With the year coming to a close, let's take a look at how the animated batch did this year...
Dr. Seuss' The Lorax - Easily the most surprising and befuddling animated box office success of the year. Yes, the highest grossing Dr. Seuss film did gross over $200 million (How The Grinch Stole Christmas), but it didn't seem like The Lorax would get anywhere near that amount since it looked derivative from the trailers and turned out to be a very derivative film. Also add in the fact that several animated films in 2011 had unspectacular opening weekends and that the last animated Dr. Seuss adaptation (Horton Hears a Who!) didn't hit $200 million. It was suggested by some that animation was in a bit of a rut in 2011. I just think last year didn't really offer any "must-see" events, or the good stuff was a little too out of reach for audiences (i.e. Rango)
However, I've been thinking now that these kinds of family films are "the thing" now. Meaning, family films that are really more for kids than anything, but ones they drag their unfortunate parents to. I mean, explain why Yogi Bear pulled the ridiculously good multiplier that it did, and why The Smurfs did so well. These kinds of movies are hot at the moment, which is too bad, the good stuff should be making money. Worldwide, it didn't really sail. Horton Hears a Who! was no smash worldwide either, so this gross was expected, even with the film being in 3D and IMAX 3D. It made a nice $348 million worldwide. It cost almost nothing for Illumination, so it's a big success for them and everyone else involved.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits - Time and time again, I find myself wondering why stop-motion animation films have such a difficult time at the American box office. Sometimes I blame inept marketing, other times I believe it's because the subject matter in some of the films isn't really mainstream or conventional. The Pirates! Band of Misfits, I believe, suffered from both. Though I analyzed the overall box office performance earlier this year, I thought I'd address this point as well.
To a casual American moviegoer, The Pirates! would look undesirable, even if Columbia didn't market it the way they did. Not just because it's stop-motion, but because it comes off as a weird pirate film and American audiences are not truly accustomed to the animation medium to begin with. After the big budget spectacle of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, who would want to see this kind of film? Outside of us animation fans and those who are knowledgable about Aardman and the book series, no one would really. Of course, in a world where tons of adults shun animation, you really need to have something in your animated film that will interest adults from the get-go. The Pirates! really had no chance, being from a studio that makes quirky animated films that just don't seem to catch on here in America.
Of course, the folks at Aardman's home country were charitable. The Pirates! was a hit in the UK, and it did well enough all around the world. It did double its minimal budget of $55 million, so it's a moderate success for the studio. It certainly did better (profit-wise) than their last feature, Arthur Christmas. The optimist in me, however, hoped that the film would've made more dough in the states. Releasing this (a 3D film no less) right before The Avengers was an incredibly stupid move from Columbia. If released earlier in the month, it could've had time to get good legs and make more than the paltry $31 million it ended up making. Stop-motion really needs to take off in the domestic market.
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted - Given the dwindling opening weekend totals of the DreamWorks films and the lackluster reception Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa got from audiences, I was expecting this to open with a very low total (in the $30 million range), but I guess all that colorful pizazz and singing zebra action really got people hyped for the film. Opening with $60 million, it had very good word of mouth and became the series' highest-grossing installment. Good thing too, for I believe it is the best of the series and a good film overall.
The film also broke $200 million, ensuring us animation fans that the $200 million benchmark would be reached more than once after a year where no feature did so. Over $700 million worldwide? DreamWorks certainly played their cards right with this film, and it was a much-needed super-hit for them.
Brave - I was certain that this would cross $200 million, and it did. Cars 2 only missed it by a hair, so I felt Brave would have no problem clearing that. Plus with the reception it got, it was bound to happen. It opened well (Over $60 million is the usual for a Pixar film) and had very good word of mouth, though it was more on the level of WALL-E than something like Ratatouille or Up. That being said, it is currently this year's highest grossing animated film domestically and will most likely keep that title.
Worldwide... What happened? I was thinking that this kind of fantasy film (not to mention 3D) would do Up numbers (i.e. over $400 million) overseas. Guess I was dead wrong. After all, How to Train Your Dragon grossed around the same amount. Over $500 million is good for any animated film, but it's not a monstrous total. But again, it's a big success for Pixar, once again.
