If the 2017 box office teaches us anything, it’s that the world is hungry for heroes. Wonder Woman, a superhero film with an unapologetic moral compass, was one of the year’s top-grossing films, along with Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, grown-up X-Men redemption story Logan, and full-on hero reinvention Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Those who weren’t looking for salvation sought nostalgia and escapism in films like Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast and the big-screen adaptation of It. Still, there were unexpected breakthroughs: Dunkirk, a breathtaking and cinematic World War II drama, and Get Out, a scathing and timely horror film, were among the original movies that drew a sizable audience. Here, the big winners (ride or die, Fast and Furious) and losers (R.I.P., Universal’s Dark Universe) of the 2017 box office. — by Gwynne Watkins, Nick Schager, and Ethan Alter.
WINNER: Wonder women, onscreen and in the director’s chair
Female protagonists found a strong foothold in this year’s box office — and even more encouraging, so did female filmmakers. Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, the year’s #1 superhero movie, made $412 million domestically, setting records as the highest-grossing superhero origin film and the most successful live-action film directed by a woman. At the specialty box office, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird opened to the year’s best per-theater average and went on to become the best-reviewed movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes, which no doubt contributed to the tiny film’s $26 million take. In general, films with female lead characters continued to pull big numbers, including what are likely to be the year’s three top money makers: Beauty and the Beast ($504 mil), Wonder Woman ($412 mil), and Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($241 mil and counting).
WINNER: Star Wars
The heroes of the Resistance spend much of Star Wars: The Last Jedi worrying about their dwindling numbers. The folks at Lucasfilm have no such concerns. The Last Jedi made $220 million in its first weekend, the second-biggest opening of all time in North America after its predecessor, The Force Awakens.
LOSER: Blade Runner 2049
Warner Bros spent an estimated $150 million on this sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic, all in the hope that such an investment — and the impressive creative team of director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), Ryan Gosling, and original star Harrison Ford — could turn a cult property into a mainstream hit. No matter how gorgeous the finished film looked, however, it was a losing bet on the studio’s part, as a final $91 million domestic take made it one of the year’s most disappointing performers.
WINNER: Offbeat action
While superhero films got all the glory, another kind of action movie — R-rated, darkly funny, and cape-free — was quietly holding its own at the box office. The original films Baby Driver ($108 mil), The Hitman’s Bodyguard ($75 mil) and Atomic Blonde ($51 mil) surpassed expectations, while John Wick: Chapter Two ($92 mil) out-grossed the original and Kingsman: The Golden Circle ($100 mil) showed the spy franchise’s mettle.
LOSER: Universal’s Dark Universe
The Mummy was intended to kick off the Universal monster-movie renaissance. Instead, the film stopped an entire franchise dead in its tracks. The Tom Cruise flick (estimated budget: $345 million) made just $80 million domestically, and in its wake, the studio pulled 2019’s Bride of Frankenstein remake from the schedule. The other planned films in the “Dark Universe,” including The Wolf Man and The Invisible Man, are presumably on ice.
WINNER: The Fast and Furious family
They may live their lives a quarter mile at a time, but the Fast and Furious characters are still driving with a full tank. The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in the street-racing saga, took in $225 mil domestically and a remarkable $1.2 billion globally. The question is, will Dominic Toretto’s chosen family maintain their popularity once Universal splits them up into spin-offs?
Paramount took an admirable gamble on Darren Aronofsky’s experimental thriller, most likely betting on the star power of Jennifer Lawrence. But the film was never destined to be a mainstream audience pleaser. In the end, it made $17 million and opened to the lowest numbers of Lawrence’s career.
WINNER: Superheroes, still generally super
Every year, prognosticators wonder when audiences will get sick of superheroes. The answer continues to be “not yet.” At press time, this year’s Top 10 includes no fewer than 5 superhero films: Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($389 mil) and Thor: Ragnarok ($306 mil); Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming ($334 mil); Fox’s Logan ($226 mil), and Warner Bros.’ most successful DCEU film to date, Wonder Woman ($412 mil).
LOSER: Animation domination
Four animated features crossed the $200 million mark in 2016. This year, that number tumbled to exactly one: Despicable Me 3 ($264 mil). Sure, there were scattered success stories — The Boss Baby and The Lego Batman Movie each banked $175 million, for instance — but overall it seemed like superhero movies and Star Wars filled the cartoon-shaped void for family audiences.
WINNER: Minions and middle managers
In a generally “meh” year for animation (see above), the cartoon world delivered two big surprises. One was The Boss Baby, DreamWorks’ broad comedy about sibling rivalry and office politics, which made a shocking $175 million. The other was the growing worldwide popularity of Illumination’s minions; Despicable Me 3 brought in $264 mil domestically and over $1 billion globally, outpacing the first two Despicable Me films in the international market.
WINNER: Small films with heart
It’s entirely possible to sit out the interconnected universes, sequels, and remakes, and still have a wonderful year at the movies. This year, the independent market surged with intimate, funny, and thought-provoking films like Amazon and Lionsgate’s The Big Sick ($42 mil), A24’s Lady Bird ($26 mil), and Fox Searchlight’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ($21 mil). Meanwhile, the success of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver at Sony ($107 mil) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out at Universal ($175 mil) proved that directors’ idiosyncratic passion projects deserve a spot on studio slates.
