Lessons from the 2013 Box Office: Top 20 movies of the year

Hollywood had a lot to celebrate at the end of 2013.  Box office grosses were up to a record $10.9 billion, a .7% increase over 2012.  Of course, that’s partially due to the fact an average ticket price is now $8.  Tickets sold were actually down to 1.35 billion or .4% below last year’s pace. Comparatively, however, that really isn’t too bad. This year was somewhere in the middle of tickets sold when looking over the past six years.   And while it’s been 12 years since the modern mark of 1.575 billion sold, the industry is relatively healthy in the U.S.  Much more importantly, emerging markets such as China and Russia continue to pump up international grosses which has almost single-handedly helped the movie industry survive the collapse of DVD and home entertainment sales.

Sequels dominated the top 10 movies of the year, but there was some room for an original blockbuster or two when the finally tallies were counted.  Before you check out the final ranking of the top 25 in the story gallery below, here are some important lessons Hollywood took in at the turn of the new year.

More comedies please
It seems to be a common refrain, but Hollywood just can’t seem to make enough good broad comedies.  Movieogers are demonstrating their desire for funny flicks by making mediocre comedies such as “Identity Thief” and “We’re The Millers” into mega-hits. Five films that were “straight” comedies (not animated family films) earned over $100 million and a sixth, “Anchorman 2,” came incredibly close at the end of the year. More disturbing were the weeks on end where there were no comedies released whatsoever. If Hollywood is concerned about getting the public to go to the movies on a regular basis more, fixing the lack of real laughers would be a huge step.

Teenagers are turning their nose at the movies (aka the return of the adult moviegoer)
Shocker, the American teenager is over the movies. Well, yes and no. In the summer and holidays when pop culture event blockbusters are in play they are going.  During the school year? Not so much anymore.  It used to be Hollywood could count on teenagers and college students to dominate Friday nights at the movies as “date nights.” Instead, following a gradual trend over the past few years, their parents and older brothers and sisters are taking back the local theater.  In fact, some of the over 25 and even over 35 fueled hits this year were almost inconceivable five years ago. In fact, outside of “Gravity” and “Bad Grandpa,” studios almost told teens to stay away this fall as “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Last Vegas,” “Captain Phillips” and “Prisoners” ruled the multiplex.

Scares still play
Horror franchises come and go, but if there is one thing you can count on it’s that there is something about getting scared with a bunch of other strangers in a dark theater which is increasingly compelling. 2013 – aka the year of James Wan — saw the birth of two new possible franchises with “Mama” and “The Conjuring,” a remarkable continuation of smart horror with “Insidious Chapter 2” and a wonderfully marketed concept flick in “The Purge” which Universal believes is franchise worthy (here comes “The Purge 2” this summer). So, want to get your big break in Hollywood young filmmaker? Come up with a slam dunk horror franchise. It’s your best way in the front door.

Realizing that a star is a superstar no more
Fans love their favorite movie stars and will be insanely loyal to them to a fault (cough, Adam Sandler, cough), but every star fades.  Often, it’s difficult for the star in question or the studios behind them to figure out when they won’t be able to open a movie just on their presence in a motion picture.  2013 saw both Johnny Depp and Will Smith tumble with two of the biggest bombs of their career. Both “Lone Ranger” and “After Earth” were sketchy projects that got the final green light in large part due to the participation of each actor. It goes without saying that outside of playing Captain Jack or Jay the red carpet icons no longer have that pull with the powers that be.

You can’t underestimate the right release date

Studios are even more analytical in their decisions than you fear, but just like personal decisions in sports these days the numbers don’t always tell you the true story.  Some of 2013’s biggest disappointments came from strictly opening the right movie at the wrong time. “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas” and “Saving Mr. Banks” both suffered from debuting in the middle of just a three-week shopping season when their core audiences were unavailable. Summit Entertainment tried to take “Red 2” to the summer after the original killed in October. Huge mistake. “The World’s End” would have been a more potent finale earlier in the summer as opposed to the now dregs of August.  “Don Jon” could have made much more in the spring as opposed to September. “Out of the Furnace” should have been sold as a thriller in the early fall or spring. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”?  That’s a February, March release, not awards season fare. Often these decisions are dictated on when the film is actually finished or the needs of international distributors. But, executives who still believe you can open a good movie at any time? Just not the case.

Superhero fatigue has not set in…yet
It’s got to come at some point right?  Moviegoers have increasingly made superhero movies part of their pop culture mix since the first “X-Men” in 2000. Last year included three superhero flicks in the top 11 (four if you count the former “super villain” Gru in “DM2”) and four in the top 25 (“The Wolverine”). No matter what the genre, the public will always tire of it at some point. It’s a cyclical process seen in the business for over 100 years.  It’s happened with Westerns, action flicks, thrillers — you name it. Don’t be shocked if we see the first signs of wear and tear in 2014.

What do you think Hollywood learned from 2013? Share your thoughts below.