The Avengers

According to USA Today, 2012 is the biggest box office year in movie history (not adjusted for inflation). The numbers aren’t set yet (because, you know, the year’s not over), but if the predictive models hold, the industry will close out with $10.8b and the first year since 2009 that individual ticket sales went up.

Unsurprisingly, it was buoyed by big franchise hits — including over a billion coming in solely from The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Another billion was earned from a franchise that was ending (Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2), two franchises that were just beginning (The Hunger Games and a rebooted Spider-Man) and a franchise that’s stronger than ever at a half-century old (Bond, James Bond). In the simplest terms, it only took 6 movies to cross the $2b mark this year whereas it took 8 movies to do the same in 2011. That may seem small, but when you’re dealing in the hundreds of millions, it can be the difference between a slump and a reason to buy a sheet cake at Costco for the company break room. Especially when the top movie this year outdid the top movie of the previous by $242m.

The whole mess is too complicated to reduce to a single factor. Marvel’s big gamble paid off in a profound way, but there’s also the rebounding economy at large to think about and the general fickleness of consumers. Plus, this raw number doesn’t take into consideration that 50 more movies were released in 2012, that fewer movies (26 vs 30) crossed the $100m mark, or that there were a healthy number of big budget flops for the accounting department to juggle. Still, on the surface, the movie industry did better than it has in years, halting the plague of a downward trend that threatened everything from momentum to creativity. Franchises still reign supreme, but with a bunch of risks taken (including the #1 earner), 2012 should hopefully re-prove that innovation is key. Or at the very least, with more money in everyone’s pockets, hopefully they’ll feel free to bet a bit more on the wildcards.

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