By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood August 14, 2013 at 1:40PM
Universal is having a very good year. As of August 12, the studio has raked in its biggest year ever at the international box office. Its grosses already total $1.8 billion on such global hits as action ensemble "Fast & Furious 6" ($544.4 million), animated comedy "Despicable Me 2" ($410 million) and Oscar-winning musical "Les Miserables" ($293 million), among other titles. "Fast & Furious" is outgrossing "Despicable Me 2" overseas, while Illumination's animated sequel should come in second to Disney/Marvel's "Iron Man 3" domestically. (Remember, the studio gets back about half--theaters keep the rest. But ancillary markets such as TV and home video will add to its coffers as well.)
Universal's previous international record was $1.794 billion in 2012.
Universal is clearly on a roll under the leadership of chief executive Ron Meyer and his co-chairmen, distribution and marketing whiz Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley, who runs production. The strong performance of "Despicable Me 2" is more remarkable considering that the summer season was crammed with animation titles; DreamWorks Animation's "Turbo" and Sony's "Smurfs 2" were disappointments. Universal's Meyer is very happy that he imported animation czar Chris Meledandri from Fox, where he had supervised Blue Sky movies such as "Ice Age." And Universal has kept the "Fast and the Furious" series on point.
In fact Universal, after suffering a predictable setback with Hasbro's "Battleship" last summer, may have learned some valuable lessons. Fogelson has adopted a different approach from the other studios because he has not inherited multiple franchises to rely on. That partly explains why he sends his movies into the marketplace all year long, a strategy that he thinks other studios could benefit from as well, he said at CinemaCon. “There are very few reasons why almost any film can’t open any weekend,” he said.
Their string of 2013 hits includes horror flick "Mama," starring Jessica Chastain, Melissa McCarthy comedy "Identity Thief," sci-fi Tom Cruise vehicle "Oblivion," Jason Blum horror flick "The Purge," starring Ethan Hawke, and actioner "Two Guns," starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, which opened decently domestically and is doing well overseas. Most were produced on reasonable budgets, even "Les Mis," with the notable exception of "R.I.P.D.," the biggest bomb of the summer. Luckily they could afford it.
Going forward, the studio just brought in producer-financier Legendary Entertainment, which specializes in the kind of comic-book genre fare that plays well all over the world.
Still to come from Universal is "Kick-Ass 2" (August 16), which ups the wattage with the original cast returning and Matthew Vaughn in producer mode; Vin Diesel returning to "Riddick"; Formula 1 drama "Rush" from Ron Howard; "About Time" from Richard Curtis; the return of the full cast from "The Best Man" for the sequel "Holiday"; and the long-delayed pricey period martial arts actioner "47 Ronin" starring Keanu Reeves for Christmas.