adult comedy has grossed over $45 million this last month. There is no bigger indie success story this year than PARANORMAL ACTIVITY though. Any film that costs under $15K to make and goes on to make over $107 million in North America alone (29th place) is something quite frightening for Hollywood indeed.

Another scene that is undead and well is the TWILIGHT series. NEW MOON surpassed all expectations to open to $142 million in November. Despite the film being practically unwatchable (yeah, I said it.), it would go on to secure the number five slot for the year with a take of $287 million. It is still tracking too so likely to finish in third place overall.

There are disappointments and then there are duds. In my eyes, the following films are disappointments, if only because I expected that they would do better or they may have started strong and dropped off fast. TERMINATOR SALVATION seemed like it could be one of the most solid summer tentpoles but you cannot call yourself that when you only manage a final take of $125 million (23rd place). Just ahead in 22nd place is ANGELS AND DEMONS, a film that, with a take of $133 million, would earn less than $80 million that its predecessor, THE DA VINCI CODE, earned. Disney's return to 2D animation, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, has been struggling to find an audience during the holidays, a time when it should have been no question. After five weeks, the film has earned just $85 million. If Spike Jonze's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE had not been blasted for being too dark and sombre for kids, perhaps the quiet masterpiece could have made more than $75 million. And this last one was expected to set the box office ablaze this past spring but WATCHMEN suffered from overexposure before even being released and would go on to earn just $107 million (30th place).

As for the duds, I'm talking about the kind of box office impact that seriously casts doubt on the future of an actor or a series. There are two films that come to mind right away. The first is BRUNO. Twitter, the new word of mouth, killed this film before it even hit the Saturday of its opening weekend. Star, Sasha Baron Cohen will have a hard time convincing Hollywood that he can command BORAT numbers again after a final $60 million take, compared to BORAT's $128 million. And the SAW franchise is in serious danger of being killed off after the sixth installment crumbled under the excitement for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. The film managed a final take of $27 million, which is less than what the films usually earn in their opening weekend.

It was an exciting year at the box office and 2010 will certainly be no different. Thanks for taking the time to look back with me at the year that was at the box office.



Mike said...

I find your comment that things are looking bright at the box office to be a little ironic. Yes, things are looking good business wise for the box office but what are things looking like in regards to the people who are going to these movies. Considering that two of the big money makers are Transformers 2 and New Moon, I'd say not so much. It's nice that people are coming back to the movies. Now they just need to start getting good movies to see. Hopefully Avatar will begin to change that.

Black Sheep said...

Of course when I say bright at the box office, I mean for them. I was at a function the other day and the speaking was touting how pleased his company was with their box office receipts from the last year. His claim was that people obviously wouldn't go to the movies if they weren't making any good ones. This got me thinking. Well, first it got me laughing to myself but then I thought. Yes, Transformers and New Moon were two of the worst films I saw all year and two of the biggest successes. For them to reach the heights that they did though, there had to be repeat business and there had to be word of mouth (or word of tweet as it goes these days). People did drop their hard earned money to see these films and Hollywood will naturally continue to provide these forms of entertainment as long as they continue to do so. So, is it years of Hollywood conditioning that only makes the masses think these are the movies they want to see or are these really the kinds of movies the masses want? I can say I don't share the same taste as the masses but I cannot say they have none. They just don't have mine.

Black Sheep said...

Also, I would argue that, aside from the incredible visual and technological accomplishments Avatar presents to its audience, it is no better or worse than any of the other Hollywood blockbusters out there.