Christian Bale in Out of the Furnace
This weekend, Out of the Furnace — an original film co-written by Brad Ingelsby and director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) and based on nothing other than the ideas in their heads — opened with just $5.3 million, one of the worst wide opening weekends of the year. It was so bad, in fact, that the film’s studio, Relativity Media, felt compelled to release a statement saying, “There’s no better swing for a studio to take than one with a daring story from a renowned director and an award-winning cast.”
Unfortunately, Hollywood rarely takes that kind of swing any more.
This same weekend, moviegoing audiences could also buy tickets to see, in wide release, the sequel to an adaptation of a popular YA novel series, an animated musical version of a classic fairy tale, a sequel to an adaptation of a popular comic book, a remake of a successful French-Canadian comedy, an adaptation of a popular pulp crime novel, a sequel to a popular romantic comedy, and an adaptation of a popular historical novel. The only other technically original film to crack the top 10 at the box office, in fact, was Dallas Buyers Club, a film based on real events — i.e., not an original story solely from the filmmakers’ imagination, even if the screenplay itself is not “based” on any pre-existing material — and in a semi-limited release of 734 theaters.
In 2013, only one truly original film (Gravity) even cracked the top 10 grossing films of the year. Ten years ago, in 2003, there were three original films in the top 10 of the year — Finding Nemo, Bruce Almighty, and Elf. Just five years before that, the top five highest-grossing films of 1998 were all original stories — Saving Private Ryan, Armageddon, There’s Something About Mary, The Waterboy, and A Bug’s Life.
To be clear, there were still original films that made an impact at the box office this year, but you have to scan pretty far down the year’s full box office list before you can round up even 15 of them.
Note: While The Conjuring and 42 are technically original films insofar as their screenplays are not based on pre-existing material, they were not included in the following list since they are both based, at least in part, on actual people and events. This isn’t a judgment on either film’s quality — for this particular list, we are interested only in films that were wholly invented by their respective filmmakers. This used to be the coin of the realm in Hollywood; now it’s the rarest currency in American studio filmmaking.
Total domestic gross: $251,515,000
Total global gross: $617,115,000
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 6
This isn’t just an original film — it’s wildly, epically, historically original, featuring just two on camera speaking roles and literally reinventing what it even means to set a modern feature film in space. A serious Oscar contender, Gravity may still rank lower than Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Man of Steel, and Monsters University at the box office, but it is the only one of those films to be No. 1 at the box office for three weekends in a row.
2. The Croods
Total domestic gross: $187,168,425
Total global gross: $587,204,668
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 12
Released way back in March, this film about a family of cave people was just a mid-range performer for DreamWorks Animation, but it was good enough to be the second highest-grossing original film of the year.
3. The Heat
Total domestic gross: $159,572,717
Total global gross: $229,711,871
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 13
Comedy is the last refuge for the original film, and no comedy was bigger this year in the U.S. than this one. And it starred two women. Hollywood, are you paying attention?
4. We’re the Millers
Total domestic gross: $150,394,119
Total global gross: $269,194,119
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 14
It only opened with $26.4 million in August, but this film just kept playing strongly for the next eight weeks, ultimately becoming Jennifer Aniston’s best-grossing film since 2003’s Bruce Almighty. We’re the Millers even did better than The Heat overseas.
5. Identity Thief
Total domestic gross: $134,506,920
Total global gross: $173,965,010
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 17
Yet another comedy! And it should be no surprise that both Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock have two films on this list. In fact, these two stars helped to bring in over $500 million in the domestic box office.
6. Now You See Me
Total domestic gross: $117,723,989
Total global gross: $351,723,989
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 22
One of the biggest surprises of the year, this mega-twisty magician thriller will be known for all time as the film that bested Will and Jaden Smith.
7. Pacific Rim
Total domestic gross: $101,802,906
Total global gross: $407,602,906
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 28
Co-writer-director Guillermo Del Toro’s big-budget homage to the low-budget giant, rampaging monster movies of his childhood was a box office disappointment in the U.S., but it pulled in three times its domestic take overseas — including a whopping $111 million in China. That’s right: This film made more at the box office in China than it did in the U.S. And that’s only going to happen more often in the years ahead.
8. This Is the End
Total domestic gross: $101,470,202
Total global gross: $124,888,161
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 29
With a reported budget of $32 million, this apocalyptic meta-comedy is one of the most profitable studio releases of the year.
9. Olympus Has Fallen
Total domestic gross: $98,925,640
Total global gross: $161,025,640
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 31
This is when things begin to get a little…sad. Yes, this derivative Die-Hard-at-the-White-House thriller is one of the top 10 grossing original movies of the year.
Total domestic gross: $93,050,117
Total global gross: $286,140,700
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 33
In 2009, writer-director Neill Blomkamp released District 9, a thrillingly original sci-fi movie with zero movie stars, a reported $30 million budget, and set in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was a major hit (raking in $210 million globally), and even earned an Oscar nod for Best Picture. Four years later, Blomkamp released Elysium, also an original sci-fi film, but this time with two major movie stars, a reported $110 million budget, and set in Los Angeles. Globally, it brought in $286 million, a financial disappointment given the film’s much bigger budget and profile — and its U.S. box office actually came in under District 9’s domestic take.
Let that be a lesson, Hollywood: Movie stars and American settings are box office poison! (I’m joking.) (Mostly.)
Total domestic gross: $83,012,885
Total global gross: $281,866,271
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 38
DreamWorks Animation’s second film of the year was one of its lowest-grossing films in the U.S. ever, and the story is only marginally better overseas. And yet it’s still enough to rank as one of the best-grossing original films of the year.
12. White House Down
Total domestic gross: $73,103,784
Total global gross: $205,366,737
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 40
Oh dear. There is perhaps no more damning an indictment of Hollywood’s inability to embrace truly original filmmaking than the fact that the other derivative Die-Hard-at-the-White-House thriller from this year was also one of the top-grossing original films of the year.
Total domestic gross: $71,628,180
Total global gross: $146,428,180
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 41
When an original horror film is a hit, Hollywood usually churns out sequels to that film over and over and over again. But although Mama is the most successful original horror film of the year (not including The Conjuring, of course), director Andrés Muschietti told ScreenCrush in January that he’s not keen on making a sequel. And there hasn’t been much talk of a Mama sequel since.
(Technically, this horror film is based on a 2008 short written by Muschietti. But since Muschietti also co-wrote and directed the feature-length version, it still counts as an original work from the filmmakers’ imagination.)
14. The Purge
Total domestic gross: $64,473,115
Total global gross: $89,328,627
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 49
No such hand-wringing over a sequel to this ultra-low-budget horror film: A sequel is already set to open June 20, 2014.
Total domestic gross: $61,002,302
Total global gross: $118,433,958
Rank for all 2013 domestic box office: 50
Of the top 50 movies at the box office released this year, only 15 were completely original films — and only the last one on the list is a straightforward drama. There is a great deal to celebrate about the crop of truly fabulous films in 2013, but the fact that so precious few of them aren’t derived from some other source is a sad commentary on the state of filmmaking today.
Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:
1. Frozen — $31.6 million
2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire — $27 million
3. Out of the Furnace* — $5.3 million
4. Thor: The Dark World — $4.7 million
5. Delivery Man — $3.8 million
6. Homefront — $3.4 million
7. The Book Thief — $2.7 million
8. The Best Man Holiday — $2.7 million
9. Philomena — $2.3 million
10. Dallas Buyers Club — $1.5 million
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