We’re officially halfway through 2013, 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 so far this year.
By “best,” I don’t simply mean “highest grossing” — you can find that list here — I mean most impressive. Since each movie has its own budget, its own marketing costs, and its own distribution challenges, each movie also has its own standard for success. I like to judge films on their own rubrics — so I have!
This year, there were a lot of close calls. Films like Oz The Great and Powerful and This is the End were this close to making the list (A Good Day to Die Hard and Jack the Giant Slayer, meanwhile, were not), but not everything could make the cut. Thus, here is my totally-up-for-debate list of the 15 Most Impressive Box Office Performances of 2013 so far. (Shown in order of highest-to-lowest grossing)
Iron Man 3 (Disney) — $406.4 million
No one was positive that the success of The Avengers ($623.4 million domestic, $1.5 billion worldwide) would augment the grosses of the individual superheroes that it featured. But if Iron Man 3 is any indication, then Thor and Cappy should prepare for substantial box-office boosts when their sequels hit theaters. The Robert Downey Jr. vehicle has earned 30-percent more than its predecessor, Iron Man 2, which topped out at $312.4 million in 2010. And worldwide, Iron Man 3 has soared to $1.21 billion — a figure that guarantees that Disney is walking away with a few hundred million dollars of pure profit.
Man of Steel (Warner Bros.) — $271.2 million
The box office performance of the latest Superman reboot has been a hotly contested topic. Some consider it a slam dunk, since it opened with $128.7 million and easily surpassed the disappointing $200 million domestic total of 2006’s Superman Returns. Some consider it a disappointment, since it cost a whopping $225 million to produce and has fallen swiftly from its gargantuan debut, putting it on track for a $300 million domestic finish. I fall into the former camp. Warner Bros. marketed the heck out of this Zack Snyder-directed sequel; it’s already earned $542.9 million worldwide (Returns grossed just $391 million) en route to a likely $700 million finish. While that pales in comparison to Iron Man 3‘s global haul, Man of Steel is a franchise launchpad — not a sequel — and it nicely sets up Warner Bros. to build a mega-profitable series around appealing star Henry Cavill.
Fast & Furious 6 (Universal) — $235.4 million
How many franchises can honestly say they are on the upswing in their sixth editions? Universal’s Fast & Furious franchise certainly can — both creatively and financially. Fast & Furious 6 accelerated right out of the gate, leaving The Hangover Part III in the dust on Memorial Day weekend when it earned $117 million over the extended holiday frame. The film, which cost $160 million to make, has maintained a healthy speed since then, giving it a series-best $235.4 million domestically (ahead of Fast Five‘s $209 million) and another series-best $695 million globally (ahead of Fast Five‘s $626.1 million). Notably, Fast & Furious 6 helped The Rock achieve his incredible 19 weekend streak in the box office Top Ten.
The Croods (Fox) — $185.1 million
Really, this accolade belongs to Fox’s distribution team, who wisely scheduled The Croods on March 22 — a date that followed a dryspell of family releases, and one that assured The Croods would be the only animated film in theaters for over two months. The Croods, which was produced by DreamWorks for $135 million, boasted a colorful palette and likable characters. Add in a complete lack of family competition, and it’s no wonder the film evolved into a $185.1 million domestic hit and a $578.5 million worldwide smash. That was great news for DreamWorks, which was forced to take an $87 million write-down in early 2013 after the weak performance of Rise of the Guardians, as well as Fox, which was beginning a five-year distribution deal with the animation studio.
The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros.) — $142.5 million
Period pieces and literary adaptations are far from sure-things at the box office, but Gatsby, with its hip soundtrack and sleek visuals, managed to break out of the arthouse world and score $142.5 million — way above Baz Luhrmann’s former career high point, Moulin Rouge, which earned $57 million. Worldwide, Gatsby has earned $321 million against a $105 million budget (though some reports place its budget at $190 million, studio reps claims tax rebates brought it down substantially), providing a nice comeback for Warner Bros. following their awful streak of flops like Jack the Giant Slayer, Beautiful Creatures, and Bullet to the Head.
Identity Thief (Universal) — $134.5 million
Critics hated this $35 million Melissa McCarthy/Jason Bateman comedy, but audiences didn’t care. They were just eager to see McCarthy in a leading role, and the film scored $34.6 million on opening weekend and then held all the way to a $134.5 million finish. The film was a huge win for Universal, which has lately released several films with sensible budgets and had a banner year thanks to the success of Fast & Furious 6, Pitch Perfect, Les Miserables, and a few more films still coming up in the second half of the year.
Now You See Me (Summit) — $110.4 million
Summit’s $75 million magician caper has been the surprise of the summer. It out-earned Sony’s Will Smith vehicle After Earth on opening weekend, taking in $29.4 million. And since then, it’s fallen by an average of just 34 percent on each of its four subsequent weekends — pushing it past the $100 million mark and leaving it on track for a $120 million finish. The success of films like Now You See Me are the reason why Lionsgate, which purchased Summit last year, has seen its stock soar from $16.85 per share to $30.29 over the past six months.
