JANUARY JOY -- 1/1/16


 January joy: Despite setting a domestic boxoffice record for 2016, behind the scenes Hollywood's not jumping for joy as January gets underway.

To begin with, the modest increase of about 2.2 percent over 2015 – roughly $11.37 billion vs. $11.13 billion – was driven by higher ticket prices rather than by a jump in admissions. On top of that, it wasn't a particularly good year for most distributors since all that boxoffice gold really wasn't spread around very much.

Moreover, about $285 million of 2016's boxoffice total came from ticket sales for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which was a late 2015 release. After opening Dec. 18, 2015, "Force" continued playing in theatres through May 30, 2016.

In 2016, moviegoers hit the multiplexes in a big way for only a handful of must-see family films and brand name fantasy action adventures. They were perfectly happy to skip the theatrical experience for many other films and wait to see them at home on Netflix a few months later at no additional cost.

It was easier than ever in 2016 for people to figure out what is and isn't worth the high price of moviegoing. Critics, whose ability to influence ticket sales used to be limited mostly to Oscar contender dramas, suddenly found themselves more powerful than ever. That's not because people went back to reading reviews. Newspaper circulation has plummeted and many critics were dropped during waves of cost cutting.

The surviving critics' rise in influence relates to online review based aggregate percentage scores that make it easy for people to instantly decide what not to see. People no longer need to read a review. They know that low percentage scores mean stay home.

Aggregator scores based on reviews are particularly appealing to millennials, a key moviegoing demo that continued to erode last year. Millennials are very heavy users of mobile and online services and make a point of checking out review percentage scores before they buy movie tickets. They're also known for using social media to spread the word instantly about what films to see or avoid.

Hollywood marketers face big challenges when it comes to retaining the millennial audience. Increasingly, these young adults are skipping theatrical movies to watch at home or on their smartphones user generated videos on YouTube and recent movies on Netflix.

What people are most willing to pay to see today are big brand franchise episodes in 3D, IMAX and PLF (premium large format) or  originals that are familiar because they're spinoffs of successful series or related creatively to earlier hits. That's why so many movie marketing campaigns now point out that a film is "from the creators of" or "from the team behind" some earlier hit. Creators can mean directors or producers or writers or some hybrid combination of talents associated with a past success that people recognize.

All of 2016's Top Ten grossing films fall into the "familiar" arena in one way or another so it's not surprising that moviegoers were willing to commit time and money to see them in theatres.

Nine of the 10 were shown in 3D with premium priced tickets that boosted their grosses and, in turn, helped make 2016 a record setting boxoffice year.

The top five titles included four from Disney and one from Universal. The next five films on the list included two more from Disney, two from Warner Bros. and one from 20th Century Fox ("Deadpool," which actually was made in association with Disney's Marvel Entertainment). Neither Sony's Columbia nor Viacom's Paramount came close to making the Top Ten.

Films suitable for family viewing prevailed in 2016. Only one of the Top Ten hits was rated R ("Deadpool") while four were rated PG and five were PG-13.

2016's biggest films didn't measure up to last year's level of boxoffice success. This year's number one film, "Finding Dory" with $486.3 million, would only have ranked third on last year's domestic list – after "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" with $936.7 million and "Jurassic World" with $652.3 million.

The Top Ten grossing domestic releases in 2016 were:

(1) "Finding Dory" – Disney/PIXAR (3D) -- $486.3 million (PG/opened 6/17).

 (2) "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" – Disney/Lucasfilm (3D) –  estimated New Year's Day to be about $439 million (PG-13/opened 12/16).

(3) "Captain America: Civil War" – Disney/Marvel (3D) – $408.1 million (PG-13/opened 5/6).

(4) "The Secret Life of Pets" – Universal (3D) -- $368.3 million (PG/opened 7/8).

(5) "The Jungle Book" – Disney (3D) – $364 million (PG/opened 4/15).

(6) "Deadpool" – Fox/Marvel – $363.1 million (R/opened 2/12).

(7) "Zootopia" – Disney (3D) – $342.3 million (PG/opened 3/4).

(8) "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" – Warner Bros./DC Comics (3D) – $330.4 million (PG-13/opened 3/25).

(9) "Suicide Squad" – Warner Bros./DC Comics (3D) – $325.1 million (PG-13/opened 8/5).

(10) "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" – Disney/Lucasfilm (3D) – about $285 million of its $936.7 million domestic gross came in during 2016 (PG-13/opened 12/18/15).

If you prefer to consider "Force" to be a 2015 release, the tenth 2016 film would be Disney and Marvel's "Doctor Strange" (3D/PG-13/opened 11/4) with about $230 million.

         Bottom line: Although the New Year's only just begun, don't expect a January boxoffice heat wave.

         January's horror genre sequels should keep the multiplexes busy, but historically the year's first month just isn't the right timing for blockbuster franchise episodes. Here's a quick look at what's ahead:

         JAN. 6-8: Screen Gems and Lakeshore Entertainment's R rated horror thriller "Underworld: Blood Wars," opening at about 2,300 theatres, is from first time feature director Anna Foerster. Starring are: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James and Tobias Menzies. It should play best to under-25 women, the core audience for most horror films.

