There’s no arguing who won the 2012 box-office: The Avengers smashed the competition, making $623.4 million. The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, Skyfall, and Breaking Dawn Part 2 also recorded blockbuster grosses, and the executives responsible for these hits can pat themselves on the backs for delivering the goods, which in these cases did not come cheap. The top 10 movies on last year’s box-office list cost, on average, more than $175 million each to produce — and that’s before a dime was spent on the marketing of a film and all the other fine-print considerations that eat into the profits.
But there’s more than one way to judge a film’s success, and while every producer might prefer to be in The Avengers‘ position, other, more modest films can claim victory as well. Back in 2005, EW devised a Popularity Index, which measured a film’s staying power in theaters; we’ve tweaked it only slightly this year to recognize the increasing number of platform releases. To get the index, we simply divided a movie’s total domestic gross by its biggest weekend tally — normally its opening frame, but not always.
The result is 10 movies that didn’t have record-breaking opening weekends, but they had legs. Many of them started slowly and gained steam as awards season heated up. Others were initially seen as disappointments, but then they just refused to go away, playing week after week to decent crowds. Most all of them had that rumored-to-be-extinct Hollywood creature: The Movie Star. Beancounters might prefer to be on that other box-office list, but the Popularity Index captures elements of quality that studios shouldn’t overlook.
Click below for the 2012 Popularity Index Top 10.
1. The Silver Linings Playbook — 8.39
2. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — 7.25
3. Lincoln — 6.77
4. Argo — 6.36
5. This is 40 — 5.80
6. The Guilt Trip — 5.65
7. Les Miserables — 5.29
8. Jack Reacher — 5.21
9. Django Unchained — 5.14
10. 2016 Obama’s America — 5.14
It’s no surprise that five of the nine Best Picture nominees made the list. Two others, Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild, would also have made the cut had we included limited-run releases. (Only films that ultimately screened in more than 1,000 theaters were considered.) Tom Cruise and Barbra Streisand proved that they can keep an underwhelming film afloat on name-power alone. The clear outlier is 2016 Obama’s America, the critical documentary of the President that enjoyed a long, steady under-the-radar run during the summer campaign season. It wasn’t well-received by movie critics, but it found its base, so to speak.
At the end of the day, which Top 10 list of movies — biggest grosses or Popularity Index — would you prefer to be forced to watch all in one weekend?