2011 may not have been the most financially successful, but that doesn’t it mean it didn’t produce a number of big hits that has forever left their mark on box office history. With the year coming to a close, it’s worth a look back at the best the year had to offer.
After a slow (and somewhat scary) start to 2011, the industry was reeling and trying to prepare themselves and investors for what was to come as New Yorkers and moviegoers nationwide began to fight back against high ticket prices and 3D surcharges.
Then came “Rango!” The most telling thing about this movie wasn’t its plot or voice talent, but its director. Gore Verbinski. Known for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, Verbinski stepped into the world of animation for the first time, with “Pirates” star Johnny Depp accompanying him.
The versatile director’s first stab at writing for a full-length motion picture gave Paramount an early 2011 success at the box office. It also didn’t hurt that as a result of Verbinski declining to return to the helm of the “Pirates” franchise last summer, this movie was the only chance audiences got to see him and Depp re-unite on screen for the foreseeable future and they made sure to take full advantage.
It would then take until the summer for another picture to really grab audience’s expectations. The last weekend of April has over the last few years morphed into a sneak preview of sorts for the upcoming summer movie season. To say that the return of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker to their most famous roles in “Fast Five” was a success is an under-statement. Universal, the studio behind the movie, not only got to claim a major box office victory, but they actually got to re-write the record books following an $80 million opening weekend.
Backed into a corner in Rio de Janeiro, the film reunited the “Fast & Furious” crew to pull off one more heist to try and reclaim their lives, but at the same time must contend with a new tough as nails federal agent assigned to bring them down.
While many expected the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would help ensure a strong debut, the end result was actually pretty astounding. Backed by a full New York media blitz “Fast Five” not only posted one of the highest 3-day grosses of the year, but it looks gave Universal its highest opening EVER (topping 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” $72.1 million). With two more sequels now green-lit, this franchise may not run out of gas in their tank for a long time to come.
The start of the summer then gave way to not one, but two surprisingly ultra-profitable comedies starting within weeks of each other.
At first glance, “Bridesmaids” was seen as Universal’s attempt at replicating the success of Warner Brothers’ “The Hangover,” and following the underwhelming performance of its debut trailer that description seemed accurate. Wow, was the industry wrong!
It is hard to overlook a comedy that combined featured a number of women who had been such an instrumental part some of the most successful comedy series of all time, but people initially did and then a really rare thing happened; the public and its most vocal critics changed their minds. No longer the proverbial bridesmaid, the comedy about a woman who goes through the trials and tribulations of being her best friend’s maid of honor could truly get the last laugh at (believe it or not) this year’s Oscars.
Speaking of “The Hangover,” the original summer hit was definitely a shock to the box office system and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that in the mind of the moviegoer nothing can ever replace a good old fashioned comedy. The movie came out of nowhere to earn almost $45 million in its opening weekend and later go on to collect a total haul of over $200 million.
Despite many skeptics criticizing the movie for essentially re-cycling the plot (just now set in Thailand), nobody was second-guessing Warner Brothers when the film’s Thursday midnight screenings nationally collected over $10 million! As it turns out that was the tip of the iceberg as the return of “The Wolfpack” continued to howl throughout the holiday weekend and over the four day frame the comedy earned $118.1 million, giving it the highest opening for a Memorial Day weekend, which tops the $85.7 million “Bruce Almighty” took in back in 2003.
By the time the five day opening weekend period rolled around, “Hangover II” should amassed close to $140 million, which made it the highest opening comedy of all time and the highest opening “R” rated movie ever. In a world of 3D overload, it’s easy to forget sometimes audiences(espicially those in major cities like here in New York) just wanted to find a way to laugh and that’s why this one worked.
The final film in the “Harry Potter” series also worked out well for Warner Brothers as the boy wizard’s final battle with the evil Lord Voldermort cast a magical spell on theaters Coming to Cineplex’s almost a full decade after the original, fans of Harry Potter were going to see this no matter what, meaning it could be in 2D, 3D or in black-and-white and it wouldn’t make a difference to the bottom line; the movie had insane drawing power.
The end of the summer took a dramatic turn as audiences realized award season wasn’t so far away and the studios were ready to roll out this year’s slate of “Oscar-bait.” Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, “The Help” placed rising star Emma Stone in the role of a socialite who befriended the African-American “help” at her family’s plantation. As her relationship with the extraordinary women grew her ability to give them a voice in a time where they didn’t have one resonated with audiences.
