This Year in Box Office History: 2014 Review

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This Year in Box Office History:  2014

A new year is upon us, which means it’s time to gripe about the old one!  There were a lot of ups and downs to 2014, a year which saw several record setting weekends…for both highs and lows.  While Hollywood jumped off to a great start with early year hits like Ride Along and Captain America:  The Winter Soldier, the box office froze over early, with some of the worst weekend numbers in nearly a decade.  We’ll talk about the money, obviously, but the year end review gives us a great chance to look at some wider trends, and to compare the actual movie landscape of 2014 to our wishlist from 2013.

Good Trend, Bad Trend

 1.  Marvelous?

Why yes, a dance off is an acceptable method to determine Marvel's best franchise.  Good thinking.
Why yes, a dance off is an acceptable method to determine Marvel’s best franchise. Good thinking.

Marvel scored big this frame, making a surprise hit out of Captain America: The Winter Soldier early in the year, and following up with an even bigger coup with the mega hit, Guardians of the Galaxy.  Cap Am’s first film was definitely the ugly duckling of the Avengers field (unless you count how many times Hulk movies have fallen on their faces,) making the least money of the initial phase one films.  Guardians was a relative gamble, attempting to use a fun story, humor, and well paced action to sell a super-hero movie instead of a known brand (who’dve thunk it?) Hidden by these two juggernauts, one could almost forget that the animated Big Hero 6 was also a Marvel property, and had itself a strong go at the box office as well.  If you want to be generous, other studios had a solid year this well playing with Marvel’s toys:  Amazing Spider Man 2 was not well received, but did make good money, and The X-Men mash-up, Days of Future Past, was a solid return to profitability for Fox Studios.

Verdict:  Good…until the over-saturation sets in.  Marvel seems to be cognizant of this, spacing out their releases, but with DC’s heroes, The Fantastic Four, and others all lined up to feed at the trough next year, it could get messy, fast.

2.  For Christ’s Sake!

Well, not at the box office, he ain't!
Well, not at the box office, he ain’t!

This year got off to a quick start with movies inspired by the Bible…and movies inspired by taking money from folks inspired by the Bible.  When the films were genuine explorations of religious themes, like Son of God and God’s Not Dead, they managed to inspire the faithful.  When they were misguided epics like Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, they were mostly on the low side of mediocre.  And when they were shameless “me too, me too!” barnacles, attempting to siphon off Christian dollars like Mom’s Night Out, Left Behind, When the Game Stands Tall, The Identical…y0u get the idea.  These films attempted to wedge Christian philosophy into established genres, with awful plots and trite sentiments, and got rightly ignored by audiences.

Verdict:  Mixed.  It’s not my cup of tea, but films like God’s Not Dead and Heaven is Real cater respectfully to a large demographic, which when done well is great.  The “Me too!” films need to vanish, and I hope those studios lost a lot of money trying to essentially swindle religious folks.  I’m a fan of Biblical epics in the Cecil B Demille style, and as an enduring  work of literature, I like the idea of novel angles on familiar stories…if they’re done well.

3.  Remakes, Remakes, Remakes

A remake worth the effort...and a musical to boot!
A remake worth the effort…and a musical to boot!

The shameless rehashing of the 1980’s nostalgia continued unabated last year, with remakes of Robocop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Godzilla and Hercules all making an appearance.  Reboots like Amazing Spider Man and Planet of the Apes got second installments, as well.  All told, most of these films were derivative trash, cashing in on a fad while bringing little of the charm of the originals to the table.  Notable exceptions were remakes of classic films like About the Other Night, The Other Woman, and Annie, which were refreshing respites, as they recast their narratives to focus on people of color and women, two demographics Hollywood typically leaves out in the cold.

Verdict:  Bad.  Despite some courageous re-imaginings, most of this twaddle was dated and dull.  Hollywood needs to tell new stories, not rehash old ones for a quick buck.

4.  Sequel:  The Sequel

Sequels.  We watch ’em, and therefore Hollywood makes ’em.  I could pile spite on Michael Bay for yet another completely photocopied Transformer movies, but you know the drill by now.  The only interesting note about 2014 sequels is the weird trend of necro-ing extremely old films for a sequel.  Sin City 2, 300 Rise of an Empire, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Dumb and Dumber To all tried to jump start clearly deceased franchises with sequels or prequels that were about a decade too late.

