Box Office 2015: How Revenue (Narrowly) Hit a Record $11B in the U.S.
Social media is the new Force in town, either propelling a movie to historic highs or dooming a film by the afternoon of its opening.
Yoda's advice for Hollywood as it tries to make sense of the dramatic highs and lows at the 2015 box office: "You must unlearn what you have learned."
Box-office revenue will hit a record $11 billion in North America on Tuesday, beating 2013's $10.9 billion and up 6.3 percent from last year's $10.35 billion. The milestone came down to the wire, and it wouldn't have been happened without Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Much of this record came from ever-increasing ticket prices, and doesn't mean that attendance hit a record this year. However, moviegoers have been turning out to the cineplex ever increasingly in 2015 (an official figure won't be calculated until the new year.)
In a paradigm shift for Hollywood studios, social media ruled in 2015, whether propelling a movie to huge numbers or dooming a title by the Friday afternoon of its opening. Force Awakens and Universal's Jurassic World — marking the first time in history that two films will gross more than $600 million in a calendar year — are among that happy group of 2015 titles proving that the theatrical experience can withstand the myriad of options on television or other forms of entertainment.
No one wants to miss out on having something to contribute at the proverbial water cooler. On the other hand, 2015 box office was also littered with the worst openings ever for major studio releases.
"Going to the movies has become all about the social-media conversation. Creative remains key, but it's less about television commercials and more about shaping the social conversation," says Imax Entertainment CEO Greg Foster.
"The release of initial images for a film are carefully curated by the studios, usually six months before a film is released, as is the initial teaser trailer," he continued. "Fans post their reactions each step of the way and the sentiment begins to take shape. Nowhere has this been more evident than Star Wars, which began its social-media parade over Thanksgiving of 2014 and peaked perfectly the week the film opened."
For many, the $11 billion record is bittersweet.
The wealth was largely divided between two studios, Universal and Disney. Combined, they command more than 40 percent of 2015 domestic market share to date, an unheard-of stat. Others found their lightsabers malfunctioning or inoperable — in particular Warner Bros., usually the industry leader.
Universal boasts a record $2.4 billion in domestic ticket sales to date, and more than $6.7 billion worldwide. Disney follows with $2 billion and more than $5.7 billion globally. Both beat the mark set last year by Fox with $5.5 billion worldwide. Between them, Universal and Disney released the year's top six grossing titles worldwide.
"From a Disney perspective, it makes us feel even more confident about our strategy of turning out big, branded event films," says Disney worldwide distribution chief Dave Hollis. "Our titles this year were part of the moviegoing culture before they even came out, and were the kind of events that drove people to theaters."
After Force Awakens — which has cleared $1.16 billion worldwide — Disney's 2015 slate was led by Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, which earned $1.4 billion globally, Pixar's Inside Out ($851.6 million), Cinderella ($542.7 million) and Ant-Man ($518.6 million).
Universal's standing is impressive for the fact that its 2015 lineup was populated by both tentpoles and mid-sized films that the studio managed to eventize, including Fifty Shades of Grey ($570.5 million), Pitch Perfect 2 ($287.1 million) and Straight Outta Compton ($200.4 million). Tentpoles included Jurassic World, the top-grossing pic of the year to date at $1.66 billion, followed by Furious 7 ($1.52 billion) and Illumination Entertainment's Minions ($1.57 billion).
Over the hill in Century City, Fox experienced the power of social media in brutal fashion this summer when Fantastic Four director Josh Trank tweeted on the eve of the movie's opening that his version of the reboot was better. He quickly deleted the tweet, but the damage was done and Fantastic Four, also hamstrung by dismal reviews, bombed.
"Too few movies worked this year," says Fox domestic distribution president Chris Aronson. "The takeaway is that we have a record year, but it was concentrated among fewer films. The top 10 films in 2014 represented 24 percent of the pie. The top 10 films this year represent 34 percent. There is no bottom anymore."
Adds Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore: "Anyone under 30 is checking Rotten Tomatoes and telling their friends what the score is on a Thursday. You saw it with Fantastic Four — Fox actually had good tracking, but by opening day the audience knew the film was bad. The good news is that when you have a good movie, people equally share that."
With three days left to go in the year, Warner Bros., which released more movies than any other studio (26), is No. 3 in domestic market share with $1.6 billion to date, followed by Fox ($1.27 billion, 17 releases), Sony ($957.2 million, 16) and Paramount ($640.7 million, 11). Disney released 11 movies, and Universal released 21.
Sony's top-grossing 2015 release globally is James Bond installment Spectre ($850.4 million), while Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation took in $682.3 million for Paramount. Fox's No. 1 grosser is The Martian ($594 million); Warner Bros. is San Andreas ($473.8 million).