Some days it feels good to sing Gino Vannelli songs. Today is not one of those days.


As we are mere hours from the end of the year, it’s a perfect time for year end totals. Of the top ten only Harry Potter is still in general release, which may mean an additional $10-$15 million domestic and untold international numbers. Whereas of the current releases, it seems unlikely that either Tron Legacy or Little Fockers (or True Grit, for that matter) could crack $176 Million. True Grit actually might have the best chance of such success.

Sometimes I include a top fifteen, but adding Clash of the Titans, Grown Ups, Tangled, Megamind, and The Last Airbender isn’t really interesting, though I’ll bring them up later.

Film Domestic Total Opening weekend (% of total gross) Worldwide Total Budget
1 Toy Story 3 $415,004,880 $110,307,189 (27%) $1,063,143,492 $200
2 Alice in Wonderland  $334,191,110 $116,101,023 (35%) $1,024,299,722 $200
3 Iron Man 2 $312,128,345 $128,122,480 (41%) $621,751,988 $200
4 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse $300,531,751 $64,832,191 (21%/57%) $693,480,124 $68
5 Inception $292,525,041 $62,785,337 (22%) $825,448,067 $160
6 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 $275,792,000 $125,017,372 (45%) $862,792,000 (est. $250)
7 Despicable Me $250,902,625 $56,397,125 (22%) $540,302,625 $69
8 Shrek Forever After $238,395,990 $70,838,207(30%) $739,813,967 $175
9 How to Train Your Dragon $217,581,231 $43,732,319 (20%) $494,878,759 $165
10 The Karate Kid $176,591,618 $55,665,805 (32%) $358,725,731 $40

Films in 3-D: 50% (60% Top 15)
Sequels: 50% (33% Top 15)
Based on known properties: 80% (66% Top 15, or 80% if Tangled and Grown Ups count)

From this list, it’s fair to say that Disney had a great year. Except that Tron Legacy, Prince of Persia, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice were franchise non-starters, though the other two had stronger international numbers than domestic. Still, they have the top two films of the year, dominating the market. Though Pixar has become a sequel factory for the moment, Toy Story 3 is not a bad #1 for a year to have, and Alice in Wonderland proved yet again that a March launch is now just as meaningful as the first week of May.

Iron Man 2 also proved the worth of a release date. The film didn’t have the same kick as the first film, but by starting the summer it managed to open big and play well enough against weak competition (like Robin Hood and Prince of Persia).It should be noted that Iron Man as a franchise hasn’t picked up any additional international support. But in that regard, international has been best to Spider-Man of the superhero franchises, while the domestic numbers were better for The Dark Knight than international. Often action films will make 2/3rds of their money internationally, but that hasn’t been the case with these films (for the most part). Those international numbers are still good, and with all of these titles the ancillaries (T-shirts, games, comics, toys, etc.) add to the endgame. Iron Man 2 did slightly better numbers than Eclipse, which is a money factory for young Summit. Eclipse had a Wednesday opening so I included the weekend/five day split in the opening percentages. Going by the five day, it’s the most front-loaded success of the year, followed by Harry Potter and then Iron Man, which is not surprising for sequels. 

It’s worth noting that most of the films in the top ten aren’t as front-loaded as they’ve been recently and this is because children’s films aren’t as typically top heavy. The same could be said of Inception’s long play, which means that the Christopher Nolan brand now guarantees a $200 million domestic gross. Perhaps this is post-Dark Knight love, but in a summer of gimmickry it sailed true. But it also had a budget, Warner’s marketing behind it and a big star.

The Potter franchise is also still a money machine, much like Shrek. Shrek seemed like a non-starter – it did great business domestic and internationally, it was just off from the last two entries. Harry Potter is in familiar numbers at this point, though – as I said – international is likely not done.

Despicable Me is the rare Universal hit and the rare original property in the top ten. It was partly timing, and partly the audience. There is an impression from these numbers that if you release four animated movies during the different quarters of the year, each can do about $250 Million or so. How To Train Your Dragon came out in Spring, Shrek in May, Toy Story 3 in June and Despicable Me in July. The summer films did better than the fall (or had more kids out of school), where Megamind and Tangled likely cancelled each other out a bit. Or both were okay, but not amazing. Or something. Rounding out the ten is The Karate Kid and like Inception and Despicable Me it’s fair to call it an audience hit.

