When it comes to evaluating the financial performance of top movies, it isn’t about what a film grosses at the box office. The true tale is told when production budgets, P&A, talent participations and other costs collide with box office grosses, and ancillary revenues from VOD to DVD and TV. To get close to that mysterious end of the equation, Deadline last year hatched our first Most Valuable Blockbuster tournament. Using data culled by seasoned and trusted sources, we pitted the 16 biggest-grossing films of 2013 against one another, seeded like the March Madness teams.
We found that while a superior hoops squad can go cold and get eliminated in an early-round upset, there was little suspense until our later rounds. This year, we’re counting down from No. 20. We will run five films per day in separate posts, name a winner Friday and present the data en masse on Monday. The difficult in ascertaining exactly what talent gets after cash break keeps this from being a perfect science. But it demystifies the process and makes it clear that bragging about a weekend win, when it’s a small portion of budget and other costs, is a hollow victory.
THE FILM: If we had been taking odds when Despicable Me 2 proved itself 2013’s top revenue-performing film, the odds-on favorite for box office king and Best Picture candidate would have been Christopher Nolan-directed Interstellar. With Nolan applying his genius to black hole theories from Caltech astrophysicist Kip Thorne, and reigning Best Actor Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey anchoring a strong ensemble cast including Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck and a surprise appearance by Matt Damon, this seemed a lock for event film of the year. Even though it became one of the top grossing Imax films of all time, Interstellar only ranks as the 20th most profitable film of 2014.
THE BOX SCORE: Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:
THE BOTTOM LINE: Who would bet against Nolan, coming off a streak of three Dark Knight films and Inception sandwiched in between those films, that grossed billions of dollars for Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures? The problem — a high-class problem at that — is that betting on Nolan is a very expensive proposition. According to my insiders, Nolan had a massive $20 million against 20% of the gross, which netted him around $90 million. I don’t believe either McConaughey or Hathaway had gross positions, but both got bonuses at least for their back end deals. It’s the rare title these days where talent got paid better than the backing studios Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures.
Nolan’s final Batfilm The Dark Knight Rises grossed $448 million domestic; Interstellar, with highly complicated themes about time travel and wormholes that I still don’t fully understand (though I was certainly touched by the father-daughter story), came in with $187.89 million in domestic gross, and with $362.7 million foreign and $121.99 million in China for a total of $672.58 million. That is a healthy gross, but not enough to send it to the stratosphere when we factor its high budget and expenses. According to our experts, at the end of the day those studios will net out $47,161,000. That is a good return — cash on cash return is 1.09 — but as you will see as we go along, there were 19 films that posted better returns.