The USA box-office numbers for 2013 may narrowly miss the record-breaking numbers that were set last year. But one studio has little to worry about for it has already achieved its own record-breaking feat in the year. On December 14, 2013, which is the Saturday gone by, The Walt Disney Studios reached a new all-time high at the domestic box office, climbing atop the previous record of $1.547 billion achieved by the studio in 2012. It has been a year of feats for Disney, with the domestic record being just the latest one. Previously in July, Disney was the first studio to cross $1 billion earnings at the domestic box-office for the year, something it has now achieved eight years in a row. In August, Disney’s films crossed $2 billion in earnings in international markets, which was a record time for the studio to reach this mark. In November, Disney surpassed its previous all-time international record of $2.302 billion and also its previous all-time global record of $3.791 billion, both set in 2010. So with all the records tumbling, it was time for the domestic earnings record to be surpassed as well. Which did happen, with only a fortnight left in the year.
So what has driven this upsurge in Disney’s numbers? Combination of quite a few factors. To begin with, the smart and strategic acquisitions of Pixar in 2006 and Marvel in 2009. They paid big money for it, but they are starting to earn the rewards too. These purchases have allowed Disney to explode beyond the conventional image that we had of the brand which Walt Disney made so famous over the decades. Monsters University became the third biggest worldwide hit of Pixar this year, while Iron Man 3 from the Marvel franchise is the biggest hit of the year in Hollywood and the fifth biggest worldwide hit of all time. Put the box-office collections for these two movies together, and you get earnings of almost $680 million in the domestic market and close to $2 billion worldwide, which is more than half of Disney’s worldwide collections so far this year. But Iron Man 3 was not the only property to come from the Marvel brand. Thor: The Dark World has truly redefined Thor as a strong standalone franchise, as the film upstaged its predecessor at the box-office with $620 million in worldwide earnings; this one is still running in the theatres, so the numbers are just going to increase.
Another thing that Disney has banked on this year is the power of a franchise. Monsters University was a prequel, and Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were sequels. The good brand image around these films had been created by their predecessors. Especially the Marvel films have a lot to thank the success of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers of 2012 which created a much wider global awareness and appeal for this Marvel cinematic universe. In addition to these known franchises, Disney picked up one more well-known name but from eons back. The name of Oz. While the classic The Wizard of Oz had released back in 1939, Disney created a prequel of sorts with Oz the Great and Powerful and got Sam Raimi to steer the ship. A visual treat built around quite a big production budget, the movie did fairly well with about half a billion dollars earned worldwide.
Do not jump to the quick conclusion that Disney’s success has been fuelled by movies in which the studio had a well-laid out foundation to work with. For something that Disney has been able to do very well this year, is create its own movies from scratch in a successful manner. Topping this list would be the still-running animated film Frozen. The movie is currently second on the box-office charts of North America and is well set to be one of the biggest hits for Walt Disney Animation Studios of the past decade or so. Its phenomenal opening three weekends back and strong run since then has acted like the nitro boost for the studio to enable it to break its domestic earnings record. And a few months before, Disney made a smart call with its low-budget animation flick Planes. The movie was all set to release in direct-to-video format, but the studio went ahead with a theatrical release in a less competitive period of August for animation movies. The movie has earned $220 million in worldwide revenues, which is more than four times its production budget. A clever move indeed! Disney also re-released its classic film The Little Mermaid this year, but that was only in a select few theatres.
So 2013 has been a year of triumph and glory for Disney. A year when they could not go wrong. Eh, well they did. With all the good things Disney achieved this year, the studio did blow it badly with one high-budget film. The Lone Ranger. Despite the presence of Johnny Depp, the movie has earned only about $40 million more than Planes with a budget which was four times larger. Quite a colossal failure this one was, and one may be tempted to say that Disney should stay out of live-action films which are not of the Marvel world. But then, this is the same studio which gave us Pirates of the Caribbean series. So maybe, one failure in an otherwise impeccable year is acceptable.
Disney has one more movie to offer before the year comes to an end. A movie which would actually be much closer to the studio than any other. For it features the man himself, Walt Disney. Well, not the real Walt Disney, but Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney. The movie Saving Mr. Banks is all set for a wide release in the USA this weekend; it is a biopic focussed on the interactions between Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers, as Disney sought to adapt her novel Mary Poppins into a film. There is already some Oscar buzz humming around it, and that would be some way to cap this year, with an Oscar, wouldn’t it?
Now with the acquisition of Lucasfilms and the resulting Star Wars film set for a 2015 release, along with The Avengers: Age of Ultron releasing in the same year, that could be the year when Disney would aim to reach a higher pedestal. 2014 too is set to bring more Marvel and more Disney, but there is no Pixar film slated for the year. But as for now, Disney deserves to let the champagne flow to celebrate this incredible year, which has delivered great results on the box-office, but more importantly, has provided us, the audience, with some wonderful movies that have been made with heart. A job well done!