Top 10 Film Industry Stories of 2011: #3

Box Office Billionaire's Club

By David Mumpower

December 29, 2011

She's going to win this beauty contest easily.

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One of the dirty secrets of the movie industry is that ticket sales are in near constant decline. This has been true since the ascension of network television back in the 1940s, but 2011 bore witness to a spectacular overall box office failure. North American consumers purchased roughly 1.24 billion tickets, the fewest since 1995. To put this in perspective, the number one movie that year was Batman Forever, three Batman movies ago.

Yes, the vanishing movie goer epidemic is terrible news for content creators as well as exhibitors. In spite of the North American box office horror, many of the major titles in release in 2011 wound up with respectable overall box office revenue. The reason why is simple. The long awaited shift in box office behavior has occurred.

After years of meticulous enterprise designed to broaden the appeal of Hollywood cinema abroad, these new theaters overseas have begun to provide the long awaited return on investment. Due to prudent construction investments in recent years, Hollywood became a global industry with the proof in the splits of their major releases. While domestic receipts fell a whopping half a billion dollars from 2010, a record number of titles joined the prestigious Box Office Billionaire’s Club due in large part to foreign receipts. The importance of North American box office has been diminished to an unprecedented degree in 2011, with all signs pointing to even larger overseas percentage splits in the coming years.


Entering 2011, only seven titles in the history of the industry had accumulated global receipts in excess of a billion dollars. Those films are Titanic, Avatar, The Dark Knight, Alice in Wonderland, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Toy Story 3. While Alice in Wonderland still sticks out like a sore thumb, this overall group represents the upper echelon of Hollywood cinema. 2010 was the first year for multiple releases to enter the Box Office Billionaire’s Club. Given the lackluster quality of the 2011 release schedule, few analysts were expecting this feat to be matched, much less surpassed. And yet this is exactly what transpired.

The title everyone ceded a spot in the Billionaire’s Club was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the climactic entry from the most popular franchise in box office history. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Potter 8 earned $1.33 billion, which is the best global performance ever for a title James Cameron did not direct.

The other entry that probably will not shock you is the third Transformers release from Michael Bay, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The first two titles earned $709 million and $836 million respectively. As such, a bump to $1.12 million seems reasonable, albeit a failure of the Karma Police after the atrocity that was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The unexpected entry in the Billionaire’s Club is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, a universally derided money grab that did in fact grab a lot of money. After Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End failed to reach a billion dollars, ending with $958 million, there was little reason to expect a generally unwanted follow-up to exceed its predecessor. Somehow, this is exactly what happened as On Stranger Tides has managed $1.04 billion, within striking range of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest as most lucrative performer in the franchise. How did this happen for this unwelcome sequel in particular and all three titles in general? This is the crux of the conversation.

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