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The Biggest Winners And Losers In Movies In 2014

From Marvel Studios' highs to Sony Pictures' lows, from Scarlett Johansson kicking butt to Adam Sandler bombing out, here are the highlights and lowlights in the movies this year.

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To say this has been a bad year for Hollywood is a bit like saying the outgoing Congress had some small disagreements. So let's reach into the thesaurus for some better bad words: It's been awful. Horrific. Abysmal. And that is setting aside (for the moment) the December denouement that was the Sony Pictures/The Interview debacle, the Bryan Singer scandal, the renewal of the Woody Allen scandal, the continued decline of original studio movies, and the unabated commercial primacy of Michael Bay.

Based on figures from Box Office Mojo, Hollywood has not seen ticket sales this low since 1989. That measurement may fluctuate a bit as final numbers for the year trickle in. But rather than some onetime aberration, 2014 represents the latest low mark in a downwardly mobile trajectory that the movie business has not yet figured out how to reverse — if indeed it can. It's how Disney can have four of the year's top 10 grossing movies domestically (Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Maleficent, and Big Hero 6), more than any other studio, and still be down roughly 4.5% from 2013. It's how Warner Bros. and Universal can have a healthy slate of hits and still be down double digits year-over-year.

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Amid all this gloom, there are still plenty of studios, filmmakers, and actors who had cause to celebrate this year, while others are likely itching to put 2014 far behind them. Six months ago — back when box office was down a mere 1.5% from 2013, instead of a much more worrisome 5.3% — I assessed the winners and losers in movies through the first half of the year. Some things since have changed for the better, some for the worse. So as we ring in 2015, let's look back on the biggest winners and losers in movies overall from the year just past.

Winner: Marvel Studios

At the start of 2014, Captain America: The First Avenger was Marvel Studios' lowest grossing film (not counting The Incredible Hulk, but no one counts The Incredible Hulk), and Guardians of the Galaxy looked like one of the biggest gambles of the year. Today, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the third highest grossing film of the year and is considered by some to be Marvel Studios' best movie. Not to be outdone, Guardians of the Galaxy is the top grossing film of 2014, and is considered to be the studio's best by pretty much everyone else.

Marvel Studios' astronomic success has fundamentally changed how the movie business operates, with practically every studio chasing "mega-franchises" whether they're a good idea or not. The studio's own ambitious and aggressive Phase 3 slate through 2019 may prove to be too much of a good thing, but for now in Hollywood, it's Marvel's world, and we all just live in it.

What's next? Avengers: Age of Ultron, the sequel to the third highest grossing movie of all time, opens in May and promises to be a box office behemoth — and anything less will count as a disappointment. Conversely, the expectations for July's Ant-Man are at such a low boil that the Paul Rudd-Michael Douglas superhero heist movie is primed to surprise audiences much like Guardians of the Galaxy did this year.

Loser: Sony Pictures

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

From a box office standpoint, Sony actually had a decent year, especially compared to 2013, when the studio plummeted from first in market share to fourth after a string of high-profile flops. By comparison, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, 22 Jump Street, The Equalizer, and Heaven Is for Real are all profitable hits, and the studio, while still in fourth, was up 2% in overall market share.

From every other standpoint, however, 2014 was a historic catastrophe for Sony Pictures. Decades from now, Hollywood historians will look back on the events of the past month as a benchmark of escalating disasters that stands to reverberate throughout the industry. There was the unprecedented hacking of the studio, the rash of embarrassing and scandalous headlines based on stolen emails and documents from the studio's executives, the lawsuits sparked by stolen personal information from the studio's rank-and-file employees, and the wrong-footed treatment by the studio of the lowbrow comedy ostensibly at the center of the entire debacle, The Interview. The story of the Sony Pictures hacking is far from over, but as far as 2014 is concerned, this year cannot end soon enough for virtually everyone involved.

