Remember Steve Martin in "L.A. Story"? He played a TV weatherman who takes a week's vacation in the summer, where the local daily forecasts are interchangeable. So he pretapes his broadcasts ahead of his vacation. That's what trying to come up with changes and trends for 2013 movie box office is like -- at first glance you could recap 2012 with few variations for 2013. But a careful look at the year's successes and failures yields some intriguing developments. (See the Top 20 2013 Box Office Chart below.)
What was the same? Total domestic revenues at $10,920,000 --up $83 million, or 0.8%-- are a wash. Of the top ten grossers, for both years eight were either sequels or franchise starters, one a Disney animated feature, and only one a stand-alone original ("Ted" and "Gravity" respectively). Eight of the ten films each year reported budgets over $100 million, and only two came in under $50 million. International totals for both years tilted more toward sequels and animation (although animation scored higher domestically in 2013 than 2012). Female directors were missing in action for wide release films ("The Peeples" and "Carrie" -- both minor performers -- were two exceptions).
Going into summer 2013, it didn't look like it would be status quo. Year-to-date totals were down over 12% at the end of April, so the turnaround -- a solid summer followed by a strong fall -- came as a welcome surprise. Much of this came from the date shift of the second "Hunger Games" film from March to November as well as the strong showing of "Gravity," a record-level October release.
Budgets, while still oversized, did not see a huge jump (summer films continued to be the most expensive). And there was a dip in international revenues. The saving grace of the year was the depth and range of releases, which made up (on the domestic side) for top films falling short of 2012.
The top film worldwide in 2013 was "Iron Man 3," which grossed just over $1.2 billion, $300 million less than 2012's #1 "The Avengers" (both Marvel/Disney releases). And it was the only $1 billion-plus global performer, compared to two for 2012. So the rough parity came from more films doing strong business -- 40 topped $75 million domestic in 2012. When all of 2013's releases are played out, 45 should hit that mark.
But a closer look at the figures reveals some significant trends that studios and their financing partners will be looking at as they try to get ahead of the game going forward. Among these are: