Universal Pictures, the king of the studios this year

Universal Pictures_Logo

Universal Pictures has had a 2015 worth remembering for years to come. And I say that knowing fully well that the year still has almost five months to go. Well, what else would you say when the studio announces that it has grossed a whooping $5.53 billion in movie ticket receipts worldwide, setting a new industry record? Wow! That is more than the $5.52 billion earned by 20th Century Fox for the entire of 2014. Yeah, earnings for twelve-month period of 2014 eclipsed in less than eight months of 2015 by Universal Pictures. It’s darn amazing, something the studio too would not have bet on at the beginning of the year. There is a lot though that it has done right, which includes getting strong box-office contenders on its rosters, marketing them with smartness, and releasing them at the perfect time. Let’s look at the key highlights of the year so far for Universal Pictures.

Three big franchises…

Earnings_Jurassic World pic2

The year was going to be about big franchises, we always knew that. Universal Pictures had three big ones lined up, which were certainly going to earn big bucks. But the final numbers turned out to be even far better than expected. Furious 7, released in early April, carried with it the stunts and the fast cars that had revived the franchise so beautifully, but this time, it had an extra emotional connect owing to the sad demise of Paul Walker. Jurassic World came out in the summer, relying on the nostalgia of the 1993 blockbuster, and along with it the well-guarded new hybrid dinosaur which was supposed to be scarier and fiercer than the famous T-Rex. The animated Minions released in August 2015 banking on the ‘cuteness’ of the minions which had seen such a strong fan following bloom with the Despicable Me series. Each one of them worked, meeting expectations at the box-office and then beating them. Furious 7 rode to the top with an unprecedented $1.16 billion earnings from overseas markets alone; overall, it grossed $1.51 billion worldwide and right now is the fifth biggest Hollywood movie ever. Jurassic World may not have hit the billion dollar mark in the foreign markets, but it outshone almost everything, including 2012’s The Avengers, in North America, and eventually grossed $1.56 billion worldwide, becoming the third-biggest movie ever. Minions has earned close to $870 million worldwide and is still running in theaters. Put the three movies together, and their worldwide box-office earnings currently total to $3.94 billion which corresponds to more than 70% of the total collections of Universal Pictures so far for 2015. We thought Disney had the knack of creative massive franchises; eh well, Universal can manage a bigger show!

… Mixed with low budget big hits

Earnings_Fifty Shades of Gray

Apart from the big franchise flicks, Universal Pictures also ensured the beginning of another franchise by bagging the movie rights to the popular book series Fifty Shades of Grey. The studio smartly sold the idea as a romantic movie, with lesser focus on the BDSM angle that the book carried. The studio even chose to release the movie on Valentine’s Day which worked. It earned closed to $570 million which is all the more staggering when compared with its modest production budget of only $40 million, making it one of the best return generating movies of the year. Universal Pictures then gave the sleeper hit of 2012, Pitch Perfect, a sequel which it deserved, while still managing to keep the production budget within control at $29 million. Pitch Perfect 2 released in May opposite the higher budget Mad Max: Fury Road and still managed a bigger opening than the latter in North America, eventually earning $283 million globally. Another fantastic return on investment! Universal currently has another comedy doing well in the theatres, Trainwreck. Made on a production budget of $35 million, the movie has earned $83 million already in North America after three weekends, and is yet to open in many foreign markets. These three films put together barely manage a production budget of $104 million, and still contribute about 17% of the studio’s humongous $5.53 billion global box-office earnings till date (and don’t forget that Trainwreck is still running in theatres). These are smart movie choices where the money put in was low but the quality was high enough to get the fans interested. Interestingly, Universal Pictures, which was criticised by some sections on grounds of sexism shown in Jurassic World, brought a lot of girl power with the above three films – Fifty Shades of Grey was directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Pitch Perfect 2 was directed by Elizabeth Banks and has a big female cast, and Trainwreck has Amy Schumer as the protagonist. Well done! Just to add to these movies, Universal Pictures also distributed two horror / thriller movies, The Boy Next Door and Unfriended, which did not have a combined production budget of more than $5 million while earned a staggering $104 million globally.

… And a few flops

The Seventh Son_Trailer

Everything hasn’t been rosy for Universal Pictures and the studio in fact started the year in the worst possible way. In January, it released the Michael Mann film Blackhat which had a production budget of $70 million but barely earned $18 million at the box-office globally. This was followed up with Seventh Son in February, starring Jeff Bridges, with a $95 million production budget which managed a disappointing but better tally of $111 million at the box-office. With two flops under its belt, Universal Pictures barely looked to be in any position to set industry records, but things took a different turn from April onwards. Another weak performance did follow later on though, as Ted 2 got panned with a $160 million global box-office figure in June against its production budget of $68 million; the movie is running in some foreign markets, but even if it does break-even, it would be a far cry from the highly successful Ted of 2012.

Overall, it has been a phenomenal year for Universal Pictures so far. Its calendar year earnings also include the movies of 2014 that crossed over to this year, mainly Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken which released in late December of last year. The studio still has so much to look forward to.

With five months remaining in 2015 and ten films still to come, we look forward to celebrating even more record-breaking milestones.

That is what Donna Langley, Chairman of Universal Pictures had to say on this record-breaking performance. The upcoming ten films may not have a billion dollar movie in them, but we have some interesting ones to keep an eye out for. The thriller Everest, the biopic Steve Jobs, the Guillermo Del Toro film Crimson Peak, and the Angelina Jolie – Brad Pitt flick By The Sea, are a few that should grab the attention of the audience. Once 2015 comes to a close, we can get a bigger picture of how the studio has fared. But for now, kudos to Universal Pictures for the success achieved in the year so far!


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