A look back at the close box office race of 2013

John Cairns

Welcome back to our annual review of the box office highlights of 2013. Many will look back at 2013 as the "Year of the Flop" because of the large number of movies that just tanked at the box office last year -- After Earth, The Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D., etc.

If you want to nominate a Box Office Disappointment of the Year, I say share the award among all three of those, in recognition of the fact that it was a year of multiple flop movies at the North American cinemas.

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What is often overlooked by the commentators, though, is how competitive a year it actually was at the box office in 2013 with several hit movies, resulting in one of the closer finishes in recent memory.

In the recent past, we would usually see one movie end up clearly dominating the box office and setting all sorts of records. I remember when The Dark Knight just ran away with things in 2008 and then Avatar broke all sorts of records the following year. 2012 was an unusual situation because Marvel's The Avengers won the box office in large part due to the bad fortune of what transpired with The Dark Knight Rises. That awful shooting incident in Aurora, Colorado during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises created all sorts of bad publicity and apprehension, shutting down the momentum for that latter movie. In any event, that was another year where we saw a clear winner at the very top of the box office.

Normally these winning movies would feature the kind of populist content we have come to expect, with lots of special effects on display.

In the past decade the winning movies have included fantasy fare like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; action-adventure like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest; science fiction such as Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and of course Avatar; CGI animation such as Shrek 2 and Topy Story 3; and amazing superheroes such as Spider-Man 3, The Dark Knight, and Marvel's The Avengers.

It is usually no surprise what type of movie is likely to do well with those who regular pay for cinema tickets. These winning movies tend to fit a particular type with action, sci-fi or fantasy elements, and they usually come loaded with special effects. In fact, these days it's almost a prerequisite that in order to win the box office you have to have a lot of CGI in it.

For whatever reason, gritty crime dramas or spy movies just don't dominate the box office. Same thing for comedies. Despite all the hype surrounding Anchorman 2, with Will Ferrell reprising his role as Ron Burgundy, that flick only made $123 million dollars. That's a good return on its investment, but far from enough to be in contention for the box office title for 2013.

Here is a rundown of the movies that actually finished in the top 10 and as you can see by the list, special effects and CGI of all kinds dominated the list of top-grossing movies of the year at the domestic box office.

At number 10 was Oz the Great and Powerful, which debuted to $79 million on the March 8 opening weekend and finished with a domestic haul of $234,911,825.

At number 9 was Fast and Furious 6, which hauled in $238,679,850 following its May 24 weekend debut haul of $97 million. But the box office news took a back seat, though, to the death of series star Paul Walker late in 2013 in a gruesome car wreck. A big question now is whether or not the franchise can ever recover from his loss. That will be something to watch in the years ahead.

At number 8 was The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which opened December 13 weekend to $73 million and has so far grossed $252,344,000.

Also still in theatres at number 7 is Gravity, that outer-space thriller with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, which opened back in October and has hauled in $261,203,000.

At number 6, for now at least, is Monsters University which hauled in $268,492,764 during its run.

At number 5 is Man of Steel, the latest Superman movie, which hauled in $116 million when it opened June 14 and grossed a total domestic haul of $291,045,528.

Number 4 saw one of the biggest hits of the fall in Frozen. The animated movie opened in late November and has made $347,816,000 so far.

Still ahead of it, though, at number 3 is Despicable Me 2, the top-grossing animated movie of the summer with a haul of $368,061,265.

That left the final two spots to the battle between Iron Man 3, which kicked off the "summer blockbuster season" way back in May, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire which debuted November 22.

As folks recall, Iron Man 3 got off to a very fast start, hauling in an opening weekend total of $174,144,585 and winding up as the box office champion for the summer. The only question left was whether it could be the box office champ for the whole year, but it had some serious competition in the latest Hunger Games sequel starring Jennifer Lawrence.

Catching Fire did not "catch fire" to the degree some people anticipated when it bowed in November. Its opening haul was $158,074,286, which was the best November opening ever. Despite that, there were people actually claiming this was "disappointing" and a "flop." There was an article over at the CNBC website claiming this and pointing to how expensive it was to make the movie.

My reaction, though, was to say that if Catching Fire was a flop, then all the movies are, because it sure seemed like a big opening haul to me.

As it turned out, Catching Fire kept on earning money for weeks on end at the cinemas, and finally it caught and passed Iron Man 3 on Jan. 10 to claim the title of Box Office Champ of 2013 in North America.

Its domestic North American haul to date is $420,032,000 -- about $11 million on top of what Iron Man 3 made. Not bad for a "flop." I guess a few people will have to eat their words.

Another thing I read somewhere was that this was supposedly the first movie in something like three decades where a female lead (Jennifer Lawrence) won the box office for the year. But that statement makes no sense to me either, because it sure seemed like Kate Winslet carried that Titanic movie that did so well in 1997 and 1998.

The bottom line is it's rare for movies with female leads to win the box office, and part of the reason is because it's rare for females to be cast in the lead in the first place in these flicks. That ought to change, folks -- at least for these blockbuster-type movies. With Catching Fire doing so well, maybe female leads won't be so rare from now on.

Another interesting fact about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire -- while this movie has its share of action, the Hunger Games people absolutely refused to release this sequel in 3D. The fact that this movie was able to win the domestic box office without all the extra revenue usually associated with the higher 3D ticket prices is remarkable in itself.

Worldwide, though, Iron Man 3 remains ahead at $1.2 billion compared to $855 million for Catching Fire, thanks to big hauls internationally. So both these movies can claim to be the 2013 "champions" of some sort -- though I should point out Catching Fire is still in the theatres making money. In any event, it was quite a race to the top this year, one of the better ones in recent memory.

That about wraps up the box office story of 2013. The question now is what will 2014 bring at the domestic box office. Will it be a winning year for The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Or Transformers: Age of Extinction? Or will the box office champ be my personal favorite Japanese monster, Godzilla?

We'll see. It ought to be yet another monstrous year at the top of the box office charts once again.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist


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