What's next? Beyond the unknown fallout from the hacking, Sony Pictures' 2015 looks to be light on established franchises — with only Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 in April, Hotel Transylvania 2 in September, and the next James Bond movie, Spectre, in November — in a year that promises to be glutted with them. That could cut both ways; Sony could find itself overwhelmed by far buzzier studio movies, or it could provide audiences with their only respites from an onslaught of over-familiar product. For everyone's sake, let's hope for the latter.

Winner: Seth Rogen

Neighbors — produced by and starring Rogen — was one of the few surprises of the summer, an original comedy that was convulsively funny and also managed to be about something (namely, growing older and growing up). And with a reported $18 million budget, its $268.2 million global gross makes it one of the most profitable studio releases of the year.

That alone would have made 2014 a winning year for Rogen, but then came The Interview, which he co-produced, co-wrote, and co-directed with his creative partner, Evan Goldberg. And while pretty much every single other high-profile person involved with the film has come out looking worse for it — including Rogen's co-star James Franco, who has born the brunt of critical scorn for his over-the-top performance — Rogen has emerged as a presidentially anointed First Amendment hero. Though he may think twice before making another film depicting the assassination of a sitting head of state.

What's next? Rogen will co-star in Franco's next directorial effort, Zeroville, and he'll lend his voice to DreamWorks Animation's B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations (both release dates are TBD). His next effort as a producer-star, an untitled Christmas comedy with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lizzy Caplan, is due to open in November from, that's right, Sony Pictures.

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Winner: 20th Century Fox

Fox may have only had two films in the domestic top 10 of the year, X-Men: Days of Future Past ($233.9 million) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($208.5 million), but it also had the highest number of films to break the $100 million mark this year, including Gone Girl ($165.9 million), Rio 2 ($131.5 million), The Fault in Our Stars ($124.9 million), and The Maze Runner ($102 million).

All told, the studio had its best year…ever? I think it's ever. It's at least since 2000. (A rep for the studio told BuzzFeed News it likely won't have final numbers until Friday, but it is looking like "a record year" for the studio.) Regardless of the record books, Fox's U.S. box office is up roughly 68% over 2013, jumping from sixth to first in domestic market share. And it got there by diversifying its slate instead of glutting it with franchise-building visual effects extravaganzas (though it certainly had a fair number of those, too). Other studios would do well to take note of this strategy.

What's next? The biggest title for Fox in 2015, director Josh Trank's reboot of The Fantastic Four, remains a major question mark — no one's seen any of it so far, and what we do know has made comic book fans nervous. Otherwise, it will be another mix of comedies (Spy with Melissa McCarthy in May), thrillers (Kingsman: The Secret Service in February), YA adaptations (Paper Towns in June), animated features (The Peanuts Movie in November), and post-apocalyptic franchise films (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials in September).

Loser: DreamWorks Animation

Now that DreamWorks Animation's films are released through Fox, its three films this year — Mr. Peabody & Sherman, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Penguins of Madagascar — certainly helped contribute to Fox's banner 2014. But for DWA, a publicly traded company, 2014 has been a most painful year. Only Dragon 2 could be counted as a genuine hit, thanks to its outsized international box office grosses; Mr. Peabody & Sherman was a money loser. And after two very public attempts to sell the company this fall, the last thing the studio needed was a year that ended with a shrug. But that's exactly what the exhaustively hyped Penguins of Madagascar looks to be — after 33 days of release, it has grossed roughly $95 million less in the U.S. than the lowest grossing Madagascar movie, 2008's Escape 2 Africa, had at the same point in its run.

What's next? The candy-colored Home, featuring The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons as an alien and Rihanna as the girl he befriends, will open in March. Then the studio has B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations (release date TBD) and Kung Fu Panda 3 in March 2016.

Winner: Chris Pratt

Marvel Studios

Before Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt was best known as adorable doof Andy on NBC's Parks and Recreation, who also on occasion could get outstandingly buff. After Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt has become, essentially, the male Jennifer Lawrence (minus the Oscar and critical acclaim): accessible, hilarious, hugely popular, and preternaturally attractive. That's what starring in the year's top grossing movie can do for you.

What's next? After the final season of Parks and Rec, Pratt stars in Jurassic World in June, which appears to be a rare long-delayed sequel that people actually want to see.

