January 3, 2007

Box Office Update 2006: Captain Jack Sparrow Rules!

2006 has drawn to a close. As the the calendar moves forward into the new year, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at the top films of the year. These are not necessarily the best movies of the year, but they did succeed at bringing out the largest crowds of the year. Whether it be through being a quality movie, or due to sheer volume of theaters, or a credit to the marketing team is left for you to decide. Anyway you slice it, these ten films made a splash. A couple of these films are still going strong, and these positions could shift a but, but as of the time of this writing, here are the top ten box office hits of 2006.

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($423,315,812). This was, by far, the biggest smash of the year. It opened with the biggest ever three day gross of $135,634,554 on its way to becoming the sixth biggest domestic release of all time, and the third largest worldwide. The original film in 2004 was a surprise hit, garnering Johnny Depp his first Oscar nomination and rocketing him to stardom that he had never before acheived in his career. Honestly, who thought that a movie based on a Disney roller coaster attraction would actually be a hit? Much less a good movie? Anyway, a hit summer film will generally spawn a sequel, and in this case two sequels. The sequel was met with mixed reactions, but ultimately it proved to be a fine summer action/adventure, which may not equal its predecessor, definitely delivers the goods. It has definitely struck a chord with the public. It will definitely be interesting to see if they return for the third film coming later this year.

2. Cars ($244,082,982). Pixar hit the jackpot again their latest. It seems like everything that Pixar touches turns to gold. It doesn't hurt that they have a heart and an ability which seems to outstretch other animation houses. Of course, things didn't seem quite so rosey when the film opened. Sure, it opened strong with $60,119,509, but it wasn't as strong as had been expected, and did not match some of the other Pixar releases. Things looked up for the studio as the movie found its legs and wound up with a highly respectable final tally. In my mind it is one of the lesser Pixar films, but that still places it well above most others. The story was nothing all that original, but the voice talent was good, and the animation is quite possibly the best that I have ever seen projected on the big screen, it is quite amazing.

3. X-Men: The Last Stand ($234,362,462). This was a very frustrating movie, and the fact that it did good bank will most likely be used as validation for whatever the studio decides to do with the franchise. I never would have thought that this would be among the biggest box office hits of the year. I remember watching things unfold around this movie, and none of it looked good. First, Bryan Singer and much of his team jumped ship to Warner Brothers to work on their Superman project, then the director they hired to replace him, Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake), abruptly left the film mere weeks prior to the start of filming. Finally, they brought in Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) to take the helm. Anyway, it was reading like a disaster, but the opening suggested otherwise as it seemed to surprise everyone as it rose through the ranks. As a flat out action movie, this is a blast, but as a comic book film coming off of the high point of X2, this was a big letdown. I can only hope that the quality of story takes a turn for the better in whatever form the next installment takes.

4. The Da Vinci Code ($217,536,138). This was being marketed as the greatest thing to hit the big screen ever, playing off the controversial subject matter of the book. While I thought it was a good movie, I do not feel it is as good as it could have been. I thought the movie was just a touch to the bland side, and things came to them too easily. It was like they would get so far and then they would have someone tell them everything they needed to know to get through the next segment of the film, they did not have to really earn the information they received. That said, it did bring a more mature adventure to the big screen that did not pander to the teenage audience. While I am not the biggest fan of the movie, I do like to see attempts made to make a film for an older audience. This does prove the box office power that Tom Hanks has, again, this is not the best he has done, but there is no denying the ability that he brings to the table.

5. Superman Returns ($200,081,192). Yes, it cracked the $200 million mark, but was it a success? If you listen to the studios, this was a huge disappointment, as it was considered to threaten for the box office crown of the year and ended up falling over $200 million shy of the film that did end up with the title. The first mistake was releasing the film just one week prior to the opening of Dead Man's Chest, which was a big tactical error as they had to know that this was going to be huge. If they had a week or two more lead in time, the box office could have easily been $50 million higher. Then there is the endless bickering over what the actual budget of the film was, and whether or not to count the failed attempts to get it off the ground over the years, most notably the Tim Burton/Nicolas Cage pay or play deal that fell through. Whatever the case, the movie turned out to be quite entertaining despite its flaws. Director Bryan Singer, made somewhat of a misstep in making a cross between a new film and a sequel to the first half of the Reeve series, it never took firm hold of one or the other. Still, I found it to be rather exhilarating from the first geeky moments of the opening credits. It clawed its way to the $200 million mark and truly was a box office success, don't believe the studio hype.

6. Ice Age: The Meltdown ($195,330,621). One of the first animated films to chomp at the box office bit this year is also a sequel. Families flocked to the big screen to see the continuing adventures of Manny, Sid, and Diego, featuring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary. Now the original Ice Age was a good movie, and a box office hit in its own right, but I do not feel that it deserved or needed a sequel. I am sure that the studio is happy they made it, but it isn't a film that will be remembered like, say, the Toy Story films. This is one that had too little story and too much filler for its brief runtime. There is enough to keep the kids interested and the parents from falling into a coma, but this is one movie that I do not believe deserves the all of the money it made.