Verdict:  Bad…on us.  If we weren’t giving money to the Expendables 3.333, Transformers: Extinction of Novelty, or any of the other craptastic sequels, we wouldn’t be seeing so many of them.  So stop it.  Please.

Here, this helps.
Here, this helps.

5.  Where Did The Video on Demand Go?

Yeah...so glad I had to wait an extra two months to see this...
Yeah…so glad I had to wait an extra two months to see this…

Seriously, what happened to this?  Last year I was all gung-ho about finally being able to see small releases and niche films on release day through services like Amazon Prime.  I had wide-eyed fantasies about actually being able to see documentaries like Particle Fever, or art house darlings like Birdman or Only Lovers Left Alive.  My god, I could have reviewed them and encouraged others to see these films!  The hubris!  Sadly, last year’s trend died a shameful death.  The only notable film to make same day streaming this year was The Interview, which was a crap film, and only released online to avoid a North Korean nuclear launch.  Shit.

Verdict:  Bad…unless you own the local megaplex.  Then you get to keep overcharging me for soda and popcorn, cause you’re the only game in town this year.

6.  YA Fall Down, Go Boom

With the exception of The Hunger Games‘ latest entry, most Young Adult literature inspired films vastly underperformed studio hopes.  The Maze Runner, The Giver, Vampire Academy, and even the modest success, Divergent (which is trash, trash, trash!) failed to catch fire.  Heh, heh.  Young Adult lit joke there.

Verdict:  Good.  When a trend explodes like YA literature adaptations did, you see the inevitable glut follow.  It’s happened for nearly every genre.  When people start ignoring the trash, studios have to get smart, and actually make and market films on the merits, not on the genre.  Hopefully we’re reaching that point.

7.  Sci Fi, Hi Fi

And winner, for the 50th year in a row in the category of best supporting eyebrow raises...
And winner, for the 50th year in a row in the category of best supporting eyebrow raises…

Audiences reached for the stars this year, with aliens and astronauts making a welcomed return to the cinema, continuing a trend from 2013 that saw the resurrection of this beloved genre..  The big dogs were undoubtedly Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but niche films like Under the Skin, Earth to Echo, and Edge of Tomorrow all found a market due to increased interest.  Let’s hope next year see’s the return of other missing genre’s such as Detective/Noir and my personal hobby horse, the Western.

Verdict:  Good. ” Infinite diversity, in an infinite combination,” as Mr. Spock would say.

8.  Flat-liners

Both ticket prices and movie earnings were down slightly in 2014, despite some record setting weekends.  The number of movies released stayed flat, making an apples to apples comparison to 2013 much more appropriate.  While lower ticket prices (they continue to fall in 2015 so far) are a boon to the movie buff, the lower totals can freeze up the market, causing studios to avoid long shots and new properties.  This vicious cycle could only strengthen the remake and sequel trends we saw above, and doom niche genres from seeing their day on the big screen.

Verdict:  Mixed.  A slightly declining bottom line could spur innovation…but will probably just cement current trends.  Look forward to a 2015 market very similar to 2014.

Well, that raps up the trend spotting from the year that was.  Let’s put on our thinking caps and attempt to guess next year’s big winners.

The Year That Was:  Totals

This.  Expect a lot of this.
This. Expect a lot of this.

3.  Captain America:  The Winter Soldier

2.  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay (pt.1.)

1.  Guardians of the Galaxy

The Year That Will Be:  Predictions

3.  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens

2.  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay (pt. 2.)

1.  The Avengers:  Age of Ultron

Marvel has some feisty competition this year.  A surprise win over The Hunger Games may be hard to repeat, as the series finale is bound to increase fan interest, and Star Wars emerging from it’s Sith induced coma always has the potential to make insane amounts of money.  My money is still on Marvel, as The Avengers are a known quantity that will probably make Cap America 2 and Guardians look a bit sheepish when it piles on the box office hurt.

Information courtesy of Box Office Mojo.  Used with permission.

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