WINNER: Get Out
From a buzzy sneak peek at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January, to a muscular box-office bow in February, to a remarkable awards push this fall, Jordan Peele’s timely directorial debut has repeatedly proven itself no joke. And having earned $175 million on a $4.5 million budget, it joins the ranks of the most successful “small” movies of all time.
LOSER: Tom Cruise and Doug Liman
After The Mummy failed to become a box-office monster, Tom Cruise turned to Edge of Tomorrow collaborator Doug Liman to earn some of that Goodfellas coin (and critical cache) with the crime caper American Made. Sadly, it proved a risky business venture with little commercial payoff ($51 mil). The same could be said of Liman’s other 2017 movie, the barely-seen Iraq War thriller, The Wall ($1.8 mil). We’d still love to see that Edge of Tomorrow sequel, guys!
WINNER: The international second-chance market
More than ever, it’s possible for a big-budget film that flops in the U.S. to find redemption overseas. This year, films that more than doubled their money at the global box office after underperforming at home include Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ($172 mil domestic box office, $622 mil foreign); The Great Wall ($45 mil domestic, $289 mil foreign); The Mummy ($80 mil domestic, $329 mil foreign); War for the Planet of the Apes ($146 mil domestic, $343 mil foreign); and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage ($44 mil domestic, $301 mil foreign).
LOSER: Justice League
“The highest-grossing box-office bomb ever” is what Forbes dubbed DC Films’ superhero team-up. Beset by bad reviews and full of glaring eleventh-hour adjustments, the movie made $220 million domestically, which would be an excellent number for most films. Justice League, however, is a studio tentpole with a $300 million production budget and a slate of planned spin-offs — so ticket sales, the lowest of any DC Extended Universe film so far, were way off the mark. (To compare: Marvel’s The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron made $623 mil and $459 mil, respectively.) The film made better money overseas ($416 mil), but still couldn’t compete with Warners’ solo Wonder Woman film, which made $821 mil worldwide.
WINNER: All-ages Disney
While most tentpole films aim for a PG-13 rating, Disney continues to find a sweet spot with PG-rated films that adults can attend with, or without, small children. Beauty and the Beast ($504 mil) showed that there’s still a market for kid-friendly live action, while Coco ($151 mil, and counting) brought international flavor to Pixar’s perennially winning formula.
WINNER: Murder on the Orient Express
Kenneth Branagh’s all-star Agatha Christie adaptation brought some old-fashioned, upper-crust whodunit drama to the box office, and it turned out to be a welcome change of pace. The film grossed $97 million domestically and $200 million at the foreign box office, so it’s no mystery why a sequel (Death on the Nile, another Christie adaptation starring Branagh’s detective Poirot) is already in the works.
Plagued with production problems, this climate-change thriller was a disaster movie on every level. The Warner Bros. film, budgeted at between $120 and $140 million, blew away with just $33 million.
WINNER: Christopher Nolan, movie star
An experimental WWII summer-season epic without any marquee movie stars leading the charge? No problem for Christopher Nolan, whose Dunkirk grossed $525 million globally against an estimated $100 to $150 million budget — and thus proved that the director is now a blockbuster brand name unto himself.
LOSER: Tired Franchises
As any disheartened fan knows, the Hollywood playbook for long-running franchises is to run them into the ground. Expensive and critically maligned, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ($172 mill) and Transformers: The Last Knight ($130 mill) hit all-time lows for their respective series, while Alien: Covenant ($74 mil) fell far below the expectations set by 2012’s Prometheus ($126 mil).
WINNER: Spring Releases
Last year, Deadpool ($783 million globally, with an R-rating) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ($873 million globally) cleaned up at the worldwide box office. And this year, Get Out ($254 million globally, with an R-rating), The Fate of the Furious ($1.23 billion), Beauty and the Beast ($1.26 billion globally) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($863 million globally) did likewise — with the last two standing as the first and third highest-grossing domestic releases of the year, to date. The verdict: spring is quickly becoming the new summer.
LOSER: Summer Blockbusters
Whereas the spring brought with it a host of high-profile triumphs, the summer box office was atypically brutal for Hollywood, with only Wonder Woman ($412 mil) and Spider-Man: Homecoming ($334 mil) doing truly blockbuster domestic business. With so many underperformers (including War for the Planet of the Apes’ $146 mil, Cars 3’s $152 mil, and Transformers: The Last Knight’s $130 mil), it was a season to forget.
WINNER: Horror successes
There’s no more reliably profitable genre than horror, and that again proved true in 2017, courtesy of a string of low-budget projects that reaped impressive stateside windfalls, including Get Out ($175 mil), Split ($138 mil), Annabelle: Creation ($102 mil), and Jigsaw ($38 million against a $10 million budget). And then, of course, there was It, which, with a $327 million domestic haul, is now the highest-grossing R-rated horror film in cinema history.
He may have been the world’s highest-paid actor in 2016, but Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson suffered a massive box-office belly flop with his R-rated adaptation of the popular ’90s lifeguard series. Netting only $58 million domestically against a $69 million budget (and this after debuting on Memorial Day Weekend, one of the year’s most coveted release dates), Baywatch proved that even the most likable stars are only as popular as the projects they choose.
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