Hollywood has long gotten by with a formula that’s made it so they don’t necessarily need to make the best movies in order to make money at the box office. Offerings like every installment of Michael Bay’s Transformers saga give us proof positive of this concept has gotten the film industry far these last few years. But for whatever reason, 2014 was an odd year for movie theaters for a number of reasons. First, the hard facts as reported by Deadline:
- Domestic box office sales saw a 6% drop from 2013
- Ticket prices remained virtually the same, averaging $8.12 (2013’s average was $8.13)
- The number of tickets sold (1.259 billion) was the lowest total since 1995 (1.221 billion)
- Despite the overall dip in ticket sales, 20th Century Fox made $1.760 billion in 2014, a 66% increase over 2013
- Warner Bros., the top-grossing studio in 2013, dropped to third in 2014, making $1.54 billion (down 17% from the previous year)
- Despite releasing the massively popular Divergent as well as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Lionsgate saw a 32% dip in box office sales
All this culminated in a year that was something of an unmitigated disaster for domestic box offices. So what was it that drove people away from theaters in 2014? In the article linked above, Deadline cites a slew of tentpole movies with release dates that were pushed to 2015 as one of the main causes. For the first year since 1997, there was no Pixar movie. Moneymakers like the seventh installment in the Fast & Furious franchise and Focus Feature’s Fifty Shades of Grey both saw their release dates pushed to 2015 after originally being scheduled for this last summer. Beyond this, though, what we’ve really seen was a year where Hollywood felt flat on its face with the blockbusters they did release.
Gleaning numbers from Box Office Mojo, we were able to draw some conclusions about the kind of movies that tanked in 2014. We saw recycled stories from iconic directors like Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings and Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. Each disappointed at the box office, making just $101 million and $55 million respectively. The sequel to 2011’s The Muppets pulled in just $51 million, while The Expendables 3 (32% Rotten Tomatoes score) saw a leak of its movie that led to 500,000 illegal downloads net them just $39 million, the lowest box office of the trilogy by less than half. Even expected blockbusters like The Legend of Hercules and Pompeii fell short, with the latter pulling in a meek $23 million (neither of which were helped by their 3% and 29% respective scores on Rotten Tomatoes). Across the board, moviegoers said it loud and clear: If you make bad movies, we’re not going to spend our hard-earned cash to see them.
Of course one other factor needs to be considered when it comes to getting to the bottom of this mystery: pirating. Illegal downloads of big releases swept across the internet this last year. According to a report from BBC News, the aforementioned Legend of Hercules was pirated upwards of 25 million times, while X-Men: Days of Future Past, Noah, and Godzilla each surpassed 20 million downloads. Any time a movie can be streamed directly to the comfort of millions of homes for free, you’re bound to see some backlash at the box office as an unfortunate result.
All this being so, there’s a good chance 2015 will see a rebound at the box office thanks to upcoming releases like the long-awaited next episode in the Star Wars saga, the next Avengers movie, and of course Jurassic World, starring newly minted A-lister Chris Pratt. It promises to be a year chock-full of fiercely loyal built-in audiences that are almost guaranteed to be lining up on opening nights for each of their respective franchises. But 2014 also taught us a valuable lesson about taking theater audiences for granted. If studios don’t actually manage to raise the bar in terms of the quality of their blockbusters, they could very well find themselves struggling to get butts in seats for yet another year.