Give the People What They Want

In Focus

Universal Pictures is having the kind of year every motion picture studio can only dream of. On August 15, the studio crossed the $2 billion mark at the domestic box office, by far the fastest time that’s ever happened. (The previous speed record-holder was Warner Bros., which reached that milestone on December 25, 2009.)

The numbers for Universal’s individual titles are remarkable. Jurassic World is the year’s most successful movie, with nearly $638 million domestic as of August 16 and a worldwide tally of $1.6 billion, making it the third-biggest worldwide hit of all time. Not far behind in worldwide totals is the April release Furious 7, which has made $1.5 billion globally ($351 million of that in domestic ticket sales). And closing in on that magic billion-dollar global number is the animated hit Minions, which currently has a worldwide total of $957 million ($313 million domestic).

The momentum continues with the performance of mid-August release Straight Outta Compton, which surpassed expectations with a $60 million domestic opening weekend. And let’s not forget Universal’s two other big successes earlier this year, Fifty Shades of Grey and Pitch Perfect 2, both of which benefited from their huge appeal to female audiences. So far, Universal has five of the ten highest-grossing domestic movies of the year and has topped the weekend domestic box office twelve times.

Though they won’t approach the stratospheric heights of their franchise smashes, the rest of Universal’s 2015 slate has great promise: the all-star spectacle Everest, very well-received at CineEurope; M. Night Shyamalan’s cheeky thriller The Visit; Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs; Guillermo del Toro’s gothic chiller Crimson Peak; Tina Fey and Amy Poehler reuniting as Sisters; and Angelina Jolie directing and co-starring with Brad Pitt in By the Sea. Universal’s astonishing year proves the power of a diverse slate of movies that actually deliver what audiences want to see.

Universal, of course, is not the only studio celebrating this year in which North American box office is at an all-time year-to-date high of $6.863 billion. On June 25, Walt Disney Studios topped the $3 billion global box-office figure for the sixth consecutive year, the fastest that’s ever happened for the studio. Their international smashes include Avengers: Age of Ultron, Inside Out, Cinderella and Ant-Man. And the studio also has a little property called Star Wars: Episode VII due in December, preceded by their second 2015 Pixar movie, The Good Dinosaur, and Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies.

Other studios have shared the bounty too: Warner Bros. with American Sniper, San Andreas and Mad Max: Fury Road; Paramount with Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation and The SpongeBob Movie; Fox with Home, Spy and Kingsman: The Secret Service; Lionsgate with Insurgent. Sony has been struggling, but will be joining the party when the latest James Bond adventure, Spectre, opens in November, a few weeks before Lionsgate’s eagerly awaited finale to the Hunger Games series debuts.

Yes, there have been disappointments, as there always are. Moviemaking and the chemistry that makes a hit is an imprecise art, not an exacting science. But Universal and the other studios in the mix are without a doubt doing something right in 2015.

Paramount Strengthens Its Slate

As we reported last month, Paramount Pictures’ plan to shorten the theatrical window for smaller releases Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse has been accepted by a number of leading circuits like AMC and Cineplex and resisted by others like Regal and Cinemark. But everyone is sure to welcome the studio’s latest announcement that it will be boosting its annual release slate from 13 to 15 titles in 2016.

Paramount had cut back its production activity in recent years, but Philippe Dauman, CEO of Paramount parent company Viacom, was more upbeat about the movie and TV biz in his recent quarterly-earnings conference call. “After a tough year, we believe Paramount is positioned to grow strongly next year and in the years to come, fueled both by a reinvigorated film business and our new high-growth TV production business,” he declared.

One especially bright spot, he pointed out, was the success of the first feature from the Paramount Animation division, The SpongeBob Movie. With that happy precedent, Paramount seems poised to become an animation player alongside the solid divisions established at Disney, Fox and Sony. Dauman also basked in the success of Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation and trumpeted the upcoming comedy Daddy’s Home co-starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell. Franchise films in the works include a third Star Trek, sequels to Mission: Impossible, World War Z, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers, the return of fashion icon Derek Zoolander and, yes, another SpongeBob.

It looks like Paramount is bullish on the movie business again. A fabled studio reinvesting in big-screen entertainment is always a heartening sign.