Can Universal Beat Itself in Box Office Earnings in 2016-2017?

One more question- does it even matter?

This past weekend, Straight Outta Compton continued Universal’s hot streak at the box office. 2015 has been their best year, by a huge mile. Just look at the numbers- Universal has earned $5.76 billion in just 7 months, which is more than what Twentieth Century Fox earned in the entirety of last year, with $5.52 billion. Just look at the films they have this year propelling their slate- Fifty Shades of Grey, which if you remembered turned out to be a massive hit, though it died a rather rapid death after its $85.2 million. Next up was Furious 7, which people gathered to large numbers, mostly thanks to it being the first big ‘summer’ entertainment fare, and people bidding farewell to Paul Walker in his final role. That opened to $147.2 million, which is way bigger than all the previous films in the franchise combined, with none of the previous installments earning over $100 million in their respective 3 day opening weekends. Of course, not to forget that it earned $1.51 billion worldwide by the end of its run, good enough for fourth (now fifth) on the worldwide all time unadjusted for inflation chart. Next up was Pitch Perfect 2, which continued Universal’s trend of over performing. This film earned more in its opening weekend ($69.2 million) than the previous film made in its entire domestic run ($65 million end gross), which is remarkable, showing how much love it found upon home media release. It ended off with $183.8 million, anyways.

Then came the quadruple whammy of Jurassic World, Minions, Trainwreck and Straight Outta Compton. Of course, Ted 2 isn’t mentioned here since it simply didn’t click, and served as an anomaly on Universal’s otherwise impressive run. Jurassic World had the biggest opening weekend gross of all time, with over $208 million when all figures were accounted for, and ended its run with $638.3 million domestically and $1.6 billion worldwide, which is good enough for third on the all time domestic and worldwide chart. Not bad for a bunch of extinct dinosaurs. This film only went forward to prove that nostalgia was a thing, and it works when marketing (and subsequently word of mouth) also promises a great film (one which Jurassic Park fans have been looking forward to since the first installment, since subsequent installments were to put it in kinder words, not on par). Minions, with its $316.26 million domestic cume at the moment, isn’t any worse either- it opened to a massive $115.7 million over its opening weekend, which is far above the $70-80 million range people were predicting. That sum easily beats the $83.5 million that Despicable Me 2 previously earned, and even though its not going to cross the $368 million Despicable Me 2 managed based on repeat showings, due to rather mediocre reviews and little to non-existent word of mouth, this film nonetheless still qualifies as a huge success- it manages to spin-off a major franchise with a different title. It only goes ahead to prove one thing- the Minions are the undisputed champion when it comes to brand recognition, at least for kids and families. Yeah, it’s going to be the first installment to surpass the $1 billion mark, and that occasion is going to happen REALLY soon. With that, it managed to avoid all the criticisms Penguins of Madagascar received, only earning $83.35 million in its domestic run, nowhere close to the $180-216 million range the past three installments had made. Of course, the penguins weren’t the highlight of their movie, so the reason is rather obvious. Anyways, Minions doesn’t really qualify as a spin-off- the Despicable Me franchise’s real leads are after all, those Minions, and this film just puts even more focus on them, but just spins off a new tale surrounding these adorable creatures. Trainwreck easily became Judd Apatow’s second biggest directorial opening in her career, with $30.1 million, and currently has a cumulative gross of $99.9 million. It will eventually settle at either second or third in her lifetime domestic run cumulative gross charts, just behind The 40-Year-Old Virgin, with $109.45 million, and Knocked Up, with $148.77 million. And we can’t forget last weekend’s historical Straight Outta Compton debut. It wasn’t that historical, but still, it ended the summer moviegoing season on a high with a $60.2 million debut, driven by African-American crowds all over. Considering Universal was really only wishing for $20-30 million, this is far and beyond a mega-success story, one which subverts common blockbuster tropes, and one which eyes a really different moviegoing crowd (unlike the usual whites and under 30s male crowd typical blockbusters go after).

