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Box Office Comment
August-October 2013

It’s been more than a couple of months, so it's about time to compare my spurious beginning of year speculations with the current state of play.

First: animation. Despicable Me 2 has far exceeded anyone’s greatest expectations, nearly doubling the worldwide gross of its predecessor. It now stands as the all-time fifth most popular animated film ever (not adjusting for inflation), behind Toy Story 3, The Lion King, Finding Nemo and (ahem) Shrek 2. If the latter is any guide to a sequel making huge gains on the back of an original’s word-of-mouth, a tumble for Me 3 could be in order. It’s in a comfortable second place for the year, and the only serious competition now is likely to come from The Hunger Games sequel (Desolation of Smaug’s gross will drift into 2014). As an aside, who would have expected, even given its phenomenal growth as a franchise, Fast & Furious 6 to end up in third place for the year? It currently gets to spot on the podium.

If Universal is smiling, DreamWorks certainly isn’t. Turbo languises at the bottom of their animation ladder. It’s been seven years since a DreamWorks animation performed this badly; even Megamind and Rise of the Guardians made nearly $100m more than Turbo. Planes, a non-Pixar Pixar spin-off, has proved a cheapish mid-sized hit for Disney; $200m worldwide on a $50m budget (the bottom end of my expectations, but the animated market had become exhausted by the time of its August release). Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (these imaginative sequel titles, eh?) has come in broadly as expected; it will peter out around $110-120m US (I predicted $120m max). It’s still unspooling internationally.  The next serious animated contender comes at the end of November, however (Disney’s Frozen, with advance word strong enough that my top-end guess of $600m worldwide may turn out to be conservative), Consequently, Cloudy may have an artificially extended lifespan.

The Young Adult arena encountered its latest flop (odds are firmly stacked against any new contender at this point). The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones has barely scraped $80m worldwide (my shot in the dark was $200m, so if I’ll take helping of face-egg). This hasn’t put the kibosh on a recently announced sequel, though. Perhaps Screen Gems has taken inspiration from the low-key success of Percy Jackson, whose sequel was commissioned on the back of a middling $220m worldwide gross (very far from being the next Harry Potter). Three years later, a $190m gross doesn’t look too too bad, and echoes the way Narnia has struggled valiantly onwards despite general indifference (a fourth installment is going ahead).

The other young persons’ movie of note is Carrie. “Serious” moviemaker Kimberly Peirce promised a female perspective on De Palma’s button-pushing original (one of the few Stephen King classic adaptations) but no one seems to have cared. The result is yet another for-the-sake-of-it horror remake that will no doubt make its budget back but no one will cite as a big hit (I estimated a high end of $100m worldwide, and it may be lucky to see that much). Insidious Chapter 2 is the other horror of consequence. James Wan has been a bit greedy this year, as The Conjuring has become one of those rare breakout horror hits ($300m-plus worldwide). Insidious 2 won’t be knocking at its door, but has bested the original by some margin (at $83m US it has taken $20m more than my estimate).

Other August releases met with expectations. 2 Guns, at $122m worldwide, is in slap in the middle of my guess. Elysium, at $280m neared my top end prediction of $300m (I didn’t expect the film itself to be quite so flimsy, though). Paranoia flopped horrendously; $7m globally on a $35m budget; far from my $60m suggestion. The World’s End, meanwhile, has generally disappointed despite an ardent defence from Pegg/Wright devotees that “No, it can’t possibly be anything other than their best most mature work etc” (hey, I dearly wanted it to be great). At $46m worldwide it has barely scraped half of my low-end $80m prediction, but I based that on Hot Fuzz more than doubling Shaun of the Dead’s $30m.

Into September, and Riddick has done enough business ($93m on a $38m budget) that a fourth may transpire before another decade passes. Just as long as Vin and Twohy keep those purse strings tightened. My worldwide high-end prediction was $110m, so it’s done as expected.