7. Happy Feet ($178,325,897). This one was a surprise, at least to me. It is the third of four animated features on the list, and one that seemed much more gimmicky than it turned out to be. When I first saw the trailer, I felt like it was just to cash in on the surprise success of the penguin documentary, March of the Penguins. Just animate them and have them sing and you have something new. What you actually have is a highly entertaining musical comedy that centers on a young penguin searching for his own voice and finding that it is OK to be different. It is also a story that touches on the severe impact that interloping species can have on a confined ecosystem. It was much stronger than I expected and is sure to leave your toes tapping. The audience has reacted to the happiness that springs from the screen and you will be seeing this wind up with a higher take by the time its run ends. It may not reach The Meltdown, but that does not lesson the impact these penguins have had.

8. Over the Hedge ($155,019,340). Once again showing the absolute dominance that animation has had this year, here is the fourth entry in the top ten. This is a fun little animal adventure that floats along on some funny gags and a host of celebrity voices. It doesn't have the animation of Cars or the inherent joy of Happy Feet, and it isn't even particularly clever. Despite that, it does feature some fun entertainment for the family, it will have the kids and the adults laughing together as a raccoon and a turtle become friends in the quest of junk food. Whether or not it deserves to be one of the box office leaders is a different issue altogether. Sure, it is fun, but it doesn't really tread new ground. Oh well, can't win them all, it is worlds better than Ice Age: The Meltdown.

9. Casino Royale ($154,944,794). By the time this sees the light of the internet, it will most likely have passed Over the Hedge for eigth place on the list. This 21st entry in the official Bond franchise is easily one of the best and definitely the best in decades. This is something of a reboot as it takes Bond back to his start. It is done in fine fashion as Daniel Craig steps into the role and makes it his own. There were many questions as to how well this would do, the studio had high expectations and the fanbase had questions over Craig as Bond, and some people still wanted Brosnan while others didn't want another Bond at all. Well, the film came out to great reviewsand the word of mouth has definitely brought people around. It is one of the most exciting and mature action/adventure films of the year, and owes a little bit of gratitude to the Bourne films for injecting a little more of the real world into the world of spy/espionage films. This is a positive step for the franchise and I cannot wait to see what they do next.

10. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby ($148,213,377). Will Ferrell, when doing his wacky comedy, is box office gold. This was a film that came out at the tail end of the summer season (early August) that went on to post some huge numbers. It is a big, goofy comedy, just what the doctor ordered to fend off the blues of the onset of the end of summer. I cannot believe it was expected to hit this big, but it did. It did a good job of showing how well Ferrell is at playing these off the wall, childlike characters, sort of a cross between his Elf and Anchorman characters. Talladega Nights also featured the first big role for Sacha Baron Cohen before he struck gold of his own with Borat. It may not be the smartest brand of comedy, but gosh darn it if it ain't fun. Besides, it plays to a wide audience, and that is what studios like, it helps the bottom line.

Wrap Up. For the year, 2006 saw a total box office take toping $9.2 billion dollars. It surpassed 2005's $8.83 billion, but did not match the record breaking year of 2004, which finished with $9.4 billion. Perhaps the Hollywood suits will stop crying over failing sales. They are still raking in the money and really have no room to complain. Film lovers always say that if the movies are more innovative the money will come, but this list says otherwise, just look at how many sequels and unimaginative tales have entered the list. On the other hand, this is what the studios jam down our throats while the truly great films are left to wither with low theater counts and no advertising. It is a double edged sword, and I doubt that a balance will ever be found, studios will always win with their bottom line attitudes. There would have to be a major paradigm shift in order to get this way of thinking changed, and I don't see that happening any time soon.

A Look to 2007
If you thought some of the films this year were big money makers, studios are levying high expectations on their big releases for the coming year, with no less than 17 films being expected to crack $150 million. Personally, I doubt that will happen, but here are those 17 films expected to duke it out for next year's top ten, ranked by expected gross:
  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End $350 million
  2. Shrek the Third $350 million
  3. Spider-Man 3 $350 million
  4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix $285 million
  5. Transformers $250 million
  6. Evan Almighty $200 million
  7. His Dark Materials:The Golden Compass $200 million
  8. Ratatouille $200 million
  9. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer $185 million
  10. Beowulf $150 million
  11. The Bourne Ultimatum $150 million
  12. I am Legend $150 million
  13. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry $150 million
  14. National Treasure: The Book of Secrets $150 million
  15. Rush Hour 3 $150 million
  16. The Simpsons $150 million
  17. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles $150 million

Seriously, I think some of those numbers are outrageous. If these numbers are reached, you are looking at a year that tops $10 billion in total receipts. Yes, it is only a matter of time before that happens, especially with escalating ticket prices. I just have a hard time believing that the market would be able to support all of these inflated predictions. The only ones that I think will make their numbers will be the top four. They are all parts of big money franchises and have a built in audience, and the films would have to be extraordinarily bad for them to all to tank. It will definitely be interesting to see how the year plays out, there are going to be a number of big movies come summertime!


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