Box Office 2012: 5 Hard Lessons
Foreign Box Office: 'Django Unchained' Remains No. 1, But 'A Good Day To Die Hard' Steals Weekend
This story first appeared in the Jan. 11, 2013, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
There will be plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking as the film business reflects on the 2012 box office. In North America, attendance was up 6 percent compared with 2011 and ticket sales hit an all-time high of $10.8 billion -- surpassing the $10.6 billion earned in 2009 thanks to such monster hits as The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall -- but there also were big losers like John Carter and Battleship, and the bombs were bigger than ever before. "Some of the stories were pretty pathetic," remarks one studio honcho. Adds Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman, "Yet when the product improved, the audience jumped right back in." How to sustain that attention is the concern. Here are five crucial lessons Hollywood takes away from 2012:
1. Don't Overstuff the Christmas Stocking
No fewer than nine nationwide releases hit the multiplex between Dec. 14 and Dec. 25, an unprecedented number (usually there are five or six new titles). It's true that the lucrative year-end holidays can handle more product than any other time of year, but studio executives quickly realized 2012's slate was too much. After The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey -- which debuted Dec. 14 -- Tom Hooper's Les Miserables and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained were the big winners, taking in $67.5 million and $64 million, respectively, through Dec. 30; flops included the Barbra Streisand-Seth Rogen starrer The Guilt Trip ($21.1 million) and the James Cameron-produced Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away ($7.4 million). The holidays saw a glut of comedies -- Guilt, Parental Guidance and This Is 40 -- with none doing the type of business Marley & Me enjoyed during Christmas in 2008.
2. Star Power Isn't What It Used to Be
The year saw some of the world's biggest stars stumble, some more badly than others. Tom Cruise's Christmas film Jack Reacher -- the first title in a hoped-for franchise -- did solid but unspectacular business, earning $44.7 million through Dec. 30. And box-office pundits were stumped when Johnny Depp's summer tentpole Dark Shadows, directed by his pal Tim Burton, tanked. Depp is the closest thing to a sure box-office bet when playing a quirky character, but not this time. Shadows, which cost a pricey $150 million to make plus a major marketing spend, took in only $79.7 million domestically and $159.4 million internationally for a total of $239.1 million. Adam Sandler, another box-office stalwart, suffered a major setback this summer with That's My Boy. The comedy earned a scant $36.9 million domestically and $20.8 internationally for a total of $57.7 million. And Matt Damon's Christmas entry Promised Land is off to a sluggish start at the specialty box office. Will Smith was the only major established star to have a film on the top 10 chart -- Sony's Men in Black 3, with $624 million globally. Instead, the upper reaches of the list belonged to a new generation of stars led by Jennifer Lawrence, whose The Hunger Games grossed $687 million worldwide.
3. International Matters More Than Ever
Hollywood movies continued to make a greater share of their money at the foreign box office. Ice Age: Continental Drift saw nearly 82 percent of its $875 million take come from overseas ($714 million). China, as predicted, became a megaplayer: The 3D rerelease of Titanic grossed $150 million in China, where Ang Lee's Life of Pi took in nearly $91 million. Not long ago, a film couldn't hope to become a worldwide hit without a sizable North American box-office presence, but that's no longer true. French comedy The Intouchables took in $420.8 million worldwide, of which only $10.1 million came from the U.S. Intouchables even managed to outperform several Hollywood tentpoles, including Snow White and the Huntsman ($396.4 million).