Most film genres at the 2014 domestic box office saw big declines, so before you stop writing that comedy or drama screenplay, know that this trend is largely a result of the annual B.O. of $10.35 billion taking a 5.2% hit as reported per Rentrak Theatrical. That said, there were some interesting spikes in a swampy year, particularly in the action realm as well as sci-fi, YA novel adaptations and comic book titles.
Just because a genre drops at the B.O., though, it is not necessarily cause for alarm. One talent agency B.O. bean-counter says, “We typically look at one specific film as a representative of what’s working in the market place for a genre, such as 2013’s The Conjuring (137.4M) or this year’s Annabelle ($84.3M) as elevated horror films.”
While some have observed that there was a problem with sword-and-sandal films at the B.O. this year — read the $100M budgeted Pompeii ($23M stateside, $94.6M abroad) and Fox’s $140M Exodus: Gods And Kings ($61.3M domestic, $141.5M abroad) — the genre is built to excel abroad, and studios aren’t going to stop making them. That’s evident with Paramount’s 2016 release Ben-Hur.
Says the same bean-counter: “These films didn’t work at the box office because they weren’t good movies. That’s why they weren’t warmly received. Pompeii got a 29% Rotten score, while Hercules got a 58% Rotten. When you have a great film, such as 2007’s Michael Clayton, in years past that has a 90% fresh Rotten rate ($49M), and it falls short at the box office, that’s when there’s cause for concern, and that’s when a studio is apt to turn their backs on making a particular type of film.” When it came to the gargantuan task of getting a studio to commit to an adult drama, sometimes insiders would point to the challenges that Michael Clayton faced.
Counting close to $5B, PG-13 films remained the major driver at multiplexes, even though they were down 10%. No surprise here with 13 of the top 20 films repping the rating with such big pics as Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies and Transformers: Age Of Extincition.
Looking back at the year’s landscape 20th Century Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson observed, “What’s amazing is how PG-13 is now the four-quadrant family film.” No longer does it take a PG film to lure in mom, dad, grandma and the children; they’re equally enjoying guns and spear-a-blazin’ action films. R-rated films with $2.25B filed second last year, off 25%, followed by PG-rated films at $1.97B (-2%), and G-rated with $158M (-44% from 2013).
Fox’s Rio 2 was essentially the only G-rated film in the market repping 83% of the rating’s B.O. this year. While most animated films in the DreamWorks and Pixar age are PG given their adult sense of humor, it’s never taboo, given its rarity, for a studio to go out in the market with a G-rated film, which were quite common during the 1970s and ’80s with Disney toon titles. The debate over whether an R-rating spells doom for a film’s box office versus PG-13 is a decision distrib and marketing heads weigh on a film-by-film basis. David Fincher’s murder thriller Gone Girl — the highest-grossing title of his career with $166.7M — would be nothing less than an R given its content and fierce suspense. Same can be said about the raunchy comedy Neighbors ($150.2M); making it anything less than R would erode its hysterical edge.
If you released an action film last year, then you were part of a prosperous trend as the genre accounted for $3.9B of the U.S./Canada B.O. last year (Jan. 1 – Dec. 31), according to stats supplied by Rentrak Theatrical. And not only were action pics the dominant genre, but they also saw a rise of 9% over 2013 thanks to such comic book titles such as Guardians Of The Galaxy ($332.9M) and YA action novel adaptations such as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 ($323.9M) attracting moviegoers. In more good news, such sub-genres as sci-fi, comic book-sourced films and YA novel adaptations all saw across-the-board B.O. spikes. Fueled by such titles as Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and Interstellar, and of course, Guardians and Mockingjay-Part 1, sci-fi titles were a prime draw totaling $1.77B, up 24% from a year ago.
Comic-book films are far from jumping the shark, single-handedly proven by Marvel’s offbeat title Guardians, with the sub-genre grossing $1.65B, also up 24% from 2013. While 2014 was void of DC titles such as 2013’s Man Of Steel, Marvel-sourced comic books — and not just the titles handled by Disney, but Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Fox’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past — accounted for 75% of the annual haul. The biggest misfire in terms of comic-book films last year was owned by Dimension’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For which cost an estimated $65M and finaled at $13.8M stateside. Despite a big push for the film at Comic-Con, fans of the 2005 Sin City which made $74M stateside and $158.8M worldwide (off a $40M budget) just didn’t turn out.
