By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood January 15, 2014 at 4:27PM
It's nice for studios to boast about market share, but what really matters in these challenging times is profits and losses and returns on investment. Now that most of the year-end films have sorted themselves out, we dig into which 2013 films were hits or misses (or something in between), based on worldwide results. Domestic gross totals tell far less than the full story, since far more than half of theatrical revenues come from international. You need to look at revenue as well as production and marketing costs to assess global returns.
Note: These analyses are for the films released by the company during the year. The market share totals are for calendar year playoff in 2013, so includes films released in 2012 and some that will do substantial grosses, particularly foreign, in 2014. See the 2013 Hits and Flops Charts below.
1. Warner Bros.
Warners is usually at or near the top of the studio share list, with a decades-long reputation for stable management and constancy of product that is the envy of the industry. 2013 was a tough year for them with executive shuffles and bruised feelings all-around, but if this had any impact, it didn't show in their standing for the year. More than 1/6th of all dollars spent on movie theater tickets this year went to Warners. But getting there wasn't easy, and their overall return might be down a bit.
Worldwide, their biggest hit was "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" which, though it will fall a bit short of the $1 billion take of 2012's series starter. Their deal (it's a New Line production, part of the initial deal that included "The Lord of the Rings," likely gives Peter Jackson a high share of the profits). Another lucrative but expensive partner, DC Comics, presented the Superman reboot "Man of Steel," which opened strong in the U.S. but was off most screens after a bit more than a month. It likely will produce slightly smaller profits, which seems to have caught everyone's attention to the point of announcing the next entry will include Batman, a surefire way to keep interest up.
But in the middle of their franchise management, they also released Alfonso Cuaron's $100-million "Gravity," which is a rarity these days among high-end films as a stand-alone original with no chance of becoming a series. Worldwide it has outgrossed "Man of Steel" at less than half the expense, and could result in the studio's second consecutive Oscar Best Picture winner.
Two other smash hits also came from lower budgets -- from comedy, "We're the Millers," and from horror. "The Conjuring." Three high-budgeted films dodged bullets and look to see some profit - "Pacific Rim," "The Great Gatsby" and "The Hangover - Part III." All three benefited from strong international returns.
Their one big loser, not quite making the list of very worst of the year, but still bad enough to eat up a lot of the earnings elsewhere - was "Jack the Giant Slayer," which somehow ended up costing nearly $200 million with little clear idea who the audience was for it. At least six other not inexpensive flops - not all fully or even partly financed by Warners - take some of the luster off their showing.
Blockbusters: 3, Smashes: 2, Hits: 3, Underperformers: 1, Recoupers: 2, Flops: 6
2. Buena Vista
It is actually something of a surprise that Disney didn't end up #1 for the year. With two massive animated blockbusters, two others from their Marvel partners (including worldwide #1 hit "Iron Man 3") they definitely had a shot. Five of their 10 films grossed between $500 million and $1.2 billion. But because they released fewer films than most other studios, two costly disappointments dragged them down. "Oz: The Great and Powerful" might eventually recoup but fell far short of their hopes as a series starter, and "The Lone Ranger" was one of the biggest flops of the year, yielding a $160 million write-off, and ended their long relationship with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who made a first-look deal at Paramount.
Still, the Disney animation brand is a license to print money. "Planes," originally expected to be a DVD/cable project, ended up going theatrical, grossing more than $200 million worldwide.
Blockbusters: 4, Hits: 2, Underperformers: 1, Flops: 3
For much of the year the studio was on a roll, particularly overseas, as Universal, with massive hits "Fast & Furious 6" and "Despicable Me 2" (which might reach $1 billion worldwide) seemed to be hitting on all cylinders. But a September executive shake-up suggested some dissatisfaction, at least in part because of high-profile production failures in the recent past (2012's "Battleship"), present (the summer's "R.I.P.D") and future ("47 Ronin"). The last two are among the three biggest flops of the year (along with "The Lone Ranger") and took a lot of gloss off the sheen of otherwise successful projects. (Expensive space epic "Oblivion" just barely escaped loser status, but it was close.)
The schedule was fleshed out with low budget successes-- "Identity Thief," "The Purge," "Mama," and 2014's "Lone Survivor" -- which maximized their modest assets into strong success. However, underachieving pictures such as "Riddick" "Kick-Ass 2," and "2 Guns" still showed that high concept doesn't always equal high gross.
Blockbusters: 2, Hits 3, Low budget Hits: 3, Underperformers: 1, Flops: 6
No management came under more scrutiny than Sony's last year, a result of two high-profile summer flops. "White House Down" had the misfortune of following the similarly-plotted "Olympus Has Fallen." And "After Earth" on the strength of Will Smith's appeal still managed to gross almost $250 million worldwide. Their well-oiled international team managed to staunch their losses and maximize their successes ("Smurfs 2" was #16 for the year foreign, only #46 domestic). They also had the biggest drop in position (#1 for 2012, down from 16 to 10%).
Sony made up in quantity what they lacked in breakout successes, and many of their top grossers suffered from higher budgets that will keep their profits down ("Smurfs 2" "Grown Ups 2," "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2"). Of their other flops, one was foreign-financed ("The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones") and the other low-budget ("Battle of the Year").
The best news for the company came from one sleeper summer hit ("This Is the End") and two late-year awards contenders that are scoring worldwide ("Captain Phillips" and "American Hustle"). And all three combined averaged around $40 million in production budget. Any studio that can make so much from so little is on to something, and it is a strategy they plan to replicate as they proceed to cut back on total number of releases. Ex-Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman at TriStar and new production chief Michael De Luca are executing as well for the new Sony.
Smashes: 1, Hits: 5, Low-budget hits: 2, Underperformers: 1, Recoupers: 2, Flops: 4