It happens every year, when the NCAA kicks off March Madness. That’s when Deadline launches its own tournament to ascertain which film from the previous calendar year made the most money. Entry into the tournament is based on top domestic gross, and we count down from No. 20 all the way to crowning a champion. (See last year’s tournament here.)

Star Wars Movie Profit 2015
Deadline’s 2015 winner: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Photo illustration by Michael Willer

Even in a record-setting year in box office revenues like we saw in 2016, 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 is repeating our Most Valuable Blockbuster tournament, using data culled by seasoned and trusted sources.

We will run a breakdown of two films per day in separate posts, then name a winner and present the data en masse. This year, before the final film, we’ll run a group of films that didn’t make the tournament because they didn’t hit the gross mark, but did turn in extraordinary financial performances that deserve to be noted. The difficulty in ascertaining exactly what talent gets after cash break keeps this from being a perfect science. The aim is to demystify the process and makes it clear that bragging about a weekend win, when it’s a small portion of budget and other costs, is often a hollow victory.

THE FILM

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE
New Line Cinema

This year we start off with Central Intelligence, the Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart buddy comedy that was directed by Dodgeball helmer Rawson Marshall Thurber from a script he wrote with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen. New Line developed the film and does these kind of mid-budget comedies very well. This one cost $50 million and Hart played a star athlete who, while being honored by his high school, witnesses a portly student tossed into the gym naked, and shows him some grace by covering him up. Years ago, when the jock is failing in his marriage and bored with his forensic accounting job, he’s hit up on social media by the kid he helped. He has turned into The Rock. That leads them to go on the run, when the big lug is said to be a dangerous rogue agent, and it leads them to save the country from a terrorist bent on selling satellite codes. It is not based on a true story.

THE BOX SCORE

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE BOTTOM LINE

Despite mixed reviews from the critics, pairing two likable actors turned out to be money for New Line. Hart is an ingredient that has worked several times in buddy movies, including Ice Cube (Ride Along), Will Ferrell (Get Hard) and Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer). The picture was counterprogramming when released last June against Finding Dory. It bettered projections to open at $35.5 million domestic, and it went on to gross $127 million. Participations and off-the-tops reached $30 million, but the film’s global gross of $216 million on total costs of $184 million leaves New Line/Warner Bros with a net profit of $52 million when all ancillary revenues are counted, for a respectable cash on cash return of 1.28. Not sure if that’s good enough for a sequel, but it’s good enough to be No. 20 on our charts.