“Despicable Me 2”

“Despicable Me 2”

“ Iron Man 3 ”

“ Iron Man 3 ”

The Hunger Games - Catching Fire - Jennifer Lawrence

The Hunger Games - Catching Fire - Jennifer Lawrence

Top ten: Looking back at what worked best at the 2013 box office, it's clear that Hollywood knows the formula for success.

Simply put, big brands plus big budgets plus massive marketing money plus broad play ability plus 3D equals blockbuster business. But, unfortunately, not every time. There always seem to be some exceptions to remind us that the formula's not entirely foolproof. But because it works well mostly, it's unlikely to change any time soon.

Of the year's Top Ten, seven were familiar brand names driven by successful books, comics or earlier hit movies. All ten titles were very costly to produce and market. Six were rated PG-13 and none were rated R. Eight were presented in 3D at premium ticket prices. Six opened in the early to mid-summer weeks when moviegoing peaks.

Here's a quick look at the films that dominated the box office this past year with their grosses through Dec. 29:

(1) 2013's top grossing movie was Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures' PG-13 rated 3D sci-fi action adventure “Iron Man 3,” directed by Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”). It opened May 3 to $174.1 million.

With $409 million in domestic theatrical ticket sales, "IM3" easily took first place for the year “ although in 2012 its gross would only have ranked it third, behind “Marvel's The Avengers” ($623.4 million) and “The Dark Knight Rises” ($448.1 million).

The success of "IM3" brought the franchise's domestic total to $1 billion. It's a textbook case of what happens when you have the right material, star and marketing in place at the same time.

The Story: Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Tony Stark faces The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. Stark finally learns if the man makes the suit or the suit makes the man.

(2) Lionsgate's PG-13 sci-fi action adventure "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" was a strong number two for the year with $391.1 million through last weekend. It opened Nov. 22 to $158.1 million.

The franchise's domestic total is now $799.1 million. "Fire's" still playing in over 2,300 theatres and took in $10.2 million last weekend. Its domestic cume will continue to grow early in the New Year.

Directed by Francis Lawrence ("Water for Elephants"), it's based on the second book in the best-selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Not only is the "Hunger" franchise driven by Collins' books, but it's also benefiting from the tremendous success that star Jennifer Lawrence has enjoyed since making the first episode. Lawrence won the 2013 best actress Oscar for her role in David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" and is being talked about now as a likely supporting actress Oscar nominee for her performance in Russell's new film “American Hustle.”

The Story: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) return home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games and set out on a Victor's Tour of the district. Katniss senses a rebellion brewing, but the Capitol remains in control as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) prepares for the 75th Games, a competition that could change Panem forever.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” is scheduled to open Nov. 21, 2014. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” is set for Nov. 20, 2015. The series' two concluding episodes will both be directed by Francis Lawrence.

(3) Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment's PG rated 3D animated comedy “Despicable Me 2” placed third with $367.6 million. It opened July 3 to $83.5 million.

Directed by Pierre Coffin (“Despicable Me”) & Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”), it stars the voices of Steve Carell, Al Pacino and Kristen Wiig. The series' domestic cume is now $619.1 million.

The Story: In this follow up to the 2010 animated blockbuster, the Anti-Villain League turns to former super villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) to keep a powerful new villain from destroying the world.

(4) Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' PG-13 3D fantasy action adventure “Man of Steel” finished fourth with $291 million. It opened June 14 to $116.6 million.

Directed by Zack Snyder (“Watchmen,” “300”), it stars Henry Cavill as Clark Kent and Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Russell Crowe as Jor-El. This reboot of the modern day Superman franchise was the most successful episode in the series that began in 1978. The six titles to date have grossed $809.2 million domestically.

The Story: As a young boy, Clark Kent learns he has super powers and isn't from Earth. Later, he journeys to discover his origins and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he's to save the world from annihilation.

(5) Fifth place on the 2013 chart went to Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios' G rated 3D animated comedy adventure “Monsters University” with $268.5 million. It opened June 21 to $82.4 million.

Directed by Dan Scanlon (“Tracy”), it stars the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. The series' first episode, "Monsters, Inc.," grossed $255.9 million in 2001.

The Story: Although Mike Wazowski (Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (Goodman) are inseparable now, that wasn't always the case. In fact, at first these two mismatched monsters couldn't stand each other. This is the story of how Mike and Sulley overcame their differences to become the best of friends.

