2015 the year of the blockbusters

Cairns on Cinema

John Cairns

Welcome to my annual Cairns on Cinema review of the movie box office in 2015.

It turned out to be a much different year than 2014 was. 2014 was beset by no end of problems, with some numbers down as well as that Sony hacking mess and the problems surrounding their controversial release, The Interview. It made for an ugly 2014 overall, but if there is a common theme to point to in 2015, it is that the blockbusters made a roaring comeback this past year. 

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The domestic box office was way up for the year at $11 billion, up from $10.3 billion the year before, an increase of a little over five per cent.

The main reason for the bump was big successes chalked up by big blockbuster movie releases this year.

It really was a massive year for blockbusters, with movies like The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Pixar’s CGI-animated Inside Out and the final The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 hauling in big dollars.

But the performance of two movies stood out above all the rest and really put 2015 over the top.

The first is Jurassic World, Universal’s long-awaited sequel to the successful Jurassic Park series. But it has been a while since we’ve seen a Jurassic movie of any sort, so there was an obvious pent-up demand for this latest installment, which opened June 12.

Records fell when Jurassic World opened. Their domestic opening weekend haul was $208.8 million, beating the record of the first Avengers movie by a little over a million dollars. Counting opening weekend international numbers  their haul stood at $524.9 million, which set the record as the best worldwide opening weekend of a movie of all time.

Jurassic World’s entire domestic haul for the year stood at $652.2 million, a monumental performance topped only by two movies in history: Avatar at $761 million and Titanic at $658.6 million. Counting the international markets, Jurassic World’s worldwide haul stands at $1.66 billion according to the numbers at Box Office Mojo – again, topped only by Avatar at $2.78 billion and Titanic at $2.18 billion.

Jurassic World’s performance was impressive. It was nothing, however, compared to the behemoth that turned out to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I could tell that this seventh Star Wars movie, released by Disney and directed this time by J.J. Abrams, was going to be a huge hit simply by looking at the merchandise at the local Walmart several months in advance. It was all Star Wars this and Star Wars that, long before the movie’s Dec. 18 release date, which was circled on every Star Wars fan’s calendar.

But honestly, I really had no idea it was going to do the type of damage it did at the box office. And before the year even started I questioned whether it would be a record setter at all. It looked to me like this flick was going to be “yet another Star Wars movie.” It turned out to be a movie for the ages.

Thursday Dec. 17, the movie was shown as a “preview” on screens across North America and brought in $57 million on preview night alone.

According to the way things work in Hollywood, those preview numbers count as part of “opening day,” and Star Wars: The Force Awakens hauled in a record Friday domestic haul of $119.1 million – topping the opening day record of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II by $20 million.

By the end of the weekend the domestic haul for opening weekend was $247.9 million – the best opening weekend of all time, shattering Jurassic World’s record from earlier in the summer. Adding in the international numbers and the overall haul was $528.9 million – again, the best of all time.

The records just kept on falling from that point on, mainly at Jurassic World’s expense. By the following weekend Star Wars: the Force Awakens had crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide, the fastest movie to achieve this mark.

The next week, it passed the marks both Jurassic World and Titanic made on its way to a $700 million domestic box office, clinching the 2015 domestic box office title and becoming the fastest movie to make it to that mark of all time.   

This past week, on Wednesday, the biggest domestic record of them all – Avatar’s $761 million haul in 2009 and 2010 – fell after just 20 days. And an overall worldwide box office haul of over $2 billion was in sight. Whether Star Wars: The Force Awakens can topple Avatar’s $2.78 billion overall record remains to be seen.  

All in all, it was an unstoppable record-shattering performance for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the likes of which we may not see again for a long, long time. And its run is still going.

That was 2015 at the box office, a year of record hauls, but also a top-heavy one with just a few blockbuster pictures and only a few studios, mainly Disney and Universal, at the top of the heap. Just look at the “top 10” list of movies for the year and you will see what I mean, with most of the top blockbusters recorded by Disney (Buena Vista) or Universal.

That seems to be the way of it in Hollywood nowadays. For a number of years it really has been feast or famine, and not much in between, for most of the studios.

In reverse order, here is the list of the top 10 box office movies of 2015 with numbers updated as of Jan. 6 from Box Office Mojo:

10. Spectre (Sony) $198,035,905           

9. Cinderella (2015) (Buena Vista) $201,151,353           

8. The Martian (Fox) $226,060,608             

7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (Lions Gate) $275,222,668 

6. Minions (Universal) $336,045,770

5. Furious 7 (Universal) $353,007,020           

4. Inside Out (Buena Vista) $356,461,711           

3. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Buena Vista) $459,005,868

2. Jurassic World (Universal) $652,270,625             

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Buena Vista) $764,408,684

I’ll wrap up 2015 by saying “boy was I wrong” in predicting another lackluster year of business. When I had looked initially at the 2015 schedule of movies I saw a lot of “repeat” titles in the mix, with sequels from many of the usual franchises. I didn’t think there was going to be a lot of enthusiasm for them, or that the enthusiasm would be cancelled out.

Clearly, there was demand out there for some of these movie franchises, particularly Star Wars, which now must rank as the top franchise of all time. I guess I learned my big lesson: never underestimate the power of the Force.

So, onward we go to 2016. May the force be with you.   




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