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2012 Box Office Wrap: Wide Release Blockbusters, Underperformers and Bellyflops, Studio Winners and Losers

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood January 6, 2013 at 5:35PM

It's not easy figuring out what films were hits or misses (or something inbetween). Domestic gross totals don't tell the whole story. You need to look at revenue as well as production and marketing costs to assess global returns. (Remember, theaters return about half of what they take in at theater wickets to distributors.) Here's our stab at sorting out 143 films initially released in 2012 that played wide (750 screens or more) for at least one week.
12
"The Avengers"
"The Avengers"

It's not easy figuring out what films were hits or misses (or something inbetween). Domestic gross totals don't tell the whole story. You need to look at revenue as well as production and marketing costs to assess global returns. (Remember, theaters return about half of what they take in at theater wickets to distributors.) Here's our stab at sorting out 143 films initially released in  2012 that played wide (750 screens or more) for at least one week.

The titles have been divided into eight categories, from biggest hits to flops (some year-end pictures haven't yet gone wide). The list in each category is in order of U.S./Canada gross, but in determining placement, the total world-wide gross is a significant factor. Although the normal pattern for studio films these days is to gross more internationally than domestically,the degree of difference varies widely.

Keep in mind the following caveats:

  • Listed production budgets are estimates derived from a variety of sources.
  • Distributors retain only part of the revenue that comes into theaters. The overall average in the U.S. is somewhere around 50%, but this also varies, with biggest hits often taking in considerablty more, while other lesser films sometimes falling below this.
  • Marketing expenses are a major factor in calculating ultimate profit, but exact figures are hard to come by. In the U.S., a wide release backed by TV and other media, extended over several weeks, fully paid for by the distributor can reach $50 million or more for a major film that opens during a prime playtime, and costs of at least $25 million at least are normal. The distributor also bears costs for prints and their shipping (less common) and digital delivery.
  • Later revenues -- DVD, Blu-ray, cable and TV showings (a much higher share of which goes to the studio than theatrical receipts) and other ancilliary items, including licensing, games, merchandising and other side businesses that increasingly are part of the overall plan for a major movie-- also aren't known, but are factored into the financial picture.
  • In many cases films are acquired by a distributor after production, or deals are made with a distributor to handle a film's release for a fee. Also, some movies with U.S. distributors were released by multiple parties overseas. Figuring a film's ultimate success comes down to the fortunes of the original producer, irrespective of the film's distributors. (Two exceptions are "The Secret Life of Arriety," which was released originally in 2010 in its native Japan and elsewhere, and which Disney released in the U.S. as part of its deal with Studio Ghibli, and "Red Dawn," which FilmDistrict distributed after the film was acquired out of the MGM bankruptcy.)
  • For late-year releases, current grosses are listed, but we are making projections on their ultimate success. Those films have (****) listed after the titles. A handful of these which have not yet gone to wide release are listed under "To be determined."
  • NA means not available (in the case of international grosses, usually because a film hasn't opened, but in others because they have not been reported).
  • Grosses are through Jan. 4, 2013 for U.S./Canada, generally the previous weekend for international (which is less exact in reporting).

A separate report will cover specialized/limited releases for 2012, including "Intouchables," which has grossed $420 million worldwide, a large portion of it during last year, although the U.S./Canada share was only $13 million.

2012 Box Office Wrap Chart 1
2012 Box Office Wrap Chart 2
2012 Box Office Wrap Chart 3

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.