By James Hirsen, Special for USDR
For Hollywood executives in charge of running the world’s biggest entertainment factories, 2014 turned out to be the most anxiety-inducing ever.
The summer was an unsettling one in which the box office take for the season was down 25% from the previous year. To top it off, entertainment business execs wound up the year by having to endure the day-to-day news of a major studio, Sony, attempting to cope with a crushing cyber-attack that was launched over the content of a film.
Regarding the 2014 box office as a whole, revenues ended up being down 5% from the prior year. In terms of movie choices, the public, via the free market, sent some clear but perhaps not-so-welcome messages to Hollywood.
Obviously, audiences still love to be entertained, and they are continuing to seek out films with story lines that appeal to a broad range of age groups, i.e., movies that the entire family is able to enjoy together.
Interestingly, none of the top ten films of 2014 had an R-rating attached to it. Two garnered a PG rating, and the other eight fell within the PG-13 category.
The #1 film of the year, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” combines humor, action, and an appealing soundtrack. Consequently, it succeeded with adult critics as well as family film-goers, despite its featuring of quirky characters with whom movie consumers were not nearly as familiar as they were with those found in other Marvel fare.
In general, film sequels seem to appeal to the sensibilities of the more apprehensive studio executives, and 2014 has seen a number of such projects reach a successful outcome. Consequently, there will likely be many more to come in the years ahead. The year-end top ten list includes franchise installments from “The Hunger Games” (#2), “Captain America” (#3), “Transformers” (#5), “X-Men” (#7), “Planet of the Apes” (#8), and “Spiderman” (#9). In yet another reboot of “Godzilla,” the movie sequel pulled in enough revenue to slip in as #10.
Angelina Jolie will probably fondly remember 2014 as the year she pleased families by starring in the #6 film of the year, the PG rated “Maleficent.” Additionally, she directed the movie “Unbroken,” which is creating some serious Oscar buzz while handily exceeding box-office expectations.
Another PG film, “The LEGO Movie,” enthralled enough family-oriented theater-goers to land it in the #4 position.
The movie business is truly collaborative in nature. However, it is also inherently fraught with risks, and one of the overriding fears of major Hollywood power players is that of having been responsible for a film that suffers severe monetary losses, in other words, a “bomb.”
2014 may also be the year in which Hollywood finally learns that it is not profitable to insult people who take their faith seriously. During the same year in which executives could not stop talking about the huge profit margins faith-based movies such as “God’s Not Dead” produce, many of the same executives ended up severely underperforming, thanks to Bible-bending films such as “Exodus Gods and Kings” and “Noah.”
“Exodus” reportedly spent $140 million on production and to date has brought in less than $40 million in domestic gross. “Noah” has taken in just over $100 million in domestic revenue, with production costs reportedly exceeding $125 million.
Hollywood is fast finding out that the definition of “movie star” has itself undergone a dramatic change. The box-office results of 2014 have had the effect of reducing the perceived economic value of some very high-level film stars. Johnny Depp, Cameron Diaz, Seth MacFarlane, Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler, Sly Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger have had to deal with disappointing numbers in the movies in which they held the lead roles.
Depp’s 2014 major box-office disappointment was the sci-fi movie “Transcendence.” The actor is now at a critical point in his career following a quadruple strike out with “The Rum Diary,” “Dark Shadows,” “The Lone Ranger,” and most recently “Transcendence.” Depp’s latest movie reportedly cost $100 million to make but has only been able to haul in $23 million domestically.
Diaz starred opposite Jason Segel in an obviously non-family friendly flick called “Sex Tape,” which reportedly had a tab of $40 million but brought in less than that figure domestically, generating only $38.5 million.
MacFarlane’s comedic Western, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” had a reported cost of $40 million to make but was only able to muster $43 million in domestic box-office sales.
Cruise performed below expectations in his sci-fi project, “Edge of Tomorrow,” reportedly due to production costs of $178 million and domestic grosses that hovered around the $100 million mark.
Sandler reunited with Drew Barrymore in “Blended,” which reportedly had a budget of $40 million and took in a mere $46 million domestically.
Stallone evidently could not muscle in audiences with an all-star action cast in “The Expendables 3,” which brought in domestic revenues of $39 million after reportedly costing $190 million to make.
Schwarzenegger’s “Sabotage” reportedly cost $35 million to make, but as of this writing its domestic total is lagging at $10 million.
Other notable films that have resulted in a great deal of red ink for the accounting departments of Hollywood studios include the following: “The Legend of Hercules,” which teaches Hollywood that when it makes a movie about a mythological hero it should stick with The Rock rather than Kellan Lutz; Aaron Eckhart’s “I, Frankenstein,” which could not translate artificial life into monster-sized real life audiences; Colin Farrell’s “Winter’s Tale,” which experienced ice cold revenues; “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” which was a film that lacked lively ticket sales; “Pompeii,” which failed to ignite cash registers; “Men, Women & Children,” which appealed to none of the three types of moviegoers described; and “Vampire Academy,” which simply bled at the box office.
And that’s a 2014 Left Coast wrap.