We’re officially halfway through 2012, and if you’re an obsessive box-office junkie like me, that means it’s time to reflect back on the past six months at the movies and give credit to some of the best box-office performances. (Theoretically, it’s also time to think back to box-office disasters like Battleship, John Carter, and That’s My Boy, but we’ll save that for another time…)
There have been loads of strong performers with sensible budgets, so it was difficult to whittle down the slate (sorry, Safe House and Contraband, you were thisclose to making the cut!), but whittle I did. Thus, here is my totally-up-for-debate list of the 15 Most Impressive* Box Office Performances of 2012… so far.
Actually, a quick note before I begin. In a 2011 summer wrap-up piece posted right here on Inside Movies, EW critic Owen Gleiberman criticized the way that movie-buffs were selectively choosing which box-office performances were deemed “impressive” and which were not:
It’s fine to say that a movie succeeded or failed, but the fun of the numbers is that they don’t lie — so why should they be subjected to post-game bias? When Thor opened at $66.5 Million, it was greeted with a perfectly respectful yawn, but the $54 million grossed by Rise of the Planet of the Apes was treated as some sort of expectation-smashing, rise-of-the-rebel-blockbuster surprise.
Despite my initial knee-jerk reaction upon reading this (“Did he just say something bad about box-office analysts?! Why I oughta…”), I actually agree with Owen — at least in terms of cultural analysis. It’s absolutely true that whichever movie sold the most tickets was quantifiably the most mainstream.
But in terms of business analysis, I believe that people can — and should! — judge each movie’s economic performance on its own rubric. Since each movie has its own budget, its own marketing costs, and its own distribution challenges, each movie also has its own standards for success. Now let’s get started! (Shown in order of highest-to-lowest grossing.)
The Avengers (Disney)
— $607.2 million
The $220 million superhero ensemble broke the opening weekend record with a jaw-dropping $207.3 million bow. Since then, it’s held up with truly remarkable resilience, dropping by an average of just 38 percent over the past eight weekends. Most effects-laden blockbusters are lucky to avoid drops in the 60 percent range. Indeed, if James Cameron’s Titanic hadn’t gotten a 3-D re-release in April (lifting its lifetime total to $658.7 million), The Avengers would stand as the number two movie in domestic box office history. The fact that Marvel pulled off the years-in-the-works collaboration film remains, well, a marvel. Going into The Avengers, Iron Man was the only true A-list hero at the box office, but the film has boosted the stocks of Captain America and Thor substantially. This is just a major win all around for Disney.
The Hunger Games (Lionsgate)
— $403.8 million
Everyone was pretty much positive that The Hunger Games was going to be huge (especially here at EW — heck, we had it on our cover in May 2011!), but few would have believed it could reach these heights, especially as the first film in its franchise. The dystopian thriller’s $152.5 million debut was the best ever for a non-sequel, and it outgrossed every single Harry Potter movie domestically. Internationally, the $90 million film wasn’t as big of a smash, but it still took in $673.2 million worldwide and set the stage for lucrative returns in the years to come. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) also shattered the notion that a female-centric action movie won’t do big business — Brave ($137.2 million so far) and Snow White and the Huntsman ($146.3 million) have also made this clear.
The Lorax (Universal)
— $213.2 million
Following the lackluster year-end box office in 2011, everyone in Hollywood was hoping that the box office would rejuvenate itself in 2012 and get back to seeing green… or orange as it were! When Universal’s Dr. Seuss adaptation way over-performed during its March 2 debut, earning $70.2 million in its first three days, analysts officially deemed the slump over. The Lorax eventually earned a delightful $213.2 million, which put it way ahead of the last Dr. Seuss animation, Horton Hears A Who, which grossed $154.5 million in 2008. Notably, The Lorax easily retained the number one spot in its sophomore weekend, keeping the blockbuster-that-wasn’t, John Carter, in second place — which certainly didn’t help quiet the deafening screams of “Flop!” that followed that movie from its first hours in theaters.
21 Jump Street (Sony)
— $138.4 million
The Year of Channing Tatum began in earnest when his saccharine romance The Vow attracted $125 million worth of ticket buyers in February. But just one month later, Tatum took a totally different sort of movie, the R-rated comedy, to the top of the box office with 21 Jump Street. The $30 million raunchfest, which also stars Jonah Hill, debuted at $36.1 million, and thanks to good reviews and strong word-of-mouth, it remained a box-office contender for months. Its performance was especially impressive given the R-rated burnout that plagued comedies like The Change-Up and 30 Minutes or Less in late-summer 2011. All told, the film has earned $138.4 million and a sequel is in development.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Warner Brothers)
– $103.9 million
I can imagine what you’re thinking: This movie? Seriously? But the $79 million Warner Bros. sequel deserves some credit. Journey 2‘s box-office journey was largely ignored by the media, despite the fact that it out-earned its predecessor (Journey to the Center of the Earth grossed $101.7 million in 2008) and took in a heaping $325 million globally. The film never rose higher than number three on the domestic charts, but its solid week-to-week returns helped the dino-infused adventure stomp away with a respectable sum, which was surprising considering the original Journey film wasn’t exactly beloved. Fellow sequels to lackluster originals, Wrath of the Titans ($83.7 million) and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance ($51.8 million), both suffered at the box office, but audiences enjoyed the fun vibe of the Journey movies. It’s Josh Hutcherson’s other successful franchise — you know, the one that doesn’t come with hordes of screaming fangirls.
Think Like A Man (Sony)
— $91.0 million
Steve Harvey’s New York Times bestselling comedic advice book about dating got the film treatment in April and proved more popular than anyone had expected. Think Like a Man, which starred Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Gabrielle Union, and comedian Kevin Hart, opened with $33.6 million and dethroned The Hunger Games on the box office chart. The film played to a niche African-American audience, so it was a tad bit frontloaded (as any film that plays to a niche audience usually is), but it held up much better than comparable titles like Jumping the Broom or Madea’s Big Happy Family. Most impressively, Think Like A Man cost just $12 million to produce, and you can bet ScreenGems (who had already scored with The Vow this year) was excited for a second straight hit.
Act of Valor (Relativity)
— $70 million
The Bandito Brothers spent $12 million on this patriotic action film, which stars real-life Navy SEALs in its lead roles. Relativity picked up the film for a modest $13 million and then marketed it aggressively, taking out four Super Bowl commercials to get Americans excited about the military adventure. Relativity also targeted country music fans by having Keith Urban sing an officially released song on the movie’s soundtrack. (An Aussie? Go figure!) On its opening weekend, the SEALs easily held of Tyler Perrys Good Deeds and shot up $24.5 million worth of tickets. Thirteen weeks later, Act of Valor was still selling tickets, thriving despite its R-rating and lack of bankable stars.