Brand awareness in terms of cinema has never been higher, and almost all the successes came from people or titles that are known quantities. The only non-brand (Ill call Christopher Nolan a brand at this point) was Despicable, though it was animated. But once you leave the top ten, a number of the other titles aren’t going to be profitable, or if they become so it will be due to DVD/TV sales and foreign totals. Clash of the Titans did well enough to generate a sequel (or at least sequel talk), but enough animus for its star to talk shit about it. It is going to be a problem if some of the most successful films of the year don’t make money, and we’re almost to that point, but then also most of these films are built on franchise awareness, so there are – hopefully for the studios – enough ancillary material interest to make that worthwhile. But only three of the top ten cost under $100 Million dollars. As I’ve been saying lately, domestic is becoming a smaller factor. Just going by domestic numbers with the 2-to-1 ratio (since theaters do still get some of the money), only four of the top ten would have turned a profit, so international is a huge factor. The 2-to-1 is complicated because the numbers are mostly made up, and don’t usually include advertising. Since many of these films have toys to sell, the final results are beyond box office numbers. Disney will be comfortable with Tron Legacy if it breaks even if the brand name becomes viable again. Let’s see how the TV show goes…

I think the most telling thing about this year is how many of the big money makers are aimed at children. Realistically the only film targeted at the under 18 set was Inception, though an argument could be made that Iron Man 2 is a big action movie. As it is derived from comic books, that could go either way. The other big thing about the number of kids films in the top ten is that all the animated films were 3-D, and available in Imax, as were a number of the films on the list. This can cause inflated numbers, though we’ve never been in a “tickets sold” business.

2010 seems like a transitional year in a lot of ways, even if it feels like we’re in for more of the same for a while. Like a big dumb animal, it takes years for the industry to change. The Green Hornet will be one of the last not shot as 3-D 3-D movies (we’ll see what happens with Thor and Harry Potter 7.2 to say nothing of Cabin in the Woods), but with the sheer number of 3-D movies next year, we’ll see if that trend is dying, or if they figure out how to convert more theaters to 3-D. Theater owners are lazy when it comes to the newest/latest, because they’ve lived through too many fads. The bottom line is it’s much easier to produce gimmickry than quality, but gimmickry fades quicker with audiences even if they’re fooled to start.

This wasn’t a great year for most studios. Sony is finishing the year with a number of high profile flops, Universal had a terrible year, and Disney had two films back to back that were way too expensive and underperformed. I don’t know how you look at the budget for Tangled and see success or Tron and not see that it didn’t do the business hoped for. Fox couldn’t find a big winner all year (they had no picture in the top fifteen – their highest grosser was Date Night with nearly $100, but supposedly cost $55). And though Paramount had Iron Man 2, Dragon and Shrek, the former was a Marvel production, and the other two were from Dreamworks Animation. On their own they had The Last Airbender, though they scored victories with Shutter Island, Jackass 3-D and Paranormal Activity 2. The last two were smaller budgeted, which was rare for the films that did well. It seems that the year’s lower budgeted art films performed respectably, but not all that great. Cyrus, The Kids are All Right, and Winter’s Bone may have been profitable, but none fully broke out. 127 Hours never caught on (that’s not a missing arm pun, is it?) The best of these sorts of titles is Black Swan, which should do over $70-$80 at its current pace (as long as the awards and/or nominations start rolling in). Even The Fighter is performing just okay. But then here’s True Grit, which will be the Coen’s first $100 Million dollar success. Which is both an art house film, and a studio picture from a number of Oscar winners that’s also a western. That’s the cinema culture of the moment, with a number of filmmakers like Jody Hill, Todd Haynes and Frank Darabont working on TV shows and miniseries for television.  

I guess you could say that branding failed some high profile titles (like The A-Team, The Last Airbender, Prince of Persia), but not so much that it didn’t work for others, like much of the list above. Next summer promises four huge comic book movies (Thor, X-Men: First Class, The Green Lantern, and Captain America), some of which may not perform to expectations. The big summer titles are also – as has been the case – filled with sequels and known entities. And then also Tree of Life. There is always hope.


The only thing that should change between this weekend and last is the rankings. True Grit is playing to audiences more than Fockers, so it should jump to the top of the list. How long Grit runs is unknown and will be tied to award season, but it should finish this weekend near $90 Million, which means that $120 would be the lowest total it could achieve. As I said, it could do over $150 when it’s finished.

If you want to ride it:

1. True Grit - $25 Million
2. Little Fuckers - $22.5 Million
3. Tron Legacy - $12.7 Million
4. Narnia 3 - $9.3 Million
5. Yogi Bear – 8.7 Million

And then Sunday it’s a new year, and hopefully we’ll all be mostly sober by then.