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

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
January 6, 2013 5:35 PM
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"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.

Box Office
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  • Dr.Aslam Siddiqui | January 23, 2013 5:51 AMReply

    I know it is quite late in the day but can you please publish 2011 boxoffice chart and also kindly make this an annual feature.

  • Dr.Aslam siddiqui | January 13, 2013 11:37 PMReply

    Good list and easy to understand for a lay person.

  • Nikesh gudka | January 7, 2013 2:35 PMReply

    Not sure why Amazing Spider-Man doesn't qualify as a blockbuster...

  • Tom Brueggemann | January 7, 2013 5:36 PM

    Very high budget + significant additional marketing costs made a likely solid profit, but the amount that makes continuation of the series with a similar budget a sure-fire bet.

  • Nic | January 7, 2013 2:29 PMReply

    Paramount did not distribute Ghost Rider 2.

  • Tom Brueggemann | January 7, 2013 5:34 PM

    That was Sony - thanks for catching that.

  • JD | January 7, 2013 11:14 AMReply

    Just curious: In all the years these have been produced, has a flop ever performed well at Oscar time?

  • Joe O | January 6, 2013 11:08 PMReply

    Fox International earned $292m with Titanic 3D, $150m of that from China alone, which is more of a smash I'd say.

  • Taylor | January 6, 2013 7:46 PMReply

    You have Piranha 3DD listed as grossing over $20 million domestic. I think you might be using the numbers from its predecessor Piranha 3D.

    3DD had to be a money loser I suspect and I hope it didn't cost $25 million.

    Otherwise really cool chart!

  • Tom Brueggemann | January 6, 2013 9:51 PM

    Taylor - thanks for both the correction and your comment. As I noted just now in my Weinstein analysis, similar confusion among audiences as to whether this was a new movie may have contributed to its failure. At some point, we'll get it removed from the chart, which is not as easy to correct.

  • kitcon | January 6, 2013 6:52 PMReply

    You have Snow White as a hit and Prometheus as an underperformer even though Snow White cost more $170M vs $130M and grossed less worldwide $396 vs $492M. I would think they would either be both hits or both underperformers. Ancillaries should be fairly close as well for both.

  • Tom Brueggemann | January 6, 2013 7:15 PM

    Kitcon - thanks for reading the charts so carefully!
    That's a fair point. The underperformers though are still hits - it's a judgment call as to whether "Prometheus" had higher expectations than "Snow White," but that was one factor. Another is that "Snow White" will have a sequel, which will enhance the library value of the first film. Also, films like "Snow White" which younger appeal still, as I understand, have more sell-though value as DVDs and BlueRays. But yes, either might correctly be in the other category.

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