Olympus Has Fallen (FilmDistrict) — $98.8 million
Fledgling studio FilmDistrict scored their best box office run ever with this $70 million White House thriller, which beat the flashier $150 million White House Down into theaters, and will almost certainly beat it at the box office, too. Thanks to a captivating ad campaign, which featured the striking visual of the presidential residence in peril, the film opened with $30.4 million on March 22, and it held strong in the top ten for six weeks. Olympus also marked a comeback for star Gerard Butler, whose last three wide releases, Chasing Mavericks ($6 million total), Playing for Keeps ($13.1 million), and Movie 43 ($8.8 million), all flopped.
42 (Warner Bros.) — $94.6 million
The Jackie Robinson biopic didn’t have a star in the title role (newcomer Chadwick Boseman played the baseball legend), but Warner Bros. made sure that Harrison Ford was ever-present in marketing, and the strategy paid off. The $40 million drama topped the chart on its debut weekend with $27.5 million and kept circling the bases until it reached $94.6 million total — a stronger run than Brad Pitt’s Moneyball, which scored $75.6 million in 2011 and Clint Eastwood’s Trouble with the Curve, which topped out at $35.8 million in 2012.
Mama (Universal) — $71.6 million
Mama, which was “presented by” producer Guillermo Del Toro, reaped a scary good $28.4 million during its opening weekend in the doldrums of January. It then went on to earn $71.6 million — and all against a slim $15 million budget. Mama was one of the few box office bright spots during the rough January-March period.
Safe Haven (Relativity) — $71.3 million
I’ll admit it: Safe Haven is not the most worthy entry on this list (and if The Heat had come out one weekend earlier, it would take its place), but I’m including the Nicholas Sparks romance for three reasons. First off, it cost only $28 million to make and earned $71.3 million — a stronger result than A Good Day To Die Hard, which opened on the same day and earned only $67.3 million. Second, Safe Haven beat the two most recent Sparks adaptations, The Lucky One ($60.5 million) and The Last Song ($63 million), and it trails only The Notebook ($81 million) and Dear John ($80 million) among those films. Third, Safe Haven became the first legitimate hit for Julianne Hough, who had only previously seen middling results in Burlesque ($39.4 million), Footloose ($51.8 million), and Rock of Ages ($38.5 million). Plus, I was weirdly tickled by Safe Haven‘s totally innovative poster.
The Purge (Universal) — $63.6 million
The Jason Blum-produced thriller cost only $3 million to make, so when it opened to $34.1 million, it had already earned back its budget nearly twelve times over. Universal effectively marketed The Purge‘s killer premise — that for one night every year, all crime is legal — and even though it has shown little box office endurance (it likely won’t be able to double its opening weekend by the end of its run), the film is a huge, profitable winner thanks to its low cost.
The Call (TriStar) — $51.9 million
Here’s another case of a film’s low cost making it an “impressive” performer. This $12 million Halle Berry vehicle carried a slim $12 million budget, but its surprisingly strong $51.9 million total made it the highest grossing Halle Berry-led effort (excluding giant ensemble films like X-Men and New Year’s Eve) since 2003’s Gothika, which scared up $59.7 million. Sure, The Call may end up in a Target bargain bin by the end of 2013, but its sturdy gross and humble production costs prove refreshingly adequate in a box office era of bloated budgets and disappointing returns.
Mud (Roadside Attractions) — $20.8 million
With a reported $10 million budget, Mud may not be the most profitable film on this list, but the Roadside Attractions film ruled the arthouse roost in the first half of 2013. The Jeff Nichols-directed entry, which stars Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, never earned more than $2.5 million in a weekend, and never garnered a weekend theater average above $6,104, but it performed at just high enough of a level to justify its continued release. And after ten weekends, it broke the $20 million mark — a plateau that few indies ever reach — and easily trumped the gross of Nichols’ previous release, Take Shelter, which earned $1.7 million in 2011.
Quartet (Weinstein) — $18.4 million
The other notable indie of 2013 is Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet, which captured the support of older moviegoers and quietly blossomed into a hit. The film, which cost a reported $10 milllion, got a teensy bit of awards attention in late 2012, but it wasn’t available to the public until January 2013. That’s when The Weinstein Company expertly rolled out Quartet‘s release — expanding it for seven straight weekends and allowing word-of-mouth to carry business. The film, which stars Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon, only climbed as high as number 13, and its best weekend gross was just $1.8 million, but a long, hearty run in the lower rungs of the chart made Quartet an indie success.
Some of you may think Oz The Great And Powerful should be on this list. I’d say that it cost way too much at $215 million and that its $491 million worldwide gross pales in comparison to Alice in Wonderland‘s $1 billion haul. Some of you may think Spring Breakers should be on this list. I’d say that it’s $14.1 million gross was solid, but not unbelievable given its boatloads of publicity. Some of you may think Despicable Me 2 should be on the list given its incredible start — and you’d be totally right if this list included films released in the second half of 2013. By all means, refute my choices and provide some of your own in the comments below.