Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 12-24-12

“The Dark Knight Rises”

“The Dark Knight Rises”

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

“The Hunger Games”

“The Hunger Games”

Heavy hitters: The year’s not over yet, but we already know who did best at the 2012 boxoffice.

All 10 of this year’s top grossing movies cracked $200 million in domestic theatrical ticket sales and only one of December’s new releases has a chance of doing as well by year’s end. That film is “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which has grossed about $150 million (including nearly $37 million last weekend).

With big Christmas through New Year’s ticket sales on the horizon, its cume will grow. But “Hobbit” must do $64 million-plus through Dec. 31 in order to push its way into 10th place on the Heavy Hitters list. That’s what it will take to beat the $214 million grossed by the current number 10 title “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.”

That won’t be easy, but it’s possible because moviegoing expands a lot over the holidays. In fact, the Christmas through New Year’s week is one of Hollywood’s biggest boxoffice times of the year.

Because “Hobbit” is a long film with a running time of 169 minutes, it could benefit from people being able to make that much time available after Christmas because they no longer have shopping and partying competing for their attention.

Also in “Hobbit’s” favor is that many people seeking a film the entire family can see together will regard it as suitable for family viewing despite its PG-13 rating. While the holiday marketplace is crowded with films, the only PG title in last weekend’s Top Five is the 3D animated “Rise of the Guardians” from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount. Families with older kids could gravitate to “Hobbit” while those with younger kids opt for “Guardians.”

Of the films presently in release, two others are already safely in the year’s Top Ten. Summit Entertainment’s franchise ending episode “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2” is presently fourth and “Skyfall,” the latest James Bond franchise episode from MGM, Danjac and Eon Productions released through Columbia Pictures, is fifth. They’re only about $1.6 million apart right now and with “Skyfall” showing much greater strength than “Dawn” this late in their runs, “Skyfall’s” likely to wind up finishing fourth.

Of the year’s Top Ten hits, five were in 3D and benefited from premium priced ticket sales. The year’s six biggest films were rated PG-13 while three titles were rated PG and only one was rated R. Three of the hits were animated features released in 3D. Three were comic book driven adventures and two were fantasy adventures driven by best-selling book trilogies.

Six of the Top Ten were franchise episodes or involved characters from other franchises and one title was an original launching a new franchise. There were two animated originals and one live action original. Six of the titles were summer or pre-summer openings while two opened in March and two opened in November.

Here’s a look back at what did best at the boxoffice in 2012 with some thoughts about what accounts for their success.

(1) There was only one 600 pound boxoffice gorilla this year and it was Disney’s release of “The Avengers” from Marvel Studios in association with Paramount Pictures.

The comic book driven PG-13 3D fantasy action adventure was directed by Joss Whedon, who at the time was best known for his uncredited directing of the post-credits scene in “Thor.” Starring are Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson.

“Avengers’” blockbuster success was no surprise. Hollywood saw it coming and competing studios stayed out of its way when it kicked off the pre-summer season May 4. After opening to $207.4 million, “Avengers” wound up grossing $623.4 million domestically.

Clearly, “Avengers’” storyline featuring high profile Marvel comic book and movie characters like Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk and Thor resonated not just with fanboys, but with everybody. Although “Avengers” was technically an original film, it benefited from feeling like a well established brand since its principal characters were all high profile movie brands.

Moreover, the timing was right for a large scale movie delivering great entertainment. That’s an advantage early May openings have because after a winter season of bleak Oscar contender dramas and an unexciting early spring typically driven by lower profile films, moviegoers are ready to see something that’s BIG and exciting. “Avengers” was just what the doctor ordered and it managed to stay in theatres all the way through early October.

(2) It was a long way down to second place on 2012’s top grossing chart where Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures and DC Entertainment’s PG-13 fantasy action crime drama “The Dark Knight Rises” finished with $448.1 million. The film’s July 20 opening to $160.9 million was negatively impacted by tragic shootings in a Colorado movie theatre that frightened moviegoers everywhere and may have kept some of them from going to the multiplexes for a while.

Directed by Christopher Nolan (“Inception”), it was the concluding episode in Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy and starred Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway. Like “Avengers,” “Rises” is a comic book driven movie with well established roots on the screen and, therefore, was a brand name well known to moviegoers. When it comes to movie marketing, familiarity almost always breeds ticket sales.

(3) Third place on the year’s chart went to another brand name PG-13 fantasy action adventure. Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games” came in third with a sizzling hot $408 million after opening Mar. 23 to $152.5 million. Directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”), it was based on and driven by the first book in the best selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins, who also co-wrote its screenplay with Ross and Billy Ray. Starring are: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.

Just as Summit Entertainment – which is now owned by Lionsgate – turned Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight Saga” book trilogy into a blockbuster movie franchise, Lionsgate put the same formula to work with “Games.”

Springboarding off the visibility Collins’ “Games” novels had enjoyed with under-25 females, Summit created and brilliantly marketed a screen trilogy to bring those books to life. The audience base for both the “Twilight” and “Games” franchises expanded greatly because people who hadn’t read the books became aware through intense media coverage about the phenomenal interest there was in the films.

(4) Summit Entertainment’s PG-13 fantasy adventure “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2” is 2012’s number four film at this writing. However, it’s likely to slip one notch since the present fifth ranking film, “Skyfall,” is outperforming it in theatres now and should overtake it soon.