In addition, YA Novel feature adaptations saw an uptick of 19% for a grand total of $754.7M — and this was in a year when Mockingjay-Part 1 didn’t lag behind 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ($424.7M) by 24%. While Catching Fire dominated 2013’s total YA haul of $632.6M by 67%; Mockingjay-Part 1 only repped 43% which means that the marketplace expanded, with frosh franchises including Divergent ($150.9M) and The Mazerunner ($102.1M) showing their teeth.
Drama films made $1.74B dipping 7% from a year ago, buoyed by such dramatic films as Interstellar ($182.8M), Gone Girl ($166.7M) and Angelina Jolie’s World War II epic Unbroken ($88M).
Comedies were the third-most-popular genre at the box office with $1.7B, though down 9%. The difference year-on-year was that 2014 only boasted three mass $100M+ grossers: 22 Jump Street ($191.7M), Neighbors ($150.2M) — both films were the top grossing R-rated films of the year — and Ride Along ($134.9M). The year before saw eight titles, led by the Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy combo The Heat ($159.6M). Big product that should have worked, and didn’t, includes Universal’s Seth MacFarlane’s all-star Western spoof A Million Ways To Die In The West ($43.1M), which critics at 33% Rotten on the Tomato Meter refused to believe was the second coming of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles; and Warner Bros/New Line’s low-budget Horrible Bosses 2, which didn’t seem to offer up anything more than the first installment (the sequel even had less scenes with Jennifer Aniston’s sex-driven dentist character, a surefire magnet for laughs. While Sony’s $40M-budgeted Sex Tape did well overseas with $87.5M, it fell far short stateside with $38.5M, making less than Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel’s previous R-rated summer comedy Bad Teacher ($100.3M).
Diaz did see a high with the year’s highest-grossing romantic comedy, Fox’s The Other Woman ($83.9M). With a decent budget of $40M, the film kicked ass around the globe making $196.6M. While romantic comedies saw a huge surge of 141% with $226.8M at the domestic B.O., note that the genre has been broken for a while at the multiplex. Fewer studios have committed to them on annual basis vs. 2009 when four films racked up total cumes between $89M-$164M: The Proposal, It’s Complicated, He’s Just Not That Into You and The Ugly Truth. Romantic comedies began to suffer from poor release strategies, inaccurate marketing campaigns sending the wrong message, and just sheer over-budgeting (2010’s $120M-costing bomb How Do You Know ($30.2M). Fox found a prime window in the early summer corridor of late April to unspool Other Woman, unopposed by any other female-demo film, and notched first place during that weekend with a great $24.8M bow.
If anything, indie distribs are tackling romantic comedies, ideally ones which break formula-form — read Focus Features’ guy relationship film That Awkward Moment at $26M (cost estimated $8M), not to mention black ensemble titles such as About Last Night (cost $12.5M, domestic B.O. $48.6M). Adds another talent agency insider, “There aren’t any studios that are panicking that romantic comedies are dead. They’ve just given way to more sophisticated romantic films like The Fault In Our Stars or in previous years, Silver Linings Playbook.”
Animation films with $1.2B, came in as the fourth-highest-grossing genre, down 34%, with five titles The LEGO Movie ($257.8M), Big Hero 6 ($211.2M), How To Train Your Dragon 2 ($177M), Rio 2 ($131.5M) and Mr. Peabody And Sherman ($111.5M) being the top titles. In 2013, there were six titles, but two of ’em played to uber- wide-appealing success: Disney’s Frozen ($400.7M) and Despicable Me 2 ($368.1M). The missing link this year: there was no Pixar release on the schedule. The studios released the same number of wide animation releases — 11 — each year.
Horror films made $330M led by Warner Bros./New Line’s Annabelle ($84.3M) and Universal’s Blumhouse sequel The Purge: Anarchy ($72M). Essentially, two fewer wide releases and the lack of a mass breakout hit like 2013’s The Conjuring ($137.4M) is why slashers were down close to 40%.