         It's the fifth episode in the hit vampire driven franchise that began in 2003. The last episode, "Underworld Awakening," opened Jan. 20, 2012 to $25.3 million and did $62.3 million domestically.

         The PG-13 rated fantasy drama "A Monster Calls," opening at about 1,500 theatres, is from Focus Features, Participant Media and River Road Entertainment. Directed by J.A. Bayona ("The Impossible"), it stars Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and Lewis MacDougall. It should play best to adult women.

         MacDougall plays Conor, a young boy asking a tree monster for help in coping with his single mom's terminal illness.

20th Century Fox, Fox 2000 Pictures and Chernin Entertainment's drama "Hidden Figures" is going wide to about 2,300 theatres after opening Dec. 25 in limited release at 25 theatres.

Directed by Theodore Melfi ("St. Vincent"), it stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe. It should play best to adult women.

Based on a true story, "Hidden," is set during the 1960s U.S.-Russia race to put a man in space when NASA found valuable untapped talent in a group of African-American female mathematicians. These so-called "human computers" became the brains behind one of the greatest operations in American history.

"Hidden" is a likely Oscar contender with its strong diversity casting in a year when nominations diversity is clearly on Academy voters' minds. Spencer won the supporting actress Oscar, BAFTA, Critics Choice, SAG Award and Globe in 2012 for "The Help." Henson was a supporting actress Oscar and SAG nominee in 2009 for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." 

         JAN. 13-16: The four-day Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday weekend will see three new wide arrivals.

         STX Entertainment's R rated horror thriller "The Bye Bye Man" is directed by Stacy Title ("Hood of Horror") and stars Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount and Cressida Bonas. It should play best to under-25 women.

         It's the story of three college students who move into an old house off campus where they accidentally unleash a supernatural presence called the Bye Bye Man, who marks them for death.

         Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated 3D action adventure "Monster Trucks" is directed by Chris Wedge ("Robots") and stars Jane Levy, Lucas Till and Chelah Horsdal. It should play best to families with young boys.

         Till plays Tripp, a high school senior trying to escape from the life and town he was born into. By building a Monster Truck from bits and pieces of scrapped cars, he may have finally found his best way to get out of town.

         Open Road Films' R rated action crime thriller "Sleepless" is from Baran bo Oda ("The Silence") and stars Michelle Monaghan, Dermot Mulroney and David Harbour. It should play best to adult men.

         In "Sleepless," a cop with underworld connections targets a nightclub while searching for his kidnapped son.

         JAN. 20-22: Paramount and Revolution Studios' action adventure "xXx: The Return of Xander Cage" is directed by D.J. Caruso ("Disturbia") and stars Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen and Deepika Padukone. It should play best to adult men.

         Diesel plays extreme athlete and government operative Xander Cage, who's been in self-imposed exile, but was thought to be dead. Now he's on a collision course with a deadly warrior, Xiang (Yen), trying to find a devastating weapon, Pandora's Box.

         This is the third episode in the franchise that began with "xXx," which starred Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson. It opened Aug. 9, 2002 to $44.5 million and did $142.1 million domestically. The last episode, "xXx: State of the Union," which did not star Diesel, opened Apr. 29, 2005 to $12.7 million and did $26.9 million domestically.

         Universal and Blumhouse Productions' PG-13 rated horror thriller "Split" is directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") and stars Anya Taylor-Joy, James McAvoy and Haley Lu Richardson. It should play best to under-25 women.

         When a man with 24 dual personalities abducts three girls, they must find some of his personalities that can help them escape while avoiding being killed by the others.

         The Weinstein Company and FilmNation Entertainment's PG-13 rated biographical drama "The Founder" is directed by John Lee Hancock ("Saving Mr. Banks") and stars Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch. It should play best to adult men and women.

         Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a struggling salesman from Illinois, who meets Mac and Dick McDonald when they're running a hamburger restaurant in 1950s Southern California. Impressed by the brothers' system for making food very quickly, Kroc sees franchise potential. The rest, as they say, is history.

         JAN. 27-29: Three more new wide releases will compete during the month's last weekend.

         Screen Gems' R rated 3D horror thriller "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter" is from Paul W.S. Anderson, director of the original "Resident Evil" and its first two sequels, and stars Ruby Rose, Milla Jovovich and Ali Larter. It should play best to under-25 women.

         With humanity on its last legs, Alice (Jovovich) returns to Raccoon City, where the nightmare began. Meanwhile, the Umbrella Corporation prepares its final strike against survivors of the apocalypse. Racing against time, Alice leads the battle to save humanity from extinction.

         The PG rated adventure comedy drama "A Dog's Purpose" is from Universal, Amblin Entertainment, Reliance Entertainment and Walden Media. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom ("The Cider House Rules"), it stars Britt Robertson, Josh Gad and Dennis Quaid. It should play best to families and to adult dog owners.

         Gad voices a dog trying to discover his purpose in life in the course of several lifetimes and owners.

         Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment's R rated comedy

"Bastards" is from first time feature director Lawrence Sher, whose long list of cinematographer credits includes "The Hangover" franchise. Starring are: J.K. Simmons, Owen Wilson and Bill Irwin. It should play best to young adult men.

         It's the story of twin brothers who discover their mother's lied to them for years about their father being dead and now set out to find him.