2010 Summer Box Office Blockbuster Contest Results

Here are the final results of the 2010 summer blockbuster contest announced about five months ago. To remind you, the point of the contest was to predict how well six big summer movies would do, and to choose the film not on that list that would do the best. The six films I chose and their final grosses were:

The eligible film not on this list that performed best over the summer was Despicable Me, which made $243,684,130. The runner up on the sleeper film was The Karate Kid, which made $176 million by the contest end date. The most popular sleeper choices were Sex and the City 2 and The Last Airbender. Two contestants, Scott Renshaw and Mark Pfeiffer, selected Despicable Me correctly.

This year, 19 people entered the contest, down one from last year.

And the winner is long-time entrant Mark Pfeiffer, with 83 points. Mark hit The Twilight Saga: Eclipse right on the nose (suggesting an uncanning understanding of the movie tastes of teenaged girls), got the most points as well for Robin Hood, got the sleeper right, and generally did pretty on all the films. 83 points is the highest total for any winner of the contest, to date. Congratulations, Mr. Pfeiffer!

The runner-up was Scott Renshaw, with 72 points, a total that would have won in many years.

Here are the complete results, in increasing point order:

  • Joshua Kreitzer 16
  • Yan Wong 22
  • David Sharron 24
  • Jeff Lau 25
  • Daniel H To The Izzo 29
  • Peter Beary 29
  • L N Collier 31
  • Atli Sigurjonsson 33
  • Don Marks 34
  • Cathleen Reiher 37
  • Kelly Lau 41
  • Erik Gregersen 42
  • Charles Odell 43
  • Arn 44
  • Jeff Vorndam 49
  • George Wu 50
  • Dennis Holly 54
  • Scott Renshaw 72
  • Mark Pfeiffer 83

    Thanks to all who entered.

    I chose 4 of the top six films of the summer for the contest, with Robin Hood and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time being the underperformers in the bunch. But they were serious underperformers, with several other films exceeding their grosses. Robin Hood seemed a little on the risky side, but Prince of Persia sounded like a sure bet to at least make a good chunk of change. Just goes to show that if you bore the audience, they won't come back. Despicable Me was the big surprise, from my perspective. Even looking at the grosses at the end of the summer, I didn't expect it to have done that well. Iron Man 2, while not the quality of film or size of hit people hoped for, was certainly a success. It just came out too early to make my contest dates.

    There were quite a few other disappointments for the studios this summer. The Sex and the City sequel, despite sounding like it had a huge built-in audience, killed that franchise dead. The A-Team has perhaps, finally, made studios think twice about making films based on TV series that weren't that good and aren't that beloved in the first place. While The Last Airbender made a good deal of money, it seems pretty clear that any hope it would lead to a Harry Potter-esque franchise was killed dead by Mr. Shyamalan and crap- assed 3D.

    And, speaking of crap-assed 3D, the summer was not kind to the format. Yes, Toy Story 3 kicked extremely serious ass, but does anyone really believe that's because it was in 3D? It's possible that Despicable Me benefited from the format, but many other films did not. In particular, highly unnecessary films like the Cats and Dogs sequel did not become more relevant by adding another dimension. It's arguable about whether cheap genre films in the format, like Step Up 3D and Piranha 3D actually did much better than they would have if they had been released flat. However, Hollywood has put enough money and hopes into 3D that it isn't going away any time soon. If the set of 3D films already in the can or currently shooting almost all underperform, maybe in a couple of years the format will be in trouble.

    One might be tempted to think that the big studio lesson of the summer is that good, original films are the way to go, at least within the general parameters of what one expects from a summer film. After all, Inception was, while not the highest grossing film, probably the flashiest hit. But the fact is that it was the only big hit of the summer that could reasonably be described as pretty original. The other five top grossing films? 3 sequels, a remake, and Despicable Me, a fairly obvious variation on typical animated fare. (Obvious enough that a second film sounding suprisingly similar, Megamind, is coming out in the fall.) Other big hits included standard comedies with big comedy stars (like Grown Ups and The Other Guys) and films based on graphic novels (yes, sort of, to The Last Airbender, a big no to Jonah Hex). The nearest other film that was a pretty big hit and could be described as not totally derivative and predictable was Salt. While it had some original elements, we most certainly have seen Angelina Jolie kicking butt in big action and effects sequences before.

