The year 2014 so far has not really been as tremendous as its predecessor, as far as Hollywood is concerned. The domestic box-office earnings are about 6% lower on a year-on-year basis, and it is unlikely that 2014 would be catching up with 2013 any time soon. So when the pie does not bigger, try to grab a bigger chunk of it. That’s the mantra to be followed in such a market, and that is exactly what 20th Century Fox has done. Last Sunday, the studio became the first one in Hollywood to cross the $1 billion mark. This is the longest time it has taken in a year for the milestone to be reached by the first studio since 2006. But while the domestic box-office may be sluggish, the international markets continue to shower their love on Hollywood movies. So within a few days more, 20th Century Fox has become the first studio to achieve another big milestone — amassing $3 billion in worldwide revenues! This is the second fastest time taken by a studio to cross this mark in a year, after Fox’s own achievement in 2010 when the figure was reached by end of June. So there we have it, $1 billion in North America, $2 billion from outside lands, and Fox is leading the pack of studios.
Fox did not particularly have a great year in 2013. Of the top seven major studios, it had landed up in fourth spot. Its entire year’s domestic collections and worldwide collections had been close to $1.1 billion and $3.4 billion respectively. So what has gone right for Fox this year? Let’s break it down.
Number of Movies: Till date this year, Fox has released nine movies, which is three more than the number released in the corresponding period last year. There would be earnings also from those movies that were released late last year, but that would not be a big factor. So the higher releases in the year would be a reason for the jump in collections, but the difference in the revenues is too big, which the higher number of movies alone cannot justify.
Franchise Effect: Fox has played a bit safe one can say, or a bit wise, as some others might put it. The studio has released four sequels this year so far, as against only one released by this time last year. Not only that, the studio has relied on its popular franchises to draw in the crowds, ones which more or less guaranteed to be a decent-sized hit. So we had one from the X-Men series, and sequels to Rio, How to Train Your Dragon and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Compare this to the sequel thrown in last year, A Good Day to Die Hard, which was the fifth movie of the Die Hard series and already running on old legs.
Superior Quality: You can pull in crowds through goodwill of the franchise and through marketing, but a movie usually works on its own strengths. Fox has come out with a strong line-up of movies this year, which are earning favours from the crowds and the critics. X-Men: Days of Future Past for many would be seen as the best movie of the entire series, and if not so, at least one of the best; it is the second-biggest movie of the year so far in terms of box-office collections ($732 million worldwide till date). The Fault in Our Stars led many to shed a tear or two, and has earned close to $240 million worldwide on a measly production budget of $12 million. The recently released Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has brought in some of the best reviews of the year (it features on the Imdb #250 list as of now); it has earned about $135 million worldwide after only a week of its release. Last year, the only movie released by Fox that drew admiration was The Heat and maybe to some extent The Croods and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Mind you, I am talking of the entire 2013 now! Even the movie from the X-Men series, The Wolverine, was not particularly a fan favorite and earned much less ($414 million) than the one from this year, but was still the second biggest hit for the studio after The Croods in 2013.
Animation Bet: 20th Century Fox ain’t particularly doing great with its animated films (the studio has a distribution deal with DreamWorks Animation). But then things were never going to go as bad as 2013, were they? Last year, the studio started off with the hit The Croods which was followed by two big disappointments in Epic and Turbo. This year, the studio began on a soft note with Mr. Peabody & Sherman ($269 million), but has done better with the next two movies, Rio 2 ($487 million) and How to Train Your Dragon 2 ($354 million and counting). While again there are no earth-shattering numbers here, these are still fairly decent numbers, which have helped boost Fox to the pole position.
The Right Crowd: Or call it the right sort of marketing. For out of the four releases by the studio that were not part of a franchise, three have turned out to be hits. And Fox seems to have done that by targeting the right audience. It started the year with Son of God, a surprise hit, which seems less of a surprise now when you consider the other faith-based movies that have done well in the year. This was a segment which was more or less left unsatisfied in the past, and has been cleverly targeted by not only Fox but other studios too. Then Fox targeted the female audience, which again clearly is a big potential yet to be fully tapped by the studios, with the releases of The Other Woman and The Fault in Our Stars. While the latter has earned rave reviews to also justify its success, the former hasn’t managed the same though this has not stopped it from earning close to $200 million worldwide. That just shows you the power of getting in the right audience!
So where does Fox go next? It is already enjoying one of its best years, and there are still a whole lot of releases yet to come before the year ends. Amonsgt the franchises, Fox will release Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb by end of the year, before which we will also get to see the animated spin-off The Penguins of Madagascar. Both could again rake in good numbers at the box-office. More importantly, Fox is betting on a number of fresh non-franchise releases, which is good to see; some of them are genuinely intriguing movies to watch out for. There is the David Fincher directed Gone Girl which is based on the best-selling novel of the same name, as well as the Ridley Scott film Exodus: Gods and Kings starring Christian Bale. Kingsman: The Secret Service also catches the eye, as it is based on a Mark Millar comic book series and is being directed by Matthew Vaughn.
So we got about half a year still to go. Lots of movies to come, as the tussle between the studios will continue. By the end of the year, we may very well have a new name at the top. But irrespective of that, 20th Century Fox is on track to have quite a successful year!