The Year in Review: Box Office

Here’s how the Christmas weekend broke down:

  1. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – $29.5m (+130.7%) $61.9m total
  2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – $20.2m (-48.9%) $79m total
  3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – $12.7m NEW $21.1m since Tuesday release
  4. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked – $12.5m (-45.9%) $49.5m total
  5. The Adventures of Tintin – $9.7m NEW $17.7m since Wednesday release
  6. We Bought a Zoo – $9.3m NEW
  7. War Horse – $7.5m NEW released Christmas Day
  8. New Year’s Eve – $3.3m (-54.7%) $32.6m total
  9. The Darkest Hour – $3m NEW released Christmas Day
  10. The Muppets – $2.1m (-39.1%) $75.7m total

Yes, we usually save this chart for the end of the recapping Reject Report, but this week is about the year, not the weekend.

Here’s how 2011 broke down (top 11 films):

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – $381m domestic, $1.3b worldwide
  2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon – $352.3m domestic, $1.1b worldwide
  3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 – $271.1m domestic, $652.1m worldwide
  4. The Hangover Part II – $254.4m domestic, $581.4m worldwide
  5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $241m domestic, $1b worldwide
  6. Fast Five – $209.8m domestic, $626.1m worldwide
  7. Cars 2 – $191.4m domestic, $551.8m worldwide
  8. Thor – $181m domestic, $449.3m worldwide
  9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – $176.7m domestic, $481.2m worldwide
  10. Captain America: The First Avenger – $176.6m domestic, $368.6m worldwide
  11. The Help – $169.4m domestic, $202.9m worldwide

We decided to show you the top 11 films of the year, because, well, it’s 2011, and that’s what we do. But it’s good that it worked out this way. It took 11 films before we got to one on the year’s box office charts that wasn’t a sequel, prequel, or addition to a growing series like the Avengers films. The Help is the only film on this list that is an original property. Even though it wasn’t specifically written for the screen – it was based on Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel – it was original to film in this form. Even then, the $169.4m The Help pulled in this year was a huge shock. Hardly anyone even expected to like the film. That surprise critical acclaim as well as the shocking financial success it’s garnered could be the deciding factor when it comes time for the Best Picture Oscar nominations come out. It’s not that many feel The Help deserves such a nod, but surprise critical and box office success trumps expected acclamation any day of the week.

Ugh, enough about original movies. Bring on the sequels and prequels. Like so many years before, that’s what we got in droves, and that’s what made the bulk of the money this year. Whether they were the final entries in a long-standing series like Deathly Hallows Part 2, run-of-the-mill sequels to surprise hits from yesteryear like The Hangover Part II, entries in a long road leading to a massive comic book project like Thor or Captain America, or prequels to classic films like Planet of the Apes, the name that comes with success is franchise. Unless you’re film has that brand you can stamp it with, you have little chance of making big box office bucks in this day and age.

It’s not surprising, but it is worse in 2011 than it’s been in recent years. Did I say “recent’ years? I meant EVER. Of all time. In the history of film. All of those apply. This is the first year when the top 10 grossing films are all sequels, prequels, or entry into some kind of franchise. Even in 2010, we had five films, Alice in Wonderland ($334.1m domestic), Inception ($292.5m domestic), Despicable Me ($251.5m domestic), How to Train Your Dragon ($217.5m domestic), and Tangled ($200.8m domestic), that didn’t fall into the franchise category. Typically, PIXAR is the big factor in original films making huge numbers, but even PIXAR, with Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, has given in to the sequelitis that’s now running rampant. Yes, the idea of sequelitis has always been an issue with big, Hollywood films, but we’ve never seen anything like what we have here in 2011.

The sequelitis wasn’t as broadly seen in the 11-20 films of 2011. Seven films in that range, The Help ($169.4m domestic), Bridesmaids ($169.1m domestic), Rio ($143.6m domestic), The Smurfs ($142.6m domestic), Super 8 ($127m domestic), Rango ($123.2m domestic), and Horrible Bosses ($117.5m domestic), were all original or based on something outside the realm of cinema. Wait a minute. Horrible Bosses was the 20th highest grossing film of 2011? Yes, it was.

3-D continues to be prominent when it comes to big returns, as well. Five of the films this year, Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Cars 2, and Thor, were released in the 3-D format. Even though some of the middle-of-the-road films that didn’t make a splash at the box office, the Drive Angrys or the Three Musketeers, had some calling for the end of the format, it remains an important factor when it comes to blockbuster films. The horizon of 3-D films proves the format is anything but dead with eight films all releasing in 3-D in the first quarter of 2012. First up is Underworld: Awakening on January 20th.

So it remains that what studio execs think works at the box office actually does. Sequels and 3-D are hit it out of the park when they actually hit it, and this looks to shape the slate of films we’ll be seeing in the top 10 for 2012 and 2013. A vast ocean of franchised properties will be hitting the theaters, and save for those few surprises that make it past the box office glass ceiling, the Bridesmaids or The Helps of the world, it will continue to be these sequels and prequels that make up the big winners of the year.

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