Ice Age: Continental Drift - Looking at Shrek Forever After and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I knew this fourth installment in the series would dip and make the lowest total in the franchise domestically. It sure did, but $161 million is still good enough for Blue Sky. Worldwide, it exploded. We all saw that one coming. $875 million. Biggest animated film at the box office this year, and one of the biggest of all time. Are you not surprised?
ParaNorman - Like Coraline and other stop-motion films, ParaNorman only opened with a small amount. Word of mouth seemed to be great, the film pulled a 3.9x multiplier, the biggest this year so far for animated film. Again, another masterful stop-motion film has underperformed overall. Worldwide? It didn't make much of a mark, sadly. With $99 million overall, it looks like ParaNorman isn't much of a success. It didn't double its $60 million budget. Shame, but Laika will prevail.
Hotel Transylvania - Unlike the two other spooky-themed animated films released this year, Hotel Transylvania was certainly very mainstream and accessible. ParaNorman and Frankenweenie were not mainstream and are overall films that aren't entirely suitable for an audience that wants a specific kind of animated film presented to them (unless it's Pixar making the film). This on the other hand was perfect for casual moviegoers with its star-studded cast, appealing animation and funny jokes. Yes, it's been made clear many times: American audiences would rather see an animated film like this, and not something truly creative or daring like ParaNorman.
It is currently Sony Pictures Animation's biggest film domestically with $143 million and a healthy $308 million take worldwide. The budget? Only $85 million. Again, Sony Animation knows how to make a profit much like Blue Sky and Illumination.
Frankenweenie - Despite some pushy marketing from Disney, this Tim Burton stop-motion critical darling just couldn't do it. It opened low like every other stop-motion film and crept its way up to the mid-$30 million range. Its current worldwide total is $66 million, but that isn't enough to double the $39 million budget. It opens in a few more territories in the next few weeks, so who knows at this rate. Again, another stop-motion film has underperformed.
Wreck-It Ralph - Opening with a strong $49 million (though I had hoped it would've opened with more, but Hurricane Sandy affected the box office somewhat), Wreck-It Ralph was on its way to really wreck the box office. It has done very well so far, it's looking like it'll end up somewhere around $180-$190 million. How come it will fall short of $200 million? With the buzz it has been getting, why won't in reach it? How come it couldn't outgross Tangled?
The final worldwide total is too early to tell, since other countries haven't gotten the film yet (the latest arrival will be in Japan, in March). It's not really making a stir in most countries, but it's got the chance to add a good $200 million overseas and help the great Walt Disney Animation Studios film crack $400 million worldwide. With a $165 million budget, Disney will have a success on their hands if it makes that much. It should, a lot of effort went into it and it better get what it deserves.
Rise of the Guardians - What happened? Well, I looked into it and it seemed like another case where it was a combination of bad things. However, Rise of the Guardians has scored some impressive legs and word of mouth. It should at least hit $100 million by the time it is out of theaters here in the states. Worldwide, it's doing steadily but not spectacularly. Around $300 million seems to be the final amount for this film, which is good but not as much as DreamWorks' films usually do worldwide. It's no flop, but it's no big success.
Overall, this was certainly a better year than last year. It wasn't, however, an excellent year like 2009 or 2010. Three films hit $200 million stateside, proving that feature animation can still thrive with mass audiences despite a rather dry year behind it. But it wasn't without disappointments: Rise of the Guardians underperforming was certainly a shock to the animation community, and while it was expected, it was still a bit discouraging to see ParaNorman, Frankenweenie and The Pirates! not doing too well. I was hoping for some sort of stop-motion revolution this year since Coraline was able to do well enough three years back, but alas it did not happen.
Another thing that irks me is that something so obviously commercial like The Lorax could open so high ($70 million) and easily coast to $200 million stateside. Brave did the usual for a Pixar film, though I was hoping it would perform like Up, but this didn't earn the very strong word of mouth that film got. Worldwide, it did well but it was no titan. I guess that was going to happen, like I said earlier. Madagascar 3's success, I felt was deserved, since it was a quality film. I'd take a "good" loud/busy/obnoxious movie over a bad one. Nothing wrong with a busy, chaotic animated film done right. Ice Age's performance, I'm happy with, it shows that people are slowly getting tired of the franchise here in the states. While I'm happy to see Wreck-It Ralph doing well, I was hoping it would crush Brave at the box office being the year's best. Oh well...
What box office performance surprised you this year? What did you predict for these films? Did they match your predictions? Sound off!