Trending: The Death of Original Summer Blockbusters
Money is what unfortunately pushes the movie industry forward. It dictates what movies get made when and released for which audiences. It has led to studios announcing release dates almost a decade in advance to minimize competition and maximize profits. After I read this article (published by Buzzfeed), I finally decided “enough is enough.”
This led to some research of my own, which yielded the following results about original vs. non-original films. I consider any prequel, sequel, spin-off, remake, or first-time adaptation (of book, comic book, or etc.) to be a “non-original” film. If a movie didn’t fit this criteria, it was probably an “original” film.
Below you can find a bar graph of the top ten grossing films (domestic box office only) for each of the past five years. Original movies are denoted with an asterisk. Also, you can see the box office percentage of original vs. non-original films in a pie chart for each year. I should also mention these numbers aren’t adjusted for inflation at all.
The results are as follows:
2009 belonged, hands down, to Avatar. Of all the movies mentioned in this post, it was definitely the anomaly (more on this later). 2009 yielded the most original movies in the top ten, but that was still just three.
2010 was probably the most uniform year of the sample. From top to bottom, the numbers never really created a huge gap. Inception was the first original movie to crack the list at #6, finishing very close to the Twilight and Harry Potter films of that year.
Ah 2011. The year of the sequel. All ten movies are non-original movies with nine of them being sequels. At least Thor (#10 on the list) was the first of its franchise. Oh wait, it fit into the huge Marvel Cinematic Universe. Never mind then.
With Brave and Ted barely squeaking into the top 10, at least 2012 gave us something original. We could expect Pixar to rake in the money, but Ted was a surprise. Still, the year belonged to the superhero movies with The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises crushing the box office. Oh yeah, and this little franchise called The Hunger Games debuted pretty well.
2013 can be a little misleading because some movies haven’t finished their tallies. It’s still unclear if Pacific Rim and Elysium will crack the list by year’s end. As you can see, the top eight are all non-original movies, leading me to believe 2013 will look similar to 2011 come next January.
Take that in for a bit. Here are a few (pretty disheartening) trends:
Of the all the movies, there are just nine original ones. That amounts to just 18%. Those movies are (in alphabetical order): Avatar, Brave, The Croods, Despicable Me, The Hangover, The Heat, Inception, Ted, and Up. What is even sadder is the two original films from this year (The Croods and The Heat) are #9 and #10, meaning they won’t be close to the Top 10 by year’s end. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will likely take the top spot, and The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and Thor: The Dark World will both crack the top 10 if I had to guess. All three of those films are, you guessed it, non-original stories.
Digging deeper, if (a big “if”) you don’t count the rumblings for a Brave and The Heat sequel, there are just four original films that won’t spawn a franchise (including those two, Inception, and Up).
The majority of the 50 films are sequels (29 if you count The Avengers and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). That doesn’t include franchise reboots, such as Star Trek and The Amazing Spider-Man. The total count of “franchise films” (sequels, prequels, and in the case of The Hunger Games et al., franchise-starters) climbs to a whopping 44 (88%). Interestingly, The Blind Side and Tangled (if you don’t count the sequel short Tangled Ever After) are the only non-original films to not be a franchise film.
Percentage-wise, when looking at all five years, approximately 81% of the box office dollars came from non-original films. If you take out Avatar, that climbs to approximately 86% of the total.
Like I previously mentioned, the most depressing year for original films definitely goes to 2011. All ten movies listed were non-originals. Looking closer at 2011, the first original movie comes in at #14 with Bridesmaids and Rio was the second one at #18. Ouch.
Also like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t even taking into account international box office numbers. That’s a beast of its own, and it definitely doesn’t help the cause.
Shifting to individual box office numbers, it is worth noting that the highest grossing film of the 50 is an original movie. That belongs to James Cameron’s Avatar, which brought in $749,766,139 just in the U.S. However, the next original movie doesn’t appear until #20 with Up ($293,004,164). Of course, that’ll shift down when Man of Steel earns a little more money and the rest of 2013 releases.
This makes Up the most valuable original movie of the last five years. I really wanted Inception to take this title, but Up squeaked by. Also, for all the Pixar-haters, at least they contributed two original movies to the list of nine. Yes, they did have three non-original movies, but 40% is great compared to other major studios.
Looking to the future, it’s tough to project the next big non-franchise original movie (that’s a mouthful). In other words, what movie will beat out Up’s $293 million and NOT spawn a sequel. Unfortunately, I can’t find one easily. The best shot, right now, goes to Christopher Nolan’s alternate-reality movie Interstellar. However, the November release may slow it down because they’ll be plenty of awards show competition surrounding it. Looking closer, 13 of the 40 films (obviously I won’t count this year’s group) have been released around November or later. So… there’s a fighting chance.
To sum it all up, the box office numbers I’ve presented point to one inevitable conclusion: original blockbuster storytelling is dying. Besides Pixar’s commitment to original stories, studios can’t rely on original movies to contend for the box office prize. It’s very important I reiterate that it’s just big budget storytelling. Original movies will still exist, and they’ll hopefully still rule the awards races. However, movies like Pacific Rim and Elysium may be things of the past if the trend continues.
What are your thoughts on these findings? Does it ultimately matter that original storytelling is going out the window? Obviously you know my answer to that question, but I want to hear yours…
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