“Dawn 2” opened Nov. 16 to $141.1 million and has grossed about $281.9 million through last weekend. Directed by Bill Condon (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1”), it stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.

“Dawn 2” benefited from the media frenzy sparked by the KStew/RPatz cheating scandal. While the global fascination with who did what to whom and who was or wasn’t hurt certainly didn’t hurt “Dawn 2” at the boxoffice, it’s safe to say it would have enjoyed blockbuster ticket sales anyway. As the concluding episode in a wildly successful franchise, it was a not-to-be missed film just the way Warner Bros.’ final “Harry Potter” episode, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” was in 2011.

(5) Through last weekend “Skyfall,” the 23rd James Bond franchise episode from MGM, Danjac and Eon Productions, is the year’s fifth ranking boxoffice hit. The Columbia Pictures release should move past fourth ranking “Dawn 2” since 007 is packing more boxoffice punch at this late point in the game.

Directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), the PG-13 action adventure stars Daniel Craig in his third turn as Bond, Javier Bardem as the villain Silva and Judi Dench as M, around whom the film’s storyline revolves. The film’s enviable 92 percent fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes reflects the critical acclaim Mendes has achieved. Mendes, who won the best directing Oscar in 2000 for “American Beauty,” is the first Academy Award winner to helm a Bond film in the franchise’s 50 year history.

Driven by glowing reviews as well as the Bond franchise’s well established brand, “Skyfall” opened Nov. 9 to $88.4 million and through last weekend has grossed about $280.3 million. It should add nicely to that cume this week as moviegoing expands during the Christmas through New Year’s holiday period.

(6) Columbia Pictures and Marvel Enterprises' PG-13 action adventure 3D fantasy “The Amazing Spider-Man” ranks sixth for the year. After opening July 3 to $62 million, it went on to do $262 million.

Directed by Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”), this re-boot of the blockbuster “Spider-Man” franchise – whose three titles directed by Sam Raimi and starring Toby Maguire grossed $1.1 billion in domestic theatres between 2002 and 2007 – starred Andrew Garfield as Spidey, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans.

Although “Amazing” didn’t generate the same domestic boxoffice firepower that the original Spidey trilogy did — $403.7 for the 2002 original “Spider-Man,” $373.6 million for “Spider-Man 2” in 2004 and $336.5 million for “Spider-Man 3” in 2007 – it did work well enough to keep the franchise alive. The series’ next episode is scheduled for release in 3D May 2, 2014.

(7) Disney and Pixar’s PG 3D animated action adventure “Brave” is the year’s seventh biggest grossing film. “Brave” arrived to $66.3 million June 22 and ended up doing $237.2 million.

Directed by first time feature director Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman (“The Prince of Egypt”), “Brave” was co-directed by co-screenwriter Steve Purcell. Its voice stars include Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson.

There had been speculation that “Brave” would have limited boxoffice appeal because young boys wouldn’t be interested in its storyline about a Scottish princess, but that didn’t prove to be the case. When “Brave” came into the marketplace it faced competition for family audiences from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s 3D animated “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” which was then in its third week. “Brave” easily captured first place and by the end of their runs had outgrossed “Madagascar 3” by nearly $21 million.

(8) Universal and Media Rights Capital’s comedy “Ted” is number eight for the year and is the only R rated film in the Top Ten. After opening June 29 to a surprisingly strong $54.4 million, it wound up with $219.7 million.

Directed by first time feature director Seth MacFarlane, who was best known then for creating and writing the hit TV series “Family Guy,” it starred Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and MacFarlane as the voice of the cigar smoking foul-mouthed Teddy Bear.

Originally, “Ted” wasn’t going to open until July 13, but when Paramount announced May 23 that was moving “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” from June 29 to Mar. 29, 2013, Universal immediately moved to take over “G.I. Joe’s” valuable June 29 real estate. Putting the adult comedy into the marketplace then turned out to be great counterprogramming and gave it more summer playing time to enjoy.

(9) DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s PG 3D animated adventure “Madagascar 3” is the year’s ninth biggest grossing release. It opened June 8 to $60.3 million and ultimately did $216.4 million.

Directed by Eric Darnell (“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”), Tom McGrath (“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”) and Conrad Vernon (“Monsters vs. Aliens”), it features such voice talents as Ben Stiller and Chris Rock.

“Madagascar 3” benefited from being the latest episode in a family appeal franchise whose first two titles grossed $376.6 million in domestic theatres. It also had the advantage of an early June launch giving it playability throughout the summer season when its target audience of youngsters was out of school. By comparison, the previous episode in its franchise, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” opened Nov. 7, 2008 to $63.1 million, but only managed to get to $180 million over the fall and winter months when kids are mostly in school.

(10) March came in not as a lion, but as a Lorax with the Mar. 2 opening of Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment’s PG 3D animated family fantasy “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” which rounds out the year’s Top Ten grossing hits, but could be nudged out of that spot if (see above) “Hobbit” can crank out $64 million-plus in ticket sales through Dec. 31.

“Lorax” kicked off to $70.2 million Mar. 2 and finished its run with $214 million. Directed by Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”) and first time feature director Kyle Balda, it starred such voices as Zac Efron, Taylor Swift and Danny DeVito.

Bottom line: When the boxoffice dust settles Dec. 31, Hollywood will be celebrating 2012 as a record-setting year with about $10.8 billion in grosses.