(6) The year's sixth ranking boxoffice hit is Warner Bros. and Heyday Films' PG-13 3D sci-fi thriller “Gravity” with $254.1 million. It opened Oct. 4 to $55.8 million.

Directed by Alfonso Curaron (“Children of Men”), it stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Unlike most of the year's other Top Ten hits, "Gravity" is an original film and not based on a comic book or a series of best-selling novels. There's a strong best picture Oscar buzz circulating for "Gravity," which has already received four Golden Globe nominations (including best picture - drama, director, actress and original score), 10 Critics Choice noms (including best picture, director and actress) and a Screen Actors Guild best lead actress nom.

The Story: Medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first shuttle mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) when during a routine spacewalk disaster strikes and the shuttle's wiped out. Left tethered to nothing but each other, their only way home may be going further out into the terrifying expanse of space.

(7) The year's seventh biggest film wasn't in the Top Ten before the holiday season got underway. However, strong ticket sales over Christmas for Walt Disney Pictures' PG rated 3D animated action adventure "Frozen" have boosted its cume to $248.4 million. That total will grow over New Year's, which means it could overtake "Gravity" in sixth place. It opened Nov. 22 in limited release to $243,390 and went wide Nov. 27 with $67.4 million.

Directed by Chris Buck (“Surf's Up”) & Jennifer Lee (co-screenwriter of “Wreck-It Ralph”), it stars the voices of Kristen Bell, Josh Gad and Idina Menzel.

The Story: Anna (Bell) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) team up for an epic adventure with Olaf the snowman (Gad) to find Anna's sister Elsa (Menzel), who's put the Kingdom in eternal winter.

(8) Universal Pictures' PG-13 action crime thriller “Fast & Furious 6” placed eighth with $238.7 million. It opened May 24 to $97.4 million.

Directed by Justin Lin (“Fast Five,“ ”Fast & Furious”), it reunited series stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson.

The Story: After tracking a global organization of lethal mercenary drivers Agent Hobbs (Johnson) realizes the only way to stop them is to outmatch them at street level. And that means getting Dom (Diesel) to re-assemble his elite team in London.

The series to date has grossed $937.8 million domestically. Its next episode, “Fast & Furious 7,” had been scheduled for release July 11, 2014, but following the tragic death of Paul Walker in a car crash last Nov. 30 was rescheduled for April 10, 2015. Production, which was only about half-finished when Walker died, was shut down immediately while Universal, director James Wan ("The Conjuring") and producers Vin Diesel and Neal H. Moritz decided how to proceed without one of the series' biggest stars.

(9) Walt Disney Pictures and Roth Films' 3D fantasy action adventure “Oz: The Great & Powerful” is ninth with $234.9 million. It opened March 8 to $79.1 million.

Directed by “Spider-Man” trilogy director Sam Raimi, it stars James Franco, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz.

The Story: Oscar Diggs (Franco) is a circus magician who's transposed from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. At first he thinks fame and fortune are his, but everything changes when he meets three witches – Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Weisz) and Glinda (Williams), who aren't convinced Oscar's the great wizard everyone's been expecting.

(10) Rounding out the year's Top Ten is Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions and Bad Robot's PG-13 3D sci-fi action adventure “Star Trek Into Darkness” with $228.8 million. It opened May 16 to $70.2 million. The series' 12 titles to date (going back to 1979) have grossed $1.2 billion domestically.

Directed by “Star Trek” director J.J. Abrams, it stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana.

The Story: After a shocking terrorist act from within their own organization, the Enterprise's crew is called back to Earth. Defying regulations and with a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk (Pine) leads his crew on a manhunt to capture an unstoppable destructive force and bring those responsible to justice.

Bottom line: 2013's ending on a jolly boxoffice note with the success of the PG-13 3D fantasy adventure drama "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" from Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, MGM and WingNut Films.

Directed by Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), it opened Dec. 13 to $73.6 million and hasn't had enough playing time to make the year's Top Ten. Last weekend, "Smaug" held on to first place for the third straight week with $29.9 million. Its $190.3 million cume promises to grow nicely in the New Year.

The first episode in the Hobbit" trilogy, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” opened Dec. 14, 2012 to $84.6 million and wound up doing $303 million domestically. The franchise's concluding chapter, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” is scheduled to open Dec. 17, 2014.

Now it's on to 2014, which I hope will be a very Happy New Year for us all!