Mon | Jul 16, 2018

Another record movie year in North America

Published:Monday | January 2, 2017 | 12:19 AM


A forgetful fish, infighting superheroes and some intergalactic rebels led the North American box office in 2016. With an estimated US$11.2 billion in earnings to date it has become the highest grossing year of all time, slightly surpassing last year's US$11.1 billion record.

Those top three films, Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, all had the common thread of being under the Walt Disney Studios banner, which had its own records to celebrate.

In general the year looked like many others, with tent pole superhero pics, animated features, sequels and reboots overpowering original fare, but there was definitely something for everyone.

"Hollywood built a wild roller-coaster ride at the multiplex in 2016, with films from every genre sparking interest from a very vocal and engaged social media savvy audience able to make or break some of the biggest titles of the year," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box office tracker comScore.

With Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney Animation and a slew of live-action reboots of already beloved properties, Disney's tent pole strategy paid off big-time in 2016. The studio raked in a leading US$2.96 billion in North American grosses with the top three spots and six out of the top 10. These included The Jungle Book, Zootopia and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As Disney's distribution chief Dave Hollis noted, each of Disney's five "brands" had a film this year that became "cultural events that transcend border and language to become true global spectacles." Disney wasn't without its own rotten tomatoes, however, with major flops like The BFG and The Finest Hours, but the successes paid for the failures.

For the first time since 2010 with Toy Story 3 an animated film has topped the annual box office. This year it was another Pixar sequel, Finding Dory, with a US$486.3 million North American tally. Universal also scored big animated hits with The Secret Life of Pets (number four, with US$368.4 million) and Sing (US$123.6 million after 10 days in cinemas). In addition, Disney had Zootopia and Moana, while DreamWorks Animation had Trolls. Animated talking animals were big (and there could even be a case that The Jungle Book fits in also. "A lot of animated movies were very good this year," said Forbes writer Scott Mendelson. "Audiences are still seeking the better movie."

Seven out of the top 20 movies this year were either DC or Marvel Comics, and that's not even counting the fantasy sci-fi properties like Star Wars and Star Trek. Even newbies like Deadpool and Doctor Strange did well, thanks to social media buzz, despite being lesser known characters. Others, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, may have taken a beating online, but still ended up profitable.

Hollywood is going to keep trying to get the video game adaptation right, of course. But this year wasn't exactly a promising showing, with Universal's Warcraft, one of the biggest bombs of the year, earning only US$47.2 million domestically on a US$160 million budget. The word isn't final on 20th Century Fox's Assassin's Creed, which just came out on December 21, but it doesn't look good. In fact, the best showing by a game adaptation was from an app - The Angry Birds Movie grossed $107.5 million domestically.

There were a few underwhelming reboots and sequels this year, both in quality and box office returns. Paramount's Star Trek Beyond underperformed with US$158.8 million, as did Sony's Ghostbusters reboot, which cost around US$144 million to produce and took in US$128.3 million in North America. Zoolander 2 spluttered. So did Alice Through the Looking Glass. And then there was the Ben-Hur remake, which cost north of US$100 million and pulled in only US$27 million.


If you wanted something original and massively successful and live action from 2016, it's probably going to be a comedy. There's the exception of The Revenant, which opened in 2015 yet still placed 14th this year with US$182.8 million. But you basically have to look all the way down to number 21 on the year-end list to find a new non-animated, non-sequel, non-adaptation - Warner Bros.' US$50 million Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart buddy comedy Central Intelligence, which grossed US$127.4 million.

After that, it's STX's sleeper hit Bad Moms, which cost a lean US$20 million to produce  at number 25 with US$113.3 million (a sequel has already been announced). There were some underwhelming attempts too (Allied) and all out flops (Rules Don't Apply, The Nice Guys). It's still early, but most of the critically praised awards films aren't exactly proving to be blockbuster hits. Mendelson says La La Land might sing its way to US$50 million, but others like Moonlight will be lucky to crack US$20 million.