Fifteen films have grossed over $100 million (domestic) at the box office this year. Here are the lessons studios can take from each of the films that accomplished this benchmark result, from the lowest to the highest in dollars.
15. Robin Hood: $105 million
Lesson: If you market it, they will come.
Sadly, with the budget spiraling out of control at a hefty $200 million, the money Robin Hood made back wasn't nearly enough to cover costs. So if you're thinking about a sequel, to quote Edgar Wright, don't.
14. Valentine's Day: $110 million
Lesson: If you release a star-laden film in February, any film at all, you'll make a few bucks.
Alba! Bates! Biel! Cooper! Foxx! Garner! Hathaway! Kutcher! Latifah! Lautner! Roberts! Oh dear. I've just read the trailer out loud to you. Sorry about that.
13. The Last Airbender: $127 million
Lesson: Post-production 3-D is here to stay!
M. Night Shyamalan's Last Airbender wasn't so much offensively bad as it was just a plain ol' children's film, though clealry not befitting of the source material. What's more alarming is the 18 percent upcharge theatergoers willingly paid for a shoddy afterthought of a 3-D treatment. You know what that means: It might be time to invest in your own pair of 3-D glasses for sanitary reasons alone.
12. Shutter Island: $128 million
Lesson: Seriously, February is the least contested month ever.
People really took to this Scorsese/DiCaprio mindbender. Here's hoping all the months of the year are eventually seeded with good content. Like January, for instance. Remember the first month of the year?
11. Grown Ups: $151 million
Lesson: People like to laugh at grown men running into a tree.
I don't want to judge other people's comedic tastes, but what happened here, people? We all saw the trailer where Kevin James hurls himself into a tree, didn't we? I thought we agreed to stay away after that? Looks like 20 million of y'all broke the pact. Shame.
10. Clash of the Titans: $163 million
Lesson: Soon, even documentaries will be in 3-D.
Remember the lesson from #13? If you think every pitch meeting in Hollywood isn't ending with something akin to "Yes, but can we do it in 3-D?" then you haven't been paying attention. And seriously, you don't want to be the one Hollywood director pushing back with "But WHY would Anne Frank be in 3-D??" They'll take away your parking spot, pronto.
9. The Karate Kid: $173 million
Lesson: Remakes work.
Why do all the heavy lifting of acclimating an audience to characters and story when you can just capitalize on their precious memories? The parents who'd seen it as teens bringing their own kids surely helped. Plus, by sheer chance, The Karate Kid remake was a decent film.
8. Despicable Me: $190 million
Lesson: Begun, these animation wars have.
Four of the top eight films are animated, three of them have something going for the adults too. The lesson is clear: Make a film that everyone will want to see.
7. Inception: $193 million
Lesson: Wait, original concepts become movies too?
Because it's all I want for Christmas, I don't dare hope that the studio system starts adopting Nolan's innovative techniques.
6. How to Train Your Dragon: $218 million
Lesson: Creative control is a good thing.
Paramount worked this one from the inside out. They had a release date but didn't like where the film treatment was headed. So they turned the project over to the directors behind Lilo and Stitch and said, "Please help us." And it worked!
5. Shrek Forever After: $236 million
Lesson: Don't believe your lying eyes, the Shrek franchise is fading fast.
They made money here, there's no doubt of that. But the fourth film earned less at the box office than the first, which is the opposite of what sequels are supposed to do. Shrek Five-ever After might be on permanent hold, so don't buy your tickets just yet.
4. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: $288 million
Lesson: Reasonable budgets are helpful.
This one fell just short of New Moon's box-office take, but the Summit gang makes their films in an extremely cost-effective manner. Well, at least until the Breaking Dawn two-parter where they'll pay the power trio $50 million or so just for showing up.
3. Iron Man 2: $311 million
Lesson: Be the first film out in the summer and never a pauper you'll be.
People needed the escape that this summer promised, and so they anointed Iron Man 2 right out of the gate. It's a good thing, too, or else Marvel Properties might have had to make due with shaky-cam and Thor hammers from Home Depot for the other comic book tentpoles scheduled for 2011 and 2012.
2. Alice in Wonderland: $334 million
Lesson: Timing trumps all.
Alice in Wonderland wasn't a bad film, but it wasn't one you went to see three times, either. What Burton's version had going for it was that sublime March release date; it faced absolutely nothing in the way of competition for a couple months. If you can manage it, that's the best way to profit from your big studio film -- release it against a bunch of tomato cans.
1. Toy Story 3: $390 million
Lesson: Pixar drinks your milkshake. It drinks it up.
At this point the Pixar brand is the strongest thing going, stronger than the iPhone, more ubiquitous than ESPN, more powerful than a speeding Porsche 911. Pixar's films have become discussion points, cultural touchstones, a community watering hole. As such the movies themselves aren't as important. But let's hope no one tells them that. Keep up the good work, fellas!