Serious dramas have had mixed receptions. Generally strong reviews for Prisoners have seen it top my $70m WW guess; it now stands at $92m but I don’t see it getting more than another $20m. At $46m that’s a reasonable result, but not one that encourages such mid-range spending. In contrast, Runner Runner has received stinky reviews. International is currently double its US gross, but $55m ($30m budget) is nothing to shout about, not when you have star-reborn Ben Affleck starring. I guessed $80m tops, and it’s unlikely to scrape that.

The other drama release of note in this vein is little Ronnie Howard’s Rush. I expected a tepid response in the US, although $25m falls well below the bottom end $40m I though it could achieve. But I also thought it would do much better than it has internationally. $72m WW is close to doubling its budget, but it must be half what everyone was hoping for. Luc Besson’s dramedy The Family was roundly dismissed by critics, so its £36m US gross ain’t so bad ($30m budget; Besson-produced movies tend to come in cheap).

In the last few weeks Arnie and Sly have yet again proved their non-Expendables bankruptcy with Escape Plan. At $27m worldwide currently, it will probably double that but I had expected at least $75m. Action-wise, it appears that they’re out to pasture unless they’re in an ensemble.

Which leaves the success stories. Captain Phillips came in on a (for Greengrass) budget, which it has already met in its US gross. It may not trouble $100m there; indeed, it may not trouble $160m worldwide, but it should count as a reasonably successful picture. There’s always the chance of an Oscar boost centring on Hanks’ performance.

Gravity that has really shone, though. $290m worldwide in three weeks was as much as I expected from its entire run. It has become that rarest of beasts, a 3D event movie. There hasn’t really been one like this since Avatar opened the floodgates four years ago. There’s also the fact that audiences are responding to Alfonso Cuaron’s tense filmmaking of course, but the visuals are casting a spell that hasn’t been seen since Cameron’s movie. As for how much it can make, any estimate seems conservative now.

Then there are the pictures I failed to acknowledge at the beginning of the year. Instructions Not Included has become the US’s fourth biggest foreign language film ever. It sounds like a Spielberg-produced effort but it’s one of those father-daughter comedies that will likely inspire an unnecessary English language remakes. Lee Daniels’ The Butler grossed a whopping $114m US; international is a 10th of that. Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, despite not being one of his funnies, stands at $50m WW; further evidence of his late-late career return to bankability (in the US he hasn’t seen this kind of success since the ‘80s).

Upcoming.  I had no expectations for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, but it seems like it will be a big hit (in the US at least). As for The Counselor; great trailer, studded with stars, everyone says it stinks. Most of Ridley Scott’s films whiff a bit these days, but this one smells like a festering turkey.

So, November.

Can Ender’s Game hit big (I’m very doubtful), Last Vegas pull the old crowd (again…), Free Birds prove an animated surprise success (a minor one, perhaps), Thor catch the Avengers effect (a little, but nothing near Iron Man Three levels), Delivery Man turn Vince Vaughn’s dried-up tide (I’ll say no), Catching Fire trump The Hunger Games (undoubtedly, we’re talking $1bn-troubling here), Frozen warm family audiences’ hearts (yes), Homefront give the Stat another soon-to-be rental (is there any other way?) and Oldboy justify itself as a remake (maybe, but getting anyone to go see it is another matter)?

And December.

The Hobbit 2 will perform as expected, Tyler Perry goes to the Xmas movie well finally (not that anyone outside the US gives a damn), Anchorman wonders if all that cult success will translate (I’d be very surprised if it works some Austin Powers sequel magic), 47 Ronin fights the bad buzz  (it will be a miracle if it salvages itself, but I wish it well), Walter Mitty disappointingly appears to have gone the route of Forrest Gumping inspirational sentimentalisational so may become a monster, while Grudge Match’s chances are 50-50 (if it’s actually funny, it could do extremely well).

There are also the smaller rollouts with January wide releases in mind. Saving Mr. Banks may be feel-good fare with a sprinkling of Tom Hanks, but I reckon Oscar nods are needed to really make a box office dent. Also iffy without awards talk are American Hustle, The Book Thief and (especially) Inside Llewyn Davis.

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