Set against the backdrop of a racially divided 1960’s Mississippi, “The Help” became a solid contender for some of Hollywood’s top prizes before it bowed in theaters. To say “The Help” lived up to and then exceed expectations doesn’t really even begin to describe the impact the Walt Disney distributed picture will have on the careers of Stone and her sure to be nominated co-stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as well as breakout star Jessica Chastain.
Just a month later another solid Oscar contender unrolled in theaters and found the same level of success. Although initially when baseball fans found out that one of baseball’s Bibles was being brought to the screen with Brad Pitt in the lead role and Aaron Sorkin at the typewriter, they scoffed. Yet, they were also among the first people in line to see (and later applaud) “Moneyball.”
Pitt, Sorkin and director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) along with dark horse supporting actor Jonah Hill proved to be a power quarter are all garnering Oscar buzz with good reason. “Moneyball” appealed to both fans of the game and casual viewers who jump in and out throughout the long season. Incidentally this is actually the second version of the movie being produced by Sony as the first one was canned due to its high budget; ironic huh? Somewhere Billy Beane is laughing.
The final three movies to make this best of recap all have one thing in common; they all successfully allowed audiences to suspend reality and get lost in another world. For when that happens theatergoers are happy to drop down the high cost of a film ticket.
“Twilight” fans have never had a problem shelling out any price for a pass to see their favorite characters comes to life on the big screen. As Edward and Bella prepared for their wedding and eventual birth of their child, “Twi-hards” showed up in droves to watch them avoid their multiple enemies, all determined to protect their own kind no matter what the costs.
Despite the box office’s recent struggles, Summit knew they had a blockbuster in waiting with “Dawn.” The problem here is that the studio also knew they only have one more “Twilight” bullet left in its chamber before it and the industry as a whole would have to look elsewhere for a Cineplex stabilizer. Granted as far as 2011 is concerned, that is a problem for another day as “Dawn” banked $140 million over its first weekend and now is over the $250 million mark.
Just a week later the vampires and werewolves of “Twilight” were joined by the eclectic cast of “The Muppets” as after years out of the spotlight, the Jim Henson creators reunited together on-screen to save their one-time legendary theater from a greedy developer determined to tear it down.
Although let’s be honest if you didn’t know the Muppets were coming back to theaters, you really may have been living under a rock, because Kermit and friends have been everywhere this year. Co-written by and starring “How I Met Your Mother’s” Jason Segel, the film re-cemented the classic characters status as pop culture kings. Aided by an arsenal of celebrities cameos and built-in name recognition, this was easily one of the fall’s most anticipated films. With 99% of the country’s top critics praising the movie, even many who had remained unconvinced that Segel and crew could successfully re-captured the tone and magic that made the Muppets a hit in the 70’s are being forced to take a second look.
The other person being given a second look is “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise, whose return to theaters was met with applause from audiences and critics alike. Framed for an international incident, the IMF team led by Crusie’s Ethan Hunt is disbanded and forced to find the real culprit while on the run from the authorities.
Following the success of the “Mission: Impossible 3,” a fourth installment in the action franchise was really an easy decision even if it did take five years to hit theaters. Helmed by Brad Bird in his live-action directorial debut, the film (based on the long-running TV series) reunited audiences with the seemingly ever-changing team, including a new character played by Jeremy Renner who is rumored to be taking over the franchise from Cruise going forward (with his blessing).
Yet the most surprising part of the film’s debut was its opening week box office earnings. Initially bowing exclusively in IMAX and playing on only 400+ screens nationwide, the action film (fueled by major cities like New York and Los Angeles) earned $12 million in its first frame.Granted a lot of success can be traced to a combination of inflated IMAX ticket prices and Warner Brother’s six-minute “The Dark Knight Rises” preview playing in front of it, but let’s call a spade a spade, given the economy those numbers are impressive.
And that was the year in movies. It may not have always been pretty but in the end audiences did find a few films to gravitate to in 2011. Although one thing certaintly rings true when looking back at the year that was: consumers are now firmly in the driver’s seat.
So what’s your take New York? What were your favorite films of the year? Hit the comments and let us know. As always, for more stories like this, remember to subscribe to this column at the top of the page and follow us on Twitter @Flickscentral.