This past weekend, the new animated feature from 20th Century Fox, Rio, won the US box office with a $39M opening, beating highly fancied Scre4m into second place with a disappointing $19M. There was a lot of expectation from the fourth movie in the Scream franchise. The first three movies grossed around $300 million dollars between them, with the second and third installments opening with over $30M each, and that nearly 15 years ago.
The Scream series did well because it sold to the teen audience, those that had the box office power all those years ago. We have, however, entered a new era. A time when the combined forces of toddlers, tweens and their guardians now have the biggest impact at the box office. We have seen, in the last year particularly, an apparent rise in the popularity of the family movie. Whilst in the past it has been teen movies, and then big, effects heavy action movies that have been the big hitters, it seems there is now more interest in family orientated, animated features.
It really became obvious last year, beginning with How to Train Your Dragon. The year’s first big animated movie, the original nature of the storyline, not based on a recognisable property, meant that How to Train Your Dragon started reasonably slowly at the box office. This Dragon however had long legs, and the combination of the 3D factor and fantastic word of mouth meant that it became a massive box office success.
The trend continued throughout the year, with Shrek Forever After, and the big gun Toy Story 3. TS3 broke records to become the highest grossing animated movie of all time. Despicable Me enjoyed moderate success, and just a few weeks later Megamind helped set a record for box office figures on the opening weekend of the Winter period. Tangled rounded out the impressive year for animated films with a strong box office performance.
Third at the box office this past weekend was the bunny pic Hop, another animated adventure, which topped the box office the past two weeks before. This year’s highest grossing film so far is, you guessed it, an animated film, Rango, a western about a lizard voiced by Johnny Depp. Add this to the other surprise success story of 2011, Gnomeo and Juliet, and you can see the pattern is continuing this year.
Why, then, have family orientated films, particularly animated ones, exploded in popularity recently? Financially, it makes sense. Families have been forced to tighten their belts over the past couple of years, a lot of the entertainment budget for a typical family has been put to other uses. Now, a family trip to the cinema looks to actually be a cheap prospect. A £7 cinema ticket is cheaper nowadays than two pints of beer, or a bottle of wine, so is far more economically viable per person than a night on the town with friends. Combining everyone’s leisure time also means they can spend more quality time together.
Another part of the reason is that family movies are far more appealing now than they used to be to a lot of adults. Where once animated films were seen as childish and aimed solely at children, this perception has changed thanks in large part to the original Toy Story. Animated movies have become far more sophisticated. Pixar successfully combined adult humour with kid friendly slapstick action, and all the other studios began to follow suit. Now, it isn’t unusual for a an animated movie to be written with adults in mind first, and kids second Wall*E, for example, was actually quite boring to many young children, and achieved its popularity thanks to the appreciation of its adult audience.
Last year, of the top ten grossing movies at the US box office, 50% were animated. So far this year, they make up 3 of the top 5. Only time will tell if the family movie boom will continue on for an extended period of time. Certainly, there are many external factors that influence cinematic tastes and trends. A major upturn in the economy, another massive global event, or even just the introduction of a new favourite source material amongst movie makers could all change the dynamic overnight. With a couple of big comic-book adaptations due to hit our screens this summer, along with another Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Kung-Fu Panda has to shoulder the burden of trying to match last year’s Toy Story 3 gross to keep animated movies on top, so things could well change. For now, however, animated movies rule the roost.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann