Top 10 Film Industry Stories of 2011: #8

North American Movie-Goers Less Animated in 2011

By Kim Hollis

December 27, 2011

Look, she's screaming at him. We totally need that!

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The heavy hitters weren’t immune, either. The aforementioned Cars 2, from Pixar, finished more than $50 million lower than the original film, and it couldn’t make its budget back in North America. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that Cars 2 was never so much about the box office receipts as it was about the potential for merchandising revenue that would come from that day forward. Surely Disney’s plan was for there to be a Lightning McQueen under every Christmas tree during the holiday season. As for DreamWorks, Kung Fu Panda 2 came in $50 million lower than Kung Fu Panda, while Puss in Boots, an offshoot of the Shrek series, finished almost $100 million lower than any previous movie from that franchise. Yes, both Kung Fu Panda and Puss in Boots were profitable, but there was still that feeling of disappointment surrounding them, as if money had been left on the table.

As for Happy Feet Too, it followed the Hoodwinked Too! Model. To date, it is sits with $130 million less than the original film made, and doesn’t have a prayer of getting near its $135 million production budget. International receipts may not even help. And Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked had an opening weekend that was less than half what its predecessor (the Squeakquel) was able to incur (and $21 million less than the first film). Both of the previous Chipmunks films earned more than $200 million during their North American theatrical runs, and Chipwrecked doesn’t have a hope of getting close to them.

Along with Chipwrecked, two other animated flicks tried to test their mettle during the holiday season, and neither one impressed domestic audiences. Arthur Christmas, from the wonderful Aardman Animations, has earned only $44.2 million as of this writing, while The Adventures of Tintin was decidedly blah over its Christmas weekend release, particularly considering that Steven Spielberg’s name is associated with it. Fortunately for both films, they were always going to be much bigger overseas than in the U.S., and profitability will come from those avenues.


By far the biggest animated travesty of the year, though, was Mars Needs Moms, a movie I was convinced must have been released in Fall of 2010 since it had long ago fallen from memory. But no, the motion capture animated flick opened on March 11, 2011. Its three-day debut weekend total of $6.8 million was the 12th worst opening ever amongst films that started in more than 3,000 venues. It was eventually able to eke out a domestic total of $21 million, but that number was bad enough to put the Disney production amongst the worst box office bombs in history. The film had a reported $150 million budget, and even with international receipts added in, the movie just couldn’t come close to getting out of the red. The end result was that Disney shut down ImageMovers Digital, the animation company it formed with motion capture proponent Robert Zemeckis.

The year’s happiest story in animation actually arrived courtesy of an old, well-loved friend. The Lion King returned to theaters in September with a full 3D conversion. It was effectively intended to be a promotional push for the Blu-ray release on October 4th, but an audience full of nostalgia and love for Simba and his friends proved that this strategy is one that Disney can employ to regenerate interest in their classics. The Lion King 3D had an “opening” weekend of $30.1 million and tallied $94.2 million before it exited theaters a few weeks later. Clearly, with the right packaging and motivation, audiences are willing to pay for product that they can readily get at home. Disney certainly plans to try again with Beauty and the Beast 3D in early 2012.

Repackaging old product won’t work indefinitely, though, and studios are going to have to move forward with aggressive marketing strategies for their 2012 releases. 2011 trending has shown us that studios are growing ever more reliant upon international box office for revenue, and the animation genre is proving that this is a critical element in profitability. Will North American audiences fall back in love with Pixar as they move forward with an original story in Brave? Can DreamWorks expand the audience of Madagascar and its sequel? And will Ice Age: Continental Drift be the highest grossing international film of 2012? Studios will be hoping that 2011 was an anomaly for the genre.

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