Shattering Records in 2015

In Focus

2015 will be a year to remember, as the motion picture industry established so many new records. Despite Netflix, Amazon and other competing entities, global box office revenues hit a record $38 billion. This record reinforces that going to the movies is a favored pastime that is enjoyed around the world by people from a wide array of cultures, all seeking the magical experience of the silver screen.

Ticket sales hit these extraordinary levels because five films topped the $1 billion mark globally for the first time in one year. Four of those films are among the highest-grossing of all time—Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultronfollowed by the animated smash Minions.

These pictures are responsible for the North American box office rebounding from an off year in 2014, with ticket sales climbing 6.3% domestically and revenues reaching $11 billion. Universal and Disney led the pack with record worldwide grosses. Universal finished the year with $6.89 billion, with $1.67 billion of that coming from Jurassic World. Disney followed with $5.85 billion, including $1.33 billion from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Universal set new records in 2015 with $4.4 billion internationally and $2.45 billion domestic. Disney had a powerhouse record of five films grossing over $500 million globally.

Star War sis another story, as it set records for top domestic weekend and top global opening weekend; fastest film to reach $1 billion globally (12 days); biggest second weekend of all time, and a slew of other records.

Star Wars has already slipped into third place on the all-time worldwide box-office chart and the speculation is that it will overtake Avatar. It hit two plateaus quicker than Avatar, as it passed $1 billion in worldwide grosses in 12 days, compared to 19 days for James Cameron’s film. The elusive $1 billion mark in North America is now possible and also a spot in the $2 billion global club seems certain.

The movie’s enticement to fans and positive word of mouth are two of the reasons Star Wars might break the global record. Two other factors that could catapult it to that level are the enormous growth of the international market and the number of IMAX screens showing the film. Now that Star Wars has been released in China (since Jan. 9), it has another launch available to reach the record.

These milestones were achieved in large part due to the burgeoning Chinese box office, which grew an astounding 48.7 percent and reached a record $6.78 billion. The expansion marks the highest rate of growth since 2011; just five years ago, the total annual box office in China was $1.51 billion.

The only question here is when China will surpass North America at the box office—experts predict that will happen by the end of 2017. Disappointing and frustrating to Hollywood is that 61.6 percent of the year’s total revenues were from Chinese films. Hollywood titles fell 7.1 percent to 38.4 percent of the Chinese box-office gross this year. The reasons for this disparity are obvious:

* Blackout periods when foreign films are not permitted to play;

* China allowing only 34 foreign films into its cinemas each year on revenue-sharing terms;

* Premiering blockbusters on weekdays rather than weekends;

* Scheduling Hollywood tentpoles head-to-head.

Here’s hoping less stringent policies are explored in 2016.

More News from China

Along with those record box-office figures, more big news has emerged from China in recent weeks.

As expected, China’s Dalian Wanda Group finalized its purchase of Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion. Wanda already owns AMC Entertainment, the second-largest movie theatre chain in the U.S., and the Wanda Cinema Line, the number-one Chinese theatre chain, and this new pact is further evidence of the company’s ambition to be a global entertainment powerhouse.

The deal is a good one for Wanda, since Legendary’s specialty has been the production of epic-sized action movies that Chinese audiences truly appreciate. Legendary has been part of the success of Pacific Run, Godzilla, Inception and Jurassic World. Legendary founder and CEO Thomas Tull will continue to oversee the company’s day-to-day operations.

Meanwhile, Monster Hunt, the Chinese movie which last year established an all-time box-office record in China, is getting a North American release on Jan. 22. The film will be released in all major North American markets.

Film Rise acquired the rights from Hong Kong-based Edko Films, which was lead producer on the film and international sales representative. The release will be both in the original Chinese version with English subtitles and also a new English-dubbed version. The film is a hybrid of live action and CGI, written and directed by Raman Hui, one of the key creators of the Shrek franchise.