Ten Movies Released in 2012 That You Had No Idea Were Hugely Profitable Successes
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Ten Movies Released in 2012 That You Had No Idea Were Hugely Profitable Successes

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | November 4, 2012 | Comments ()


Our good friend Dave Chen highlighted an article over at the Columbia Journalism Review this weekend that essentially posited that weekend box-office reports are not only pointless, but they're misleading. They don't tell the whole story and, in some cases, barely tell any of the story at all.

Once upon a time, six decades ago, such box-office numbers were critical to the fortunes of Hollywood. The major studios then owned most of the large theater chains and made virtually all of their profits from ticket sales at their own theaters. But as of the late 1940s, antitrust rulings forced the Hollywood studios to divest their theaters, and the theater business evolved into multiplex chains that the studios did not control. As television, home video, pay cable, DVDs, and now streaming have become ubiquitous in American homes, the studios have radically changed their business model, moving their profit centers from the large to the small screen, making the box-office race less relevant.

Even the numbers themselves are misleading. The reported "grosses" are not those of the studios but the projected sales of tickets at the movie houses in the US and Canada (which is counted by Hollywood as part of the US). Whatever the amount actually is, movie houses remit about 50 percent to the movie distributor, which then deducts, off the top, its out-of-pocket costs, which includes advertising, prints, insurance, local taxes, and other logistical expenses. For an average big-studio movie, these costs now amount to about $40 million--so, just to stay in the black, a movie needs $74 million in ticket sales. Many films don't make that much, and even those that do may not be profitable.

The article's author, Edward Jay Epstein, is absolutely right, and anyone who regularly reads movie blogs knows that (which is why not goddamn a week goes by without someone kvetching because I didn't include worldwide totals in a box-office list). It's largely why I use the weekly box-office reports, not as a means to relay the misleading numbers, but as an impetus to write a broader list, often more interesting for trivia's sake than in imparting the actual story behind the success of a movie.

It's difficult, however, for us to tell the whole story because those numbers aren't available to us -- we aren't privy to how much a studio spends to market a film, how much prints costs, the percentage taken off the top by exhibitors, DVD sales and rental fees, licensing fees, money earned from television rights, or revenue generated from licensing a movie to Netflix or Amazon. Those numbers, as the article points out, are highly confidential. We use the numbers we are given, and create the only story we're able to create, even if it's only a snapshot of one weekend in the entire life of a movie.

We are interested in the horse race, and those of us that are invested in the industry side of things can gain some statistical satisfaction in finding out, for instance, that Wreck-It-Ralph led the box-office this weekend with nearly $50 million, making it the biggest weekend for a Disney animated film of all time (narrowly edging out Tangled) or that Denzel Washington's Flight made a massive $25 on only 1800 screens, an unheard of number for a film released in so few theaters these days. Of course, that also raises another question: Why was a Denzel movie released in so few screens, and would it have made substantially more if it'd opened in 3,000+ screens, as is typical of movies with marquee stars?

That said, by focusing on the weekend numbers, we do miss out on some interesting successes that quietly rack up large amounts over several months in theaters, those that make a lot of money overseas, and those that make huge profits thanks to modest budgets. Again, I don't know how much it costs to market these films, nor how much the studios made in other profit streams, but I do find it interesting that these ten films -- rarely discussed as huge successes -- all made more than $100 million in profit.

Basically, using the numbers provided -- North American and Worldwide Box Office, plus the reported budgets for the films -- I went through all the 2012 releases so far and found 10 films that you probably didn't know made over $100 million in profit this year. The profit number in parenthesis is arrived at by subtracting the budget from the worldwide box office. Some of these were quiet successes, while others were considered by many to be failures at the American box office (note, too, that three films considered under performers in America just missed the cut: Battleship ($93 million in profit; Underworld Awakening $88 million; Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance $75 million).

1. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island ($246 million)

2. The Vow ($166 million)

3. American Pie Reunion ($165 million)

4. Resident Evil Retribution ($165 million)

5. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($124 million)

6. Woman in Black ($112 million)

7. The Dictator ($110 million)

8. Looper ($108 million)

9. Step Up Revolution ($106 million)

10. Devil Inside ($100 million)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • SHG

    I think there is a large error in the numbers here- You say you got "profit" by subtracting budget from Worldwide gross- but in the quote you put in your article, the author says that only %50 of box office grosses go to the studio. So profit should be budget minus HALF of worldwide grosses (not all of them, which is what you have), which would change your numbers dramatically. Not to mention that budget needs to include marketing costs, which can be as much as the production budget- so if you defined budget as just how much the movie cost to make and not to market it, then your profits go down even further. This article is very misleading.

  • denesteak

    The Dictator did really well in Cambodia. Like really, really well. Apparently, a fictional dictator really resonates with an audience who's been living under a "benevolent dictatorship" for the last 30 years.

  • kylie45
  • Tom

    Since studios tend to sell movies in a large group to streaming services rather than one at a time, I wonder if simply creating inventory is more important. In the past you would see a movie make around $30 million and "fail" but the studios would be quick to point out that it was a success because of home video. In that case the individual merits of the movie still matter because it needs to be good for people to buy it on video. When you're selling recent movies to Netflix or Amazon, you're licensing a bunch of movies from your studio. So is that a new way for a studio to recoup money on a box office failure even if it wasn't any good? The logical extension of this is that studios will make more movies of questionable quality as long as they have some recognizable names and faces because they can recoup the costs in a new way that isn't tied to quality. I could be completely wrong and have no idea what I'm talking about, but that is what I just thought of when I read this

  • KatSings

    Flight only made $25 on 1800 screens? I'm thinking there may be some zeroes missing.

  • Devin McMusters

    "that Denzel Washington’s Flight made a massive $25 on only 1800 screens"
    That's what....2 people seeing it?

  • NoPantsMcLane

    No need to delete my comment just because i pointed out your mistake.

  • BWeaves

    I'm thrilled the Hotel movie did so well. Yay, old geezers!!!

  • AudioSuede


  • ZTT

    You can bet that a major studio will at least spend its production budget on marketing costs, or prints and advertising. Therefore, these numbers, like you said at the beginning of the article, mean nothing.

  • Quatermain

    I'm glad to see 'Woman in Black' made a shit-ton of money. That movie was an underrated piece of gold and one of the few movies on that list that actually deserves to make a hundred million dollars.

  • Jezzer

    Agreed. It's also guaranteed to creep the bejeebers out of you if you watch it alone with the lights off.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Pajiba exists on the weekend? Is this a daylight savings thing?

  • Arran

    I'm completely fucking flabbergasted that American Reunion made that much money outside of America. Leaving quality out of the equation (I haven't seen it), it's pretty rare for American comedies to do huge business outside of the US, let alone THAT much better than it did at home. Look at most hit comedies from the last decade; they tend to do at least 60% of their business in America. (Notable exception: The Hangover 2. Go figure.)

  • Natallica

    I live in Argentina and a lot of American comedies have box office success here. "Ted", for example, was on top of the box office in my city for three weeks

  • I live in the UK now and was surprised at how much people recalled Stiffler and co. so it looks like American Pie was pretty massive here at some point. Makes a little bit of sense. Outside of here though...

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