Looking back on a record-breaking year at the domestic box office, 2012 showed itself to be a year of extremes. The hits and misses were big and plentiful, while overseas B.O. shares for certain pics grew exponentially and admissions saw a much-needed uptick, despite a boom in premium-priced moviegoing.
Yearly Stateside totals reached $10.8 billion, 2% ahead of 2009’s $10.6 billion domestic record and 6% better than 2011, at $10.2 billion total. Ticket sales, which hit roughly 1.36 billion, also outpaced 2011 by approximately 6%, making it the biggest admissions bump in more than a decade and proving that the film biz’s growth doesn’t only spring from ticket price inflation.
International box office also should see a new record, as it’s tracking ahead of the $22.4 billion record set in 2011.
The record-setting pace that defined 2012 began as early as the first weekend in January, with the micro-budgeted $100 million worldwide grosser “The Devil Inside.” A slew of equally profitable and solid performers (think “Safe House,” “Chronicle” and “The Vow”) followed, preceding box office giant “The Hunger Games,” which went on to earn more than $686 million globally.
The beat goes on: Before Lionsgate said goodbye to its mega-grossing “Twilight” franchise, the studio, which ranked above Fox and Paramount for the first time in studio market share, welcomed its “Hunger Games” franchise — destined to be a major B.O. boon for the next three years.
“We anticipate ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise to grow proportionally as the ‘Twilight’ franchise did,” said Lionsgate distribution topper Richie Fay.
In the shadow of the Aurora shootings last summer, Warner Bros. wrapped its multibillion-dollar franchise — Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy — before kickstarting another major film series with “The Hobbit,” whose first installment, “An Unexpected Journey,” has earned nearly $700 million worldwide in less than three weeks.
Avenging Disney: While plans for a “John Carter” franchise fell flat, the folks in Burbank more than redeemed themselves just a few months later, when “The Avengers” became the biggest domestic opening ever and went on to cume $1.5 billion worldwide — the third-highest grossing film ever and this year’s first of three billion-dollar pics, which also includes “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Skyfall.”
Disney wasn’t the only studio to feel a bit bruised this year, however.
Universal suffered a significant setback with its big-budget misfire “Battleship,” though the studio rebounded remarkably well with franchise kickstarter, “Ted” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” as well as series reboot “The Bourne Legacy.”
“I think the consistency in the slate’s performance is the one thing that stood out,” said U domestic distribution topper Nikki Rocco. “Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley really put together a slate that delivered.”
Fanboy and family muscle: The year’s top two earners, “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” received plenty of support from other fanboy films, including a top-notch Sony trio — “Skyfall,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Men in Black 3” — along with such toons as Disney’s “Brave” and “Wreck-It Ralph” and the final two DreamWorks Animation pics distributed by Paramount, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” and “Rise of the Guardians.”
Meanwhile, Fox’s fourth “Ice Age” installment, “Continental Drift,” displayed the kind of international legs rarely seen, earning more than 80% of its $875 million global tally — the highest of any toon — from overseas plexes.
Another oversized overseas grosser, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” proved that a film can succeed without support from families or fanboys, but rather by appealing to an increasingly sought-after demographic: over-50s. “Marigold” eventually more than doubled its $46 million domestic cume internationally.
Technical extremes: From high-frame-rate to 70mm screenings, 2012 embraced a range of technological advancements (and throwbacks) to entice filmgoers. Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” became the first film to be released in 48fps. And while the jury is still out on the fledgling format, other filmmakers such as James Cameron have vowed to use the technology in the future.
On the flipside, visionary helmer Paul Thomas Anderson used old-school 70mm film prints to help eventize indie hit “The Master,” as did Ron Fricke’s docu “Samsara.”
With 3D continuing to plateau, Imax became an even bigger player in the tentpole business this year. In fact, the mega-screen exhib partnered in some capacity (either domestically or abroad) on eight of the year’s top 10 films. The company already has 17 films slated for this year, including some of the most anticipated titles such as “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Man of Steel,” “Oblivion” and “The Hunger Games” sequel, “Catching Fire.”
An altered distribution landscape: As technology and overseas prospects continue to influence filmmaking from the ground up, distribution execs are faced with more challenges dating films theatrically.
For instance, Warner Bros. launched “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” nearly a month early internationally; Universal did the same with “Battleship,” a strategy that was meant to distance the pic from “The Avengers,” which also bowed overseas before the U.S.
The Olympics and the Euro soccer tourney also threw a wrench in overseas dating last summer.
And domestically, numerous calendar shuffles impacted studios’ bottom lines, especially Paramount, which moved two tentpoles — “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” — to 2013, leaving gaps in its own slate and allowing pics like “Ted” to benefit from of a longer summer play period.
VOD phones home: Even though premium video-on-demand still has leagues to go with the majors, the format made great strides last year with the indies, proving to be a viable release model — either with pre-theatrical or day-and-date releases.
The biggest VOD success story to date is Roadside Attractions’ Richard Gere starrer “Arbitrage,” which made $11 million on VOD vs. $7.9 million theatrically. Also helping move the needle, the Weinstein Co. founded new label Radius-TWC last year that focuses entirely on managing alternative releases.
In regards to PVOD and its effect on theatrical windows, Rocco noted, “We have hope, as a studio, that the two can coexist. Still, I think that exhibition did a very good job this past year to help reinvigorate the market place with new theaters that satisfy adult audiences.”