Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008:
#4: The Dream(Works) Is Over. Again.

By David Mumpower

January 14, 2009

See, the thing is, we don't have your money right now, but as soon as our loan goes through...

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The first DreamWorks Animation release, Antz, was soundly criticized for being a clone of Pixar's A Bug's Life, a valid complaint, but the film still earned $90.8 million domestically and brought in over $150 million worldwide, an impressive feat for a $60 million production. A few months later at Christmas, the well-timed The Prince of Egypt brought in just over $100 million domestically and $218.6 million worldwide again against a cost of only $60 million. Audiences instinctively trusted DreamWorks Animation as if it were a Disney spin-off, and the box office successes were plentiful because of this.

Obviously, the biggest success for DreamWorks came in the form of a giant green dude with a hackneyed accent. The original Shrek instantly became the upstart studio's biggest blockbuster with $267.7 million earned in North America and a whopping $484.4 million worldwide against a production budget of only $50 million. After that performance, DreamWorks Animation was legitimized as a big-time movie studio. And the release of the next two Shrek films reinforced that idea. Shrek 2 opened to a historic $108.0 million, second biggest of all-time up until that point, and went on to accrue $436.7 million domestically. It is as of this publication date the fourth biggest movie of all time in North America. Shrek the Third, while a critical disappointment, continued the franchise's run of greatness by opening to $121.6 million, fourth biggest in industry history. With another $321.0 million from that film, Shrek has brought in a staggering $1.025 billion in domestic revenue and $2.178 billion worldwide with just three releases. Any discussion of the most impressive box office feats of the 21st century has to begin with the Shrek franchise. Its success should have been a boon for DreamWorks' trio of movie moguls.


Alas, there were missteps along the way. Due in no small part to a serious miscalculation in the box office appeal of Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas in 2003, DreamWorks teetered on the brink of bankruptcy that year. While the success of Shrek 2 in 2004 helped quite a bit, some of that financial gain was given back when the company dramatically overestimated the number of DVDs the title would sell. As many as one in four of them were returned unsold from retailers to the studio. Any forward progress the company had made on the animated front was stymied by such financial pitfalls and the live action side never had a bigger hit than 1998's Saving Private Ryan, which managed $216.3 million domestically. Ignoring the animated titles, the biggest DreamWorks releases after that were Gladiator ($187.7 million), What Lies Beneath ($155.4 million), Catch Me If You Can ($164.6 million), American Beauty ($130.1 million), The Ring ($129.1 million), Road to Perdition ($104.1 million) and Collateral ($100.2 million). No other DreamWorks live action title broke the $100 million barrier, with The Haunting coming closest at $91.2 million followed by Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy at $84.1 million.

Out of the studio's ten biggest live action films listed above, most of the successes occurred in the period from 1998-2002. Only Collateral and Anchorman came out after that period, reinforcing the fact that DreamWorks was in a downward spiral and their drawing power was in question. This point was driven home in 2005 when their would-be tentpole title that summer, The Island, bombed in dramatic fashion. Despite a lofty $126 million budget, the film starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson managed only $35.8 million domestically. That would prove to be the final blow to DreamWorks' live action division and its ability to financially support itself.

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