Top 10 Film Industry Stories of 2010: #10
DreamWorks' Dragon Everyone's Favorite Pet
By Kim Hollis
January 27, 2011

I want to adopt a Night Fury.

In the weeks running up to the March 23, 2010 release of How to Train Your Dragon, excitement was sky high. Here was a DreamWorks animation project that looked fun, adventurous, and offered the hot, hot prospect of 3D graphics that enhanced all of the amazing, dragon-y action. Given the rapturous reviews the film was receiving (98% fresh at RottenTomatoes) and the fact that merchandise from the film was everywhere, hopes were high that the film would at least be able to match 2009's Monsters vs. Aliens' $59.3 million opening, if not exceed it by a decent amount.

And yet…

How to Train Your Dragon opened with a comparably slight $43.3 million in its first weekend of release. Even more troubling at the time, it was in 638 more 3-D venues (all of which carry a surcharge) than Monsters vs. Aliens, yet it still saw a debut weekend number that was 27% lower than its DreamWorks predecessor. DreamWorks had worked hard to ensure that it had enough screens for success and positioned itself solidly in the middle of the releases of Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, and still found itself worrying about how it was going to recover much of Dragon's $165 million budget. The film's second weekend total was $29 million, a decline of 34%, so it wasn't looking like How to Train Your Dragon was going to be anything special for Paramount and DreamWorks Animation.

And then, something wonderful happened.

People who loved the movie (I'm one of them) evangelized for the film. All across America, people who were passionate about the story of Hiccup and Toothless told their friends that this was a movie worth seeing in theaters. And then those people told their friends. And those people told their friends. The result? In its third weekend, How to Train Your Dragon dropped only 14% to $24.9 million. When estimates came out over its fourth weekend, How to Train Your Dragon was announced as the winner at the box office race, though actual numbers would have it losing by a couple hundred thousand. That's okay, though, because then weekend five rolled around and How to Train Your Dragon was officially #1 at the box office. At this point, the film had accumulated $178.3 million overall, and wasn't even close to being done.

By the time How to Train Your Dragon finally exited theaters in July, it earned $217.4 million in North America alone. That's $19 million more than Monsters vs. Aliens made, $37 million more than Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa made, $2 million more than Kung Fu Panda, and only $20 million less than established blockbuster franchise film Shrek Forever After. Worldwide, How to Train Your Dragon has earned $494.9 million. All of those revenues come in before merchandising and DVD/home video, where the film has already made a killing.

The accolades have continued to roll in, too, as How to Train Your Dragon is appearing on a plentitude of 2010 "best of" lists, not to mention the fact that it received both a Golden Globe nomination and an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film. Finally, DreamWorks seems to have discovered the magic that has worked for Pixar for so long - make a wonderful film with a captivating story and characters that feel like family, and people will support the product. Congratulations to Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (collaborators on the also-wonderful Lilo & Stitch) for bringing this success to the big screen.