If you thought that year is over, its time to think again. They have several more films to go before they bid the year farewell and look at 2016. In September, we will see The Visit, M. Night Shymalan’s return the the horror genre after a recent bad streak at attempting to put more blockbusters on his resume, after they all backfired and he received tons of criticism. Everest is coming too, and that really has the potential to overperform, with its star studded cast, and really great marketing to date. October sees Universal launching a film for four consecutive weekends, starting with Legend, then moving on to Steve Jobs, then to Crimson Peak, and finally to Jem and the Holograms. Steve Jobs might or might not be gearing up for Oscar attention, but with its more noticeable cast in its lead than the recent Jobs (with Ashton Kutcher), this might become a sleeper hit. Crimson Peak is Del Toro’s return to horror as well, in his epic historical horror film, and this, alongside Paranormal Activity, will fuel Halloween 2015. This one is still a wild card, so we will see how it goes from here on out. And then November and December has Krampus and Sisters and By the Sea, of which the latter has the most potential. By the Sea will see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie teaming up, with the latter in the directorial role.

So, with such an impressive slate in 2015, do you think that 2016 and 2017 can beat this record-breaking year for Universal? My answer is a firm no, at least more so for 2016. 2016’s slate is lead by the likes of Ride Along 2, The Best Man Wedding, The Huntsman, Neighbors 2, Warcraft, The Purge 3, The Secret Life of Pets, the next Bourne film, and pretty much quieter fare. Lets face it. Ride Along 2 will probably open once again in the $40 million range, or probably fall a bit short in the high $30s, as per the last installment. Its hard to imagine this film just sells like bonkers, especially since the first one wasn’t really that great to begin with. People just crave Kevin Hart, and there he is again. That’s it. The Best Man Wedding is the followup to The Best Man Holiday, but the latter had the backing of the Holiday season and its close proximity to Christmas to make it into a sort of ‘event status’ film of a quieter scale. This one probably will fall just short of that either. Then comes The Huntsman. The Huntsman opened to $56.2 million and ended off with $155.3 million domestically over the course of its run in 2012. This one, without Snow White, will probably fall far short of that. The film this prequel is based on had the backing of Snow White’s name, and people were in love with fairy tale adaptations then. People, upon glancing at The Huntsman, probably won’t know what this film is about, and looking at Chris Hemsworth alone probably won’t help. A $30 million opening might be in the cards, but above that? I’m probably going to wait till I see a bit of marketing first before I make my final judgement. Then comes Neighbours 2, which will probably perform on par with the previous one. Of course, that is if it doesn’t suffer under a similar trajectory to Ted. Warcraft is the first serious big-budget attempt to adapt a video game in years, one which is really going to stir up some attention. This one has a huge fanbase of WoW players backing it, so its easy to see a quick rush out, and subsequent business based on word of mouth. A $60 million opening isn’t hard to imagine, especially since we saw The LEGO Movie earn $70+ million back in 2014. Of course, The LEGO Movie was far more mainstream, so this one will be just a tad smaller. The Purge 3 will probably perform in line with The Purge 2, in the high 20s and low 30s range, so not much of a surprise there. The Secret Life of Pets will probably be in the $50 million range as well, and I’m not expecting Illumination Entertainment to pull a surprise here either. After all, their studio doesn’t have much of a pull outside of the Despicable Me franchise and The Lorax, so its hard to make comparisons here. Bourne, with Jason Bourne back, and director Paul Greengrass, will probably do way better than The Bourne Legacy, so we are looking at more of a high $50s or perhaps, if over performing, even a low $80s million opening, when all is said and then. Okay, that pretty much sums up all of their above $20 million range hits that we will see from their studio next year, but if you did look again, you will notice that the biggest opening I have placed would be for Bourne. And that is, under best circumstances, in the $80 million range. In comparison, Universal had 3 films opening to $100 million this year, of which one was closer to $150 million than to $100 million, and one was over $200 million. So yeah, I don’t think Bourne, Huntsman without Snow White, and Warcraft are going to be viewed on the same level as Jurassic World, Minions, and Furious 7. And even Fifty Shades of Grey. Heck, all three might not even surpass the $60 million earned by Straight Outta Compton and Pitch Perfect 2.

What about 2017?