    In some ways, the film that makes the best argument in favor of an audience's desire for more originality was The American, which had a much bigger opening weekend than predicted. Unfortunately, while its tone and style were indeed unlike most Hollywood summer films, it's also probably the most disliked film of the year by the audiences who saw it. The industry feeling seems to be more like "we snuck a loser past the suckers" than "people are yearning for more films that aren't like what they always see."

    If people were really interested in seeing original, different films, then movies like Winter's Bone and Flipped and Cyrus would have done better. These were all highly accessible films, in English, some with actors who a typical moviegoer would recognize as movie stars. All were well reviewed, and generally a lot better reviewed than most of the summer's hits. None made as much as $10 million. You can argue about marketing and timing and bad luck and whatever you want, but the continuing failure of perfectly reasonable films to have decent box office returns despite all attempts to get audiences to see them would have to be seen by a Hollywood executive as a strong signal that audiences aren't interested in such films and that it's a waste of money to make them. And that's exactly what I expect Hollywood executives to do.

    And, based on the grosses (which, in combination with production costs, are what matters), what else should we expect Hollywood executives to do? Well, Pixar undoubtedly continues to get to do whatever it damn well pleases. Christopher Nolan also gets a 2-3 film pass to make whatever he wants. If that proves equally successful, he keeps getting his way. But those are special cases. If you are a soulless studio executive with no concern for anything but keeping your job and making money, what do you do about your studio's future summer films based on the lessons of this summer?

    Many of the franchises seem to be running out of steam. The Shrek sequel and the Iron Man sequel were undoubtedly hits, but they sure had the look that the next film in the series for each was going to do a lot worse than this one did. That's the typical case for series, but certainly in the case of Iron Man, it's disheartening for the studio that what looked like something they could milk for a while seems to be tottering. Especially since they've pretty much bet the farm on big films based on Marvel comics superheros. What will they do if Thor and the Avengers films underperform? Before the release of Iron Man 2, they were probably worrying a lot less about that.

    But that's just one studio and one series. It's no doubt disappointing that there's no more money to be wrung from other series, like Sex and the City, but what's worse is that the clear attempts to start new franchises didn't pay off. It doesn't look like it's worth spending a lot of money making sequels to The A-Team or Prince of Persia or The Sorcerer's Apprentice or even The Last Airbender. Maybe one can squeeze a little out of Salt 2, beyond delighting those film observers who find the notion of a summer blockbuster named after a treaty interesting. I'm sure they'll try The Other Guys 2, but I'm also sure it will stink and burn. There's been some talk of an Inceptin sequel, but it's not clear there's anywhere to go with that that's worth going. There are a few more Twilight books left, and it's obviously worth the trouble to make the films of those, but there's a definite end in sight there, just as there is to the Harry Potter films.

    If there is something about the summer to make a studio executive's shriveled blackened heart beat a trifle faster, it's probably the success of The Expendibles. This film is a throwback to a genre that used to be a proven moneymaker for the studios in the 80s and 90s, but seemed to have played out its string: the action film built around a muscle-bound hero, lots of bullets and fistfights, and copious use of explosions. For Arnold Schwarzenegger, certainly, the timing couldn't be better for a revival of this kind of film, given his governor's term ends in a few months. I definitely expect that Bruce Willis, Arnold, Stallone, and the second string members of that posse will be hitting the gym and getting ready to bleed (faked) and sweat (probably mostly real) for the masses.

    As always, of course, this summer's lessons come too late to have a lot of influence on next summer. The big films are already set for that season, and most of them already have their release dates lined up. Predictably, it's gonna be superheros and sequels: another Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the very last Harry Potter, more of Kung Fu Panda and The Hangover and Transformers and Cars, Thor and Green Lantern and Captain America, plus another attempt to reboot the Planet of the Apes series, a probably fruitless and certainly unnecessary attempt to revitalize the popularity of the Smurfs (but in 3D - doesn't that make all the difference in your anticipation level?), maybe the fourth Mission Impossible movie (isn't Tom Cruise almost of the same vintage as the Smurfs? And, between them, whose career would you prefer to see revived?). There are also a couple of more interesting things on tap. Spielberg's adaptation of the London stage hit War Horse is puzzlingly scheduled for an August release, when an autumn date for better award consideration would seem more logical. (If the point is to avoid competing with Spielberg's Tintin film, which comes out at Christmas, it seems ill considered, since the latter is highly unlikely to get a lot of Academy Award consideration.) Cowboys and Aliens, while undeniably high concept, is at least a new concept. And probably some smaller things whose release gets announced later will be worth seeing. But it's clearly going to be another film summer dominated by loud noises and flashy CGI.

    Back to the film contest page.