2017 is still a long way from now, so Universal hasn’t really been finished with the dating process. Of course, though, blockbusters and potential franchise kick starters have been placed in 2017, though we will inevitably see some delays, just like how Jurassic World, Minions and Furious 7 all got delayed from 2014 to 2015.  Whatever it is, 2017 sees Tom Cruise in Mena, Fifty Shades Darker, Kong: Skull Island, The Mummy, Furious 8, Despicable Me 3, Pitch Perfect 3, Pacific Rim 2 and Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Phew, that’s long. Okay, if you did notice, we have the sequel to four out of six of the biggest hits of 2015 slotted in this year- Fifty Shades Darker, Despicable Me 3, Pitch Perfect 3, and Furious 8. However, I will be expecting a drop as compared to their prior installments- the former 2 due to lukewarm word of mouth, Pitch Perfect due to the unreasonably high opening it received, and Furious 8 due to not having anther high-profile death behind it (Sorry, Paul Walker). Of course, so what will take the place of Straight Outta Compton and Jurassic World? Okay, seriously, Mena isn’t going to be a contender for Universal’s top 5 biggest hits of the year. Pacific Rim 2 isn’t going to be so massive either, topping out at $50 million max. Instead, we have Kong: Skull Island and The Mummy. The previous King Kong film earned $218 million domestically, after a $50 million opening, but with today’s front-loaded nature, a more front-loaded opening is in stall, so I’m predicting $80 million, especially with lots of pre-release anticipation that’s probably going to build up as soon as people realize King Kong is having a big-budget prequel! And The Mummy is yet another reboot, this time for it to be a part of the Monsters franchise which Universal is building up, starting with last year’s Dracula Untold. The latest Mummy faltered, earning only $102.5 million domestically, but it’s best to remind you that Mummy Returns had a massive $202 million domestic gross. I’m going to assume maybe around $150 million here this time round. Okay, add $150 million and $250 million for both King Kong and Mummy, and we get $400 million. Still nothing close to the $650 million and $180 million equals $830 million which Compton and Jurassic World are going to earn, combined. Add that to the decrease in box office takes among all the big sequels to the respective 2015 hits, and we have a quieter year in general.

This isn’t a sign of doom. This is a sign of Universal’s pure luck in 2015. It just goes on to show how difficult it is in Hollywood, especially since we aren’t seeing the sort of inflation countries like China and India sees these days. Not everyone is Disney. Unlike Disney, Universal doesn’t get to have 2-3 Marvel films a year, a Pixar film a year, a Star Wars film a year, lots of fairy tale and IPs to work on, Pirates of the Caribbean, an in house Disney movie each year and all their other films they decide to test on. Nor is everyone like Warner Bros., with their DC Universe, Harry Potter, LEGO and various other properties propelling them forward year after year. Even Warner Bros here has down years. And lets not forget that Universal has no shared universe whatsoever at the moment, and no superheroes to work with. The closest thing Universal has to a shared universe is their upcoming Monsters universe, with Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy and more, but even that doesn’t look as lucrative as Marvel or DC, especially since Dracula Untold only opened in the $20 million range late 2014.

No matter how much this article focuses on earnings and blockbuster grosses, it’s also important to note that we shouldn’t really just look at one’s film earnings relative to other, and this isn’t the main indicator of a film’s success. We need to see whether it’s a success in its own rights. For example, take Trainwreck. Nobody expected it to be a billion dollar success story, and nobody thought the film failed to explode when it earned “only” $30 million domestically on its opening weekend. Its opening, though, is still considered a success for a late summer comedy, especially after you take its budget into account.

Yeah, but you came to this article wanting an answer. My answer- NO. Although its just not possible, at least until maybe 2021 where the Jurassic Park sequel will meet its 2015 companions again (Fast and Furious, Pitch Perfect), assuming that Jurassic Park takes 3 years per sequel to develop, and the rest takes 2, as seen by current trends. And partly due to inflation. It doesn’t really matter though. As long as Universal continues churning out hits, albeit on a smaller scale, they shouldn’t really be worried about their future. Well, the same can’t really be said about Lionsgate, which apart from a few surprise hits here and there (Now You See Me), doesn’t really have anything else apart from Divergent and Hunger Games, which isn’t really in play anymore beginning next year (Ya know, finale this year).

Okay, that’s all for now, but expect a bunch of followup articles going forward, for each of the major studios (20th Century Fox, Sony, Paramount, Warner Bros, Disney) as well as a summarized summer recap for each of the studio’s respective performances.

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