Loser: Male Marvel Studios superheroes (and villains) in non-Marvel films

The designation of "loser" here is with the caveat that it is only from a financial perspective. But on those terms, virtually none of the stars who make up Marvel Studios' core team of Avengers had much luck this year parlaying the enormous popularity of their Marvel movies into major box office returns for their non-Marvel starring roles. Mark Ruffalo's music-driven indie drama Begin Again eked out a just-OK $16.2 million gross in the U.S. despite a major marketing push and semi-wide release in 1,302 theaters. Chris Evans' Snowpiercer, meanwhile, earned rapturous reviews and word-of-mouth but could only drum up $4.6 million in a limited theatrical run and another $6.5 million in its first two months on VOD. Jeremy Renner's Kill the Messenger made zero splash in October en route to a $2.5 million total. And while Tom Hiddleston created a geek meltdown at 2013's Comic-Con when he appeared as Loki, transforming into a vampire with Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive was apparently only worth $1.9 million.

Granted, with the exception of Begin Again, all of these films were pitched at so-called specialty audiences in limited releases. That is not the case, however, for Robert Downey Jr.'s The Judge, a down-the-middle-of-the-plate family drama developed by Downey's production company that the Iron Man star pulled out all the stops to promote. It opened in 3,003 theaters, in fifth place, with $13.1 million, behind the second weekend of the bottom-basement horror film Annabelle.

What's next? Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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Winner: Scarlett Johansson

On the same weekend she was kicking ass as Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Johansson won acclaim for her creepy, slinky work in Under the Skin…which made a tiny $2.6 million in a limited release. Then came July, and Lucy, writer-director Luc Besson's loopy sci-fi thriller about a woman (Johansson) who is transformed into a omniscient being of seemingly infinite power. It was a smash hit in the U.S., opening with $43.9 million in the U.S. en route to a $126.7 million total; and it was a sensation overseas, grossing $332.2 million.

What's next? Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Loser: Lionsgate

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 looks to gross roughly $100 million less in the U.S. than last year's astoundingly successful Catching Fire — though it still has to open in several major international markets, so it could make up some of the difference overseas.

But Mockingjay's merely great box office performance wasn't Lionsgate's big problem this year. Other than the modestly successful launch of the Divergent franchise through its Summit Entertainment branch, the so-called seventh studio had no major hits to its name in 2014. The Expendables 3 collapsed in the U.S. with just $39.3 million; its overseas grosses were certainly healthier ($166.9 million), but they also came under the international take of both previous Expendables films. The kicky Keanu Reeves revenge thriller John Wick earned some devotees, but its $42.8 million domestic take is a ground-rule double, at best. As for the rest of Lionsgate's slate, Draft Day, I, Frankenstein, The Legend of Hercules, Addicted, Step Up All In, and The Quiet Ones were all shrugs, a few of them costly. Even the once reliable profit machine Tyler Perry turned in his lowest grossing film ever as a filmmaker with March's Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club. With the Hunger Games franchise concluding next year, Lionsgate has a long road ahead of it if it really wants to become the next major Hollywood studio.

What's next? That work would appear to start in 2015 with a wide assortment of films that sound genuinely interesting. Other than The Divergent Series: Insurgent in March and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 in November, there's the arch Johnny Depp comedy Mortdecai in January, the high school romcom The DUFF (i.e. designated ugly fat friend) in February, the period drama Child 44 and the supernatural romance The Age of Adaline in April, the sci-fi spy thriller Criminal in August, and the fantasy horror film The Last Witch Hunter in October.

Winner: Michael Bay

Paramount Pictures

From June through October, whether you liked it or not, Bay's bigger-is-better creative imprint was inescapable. Sure, Americans may be getting weary of Transformers movies — last June's Age of Extinction made almost $107 million less in the U.S. than 2011's Dark of the Moon. But overseas, Bay's fourth Transformers movie in seven years is more popular than ever, double-somersaulting Age of Extinction past $1 billion worldwide and making it the year's biggest movie globally. As a producer, Bay's reach was just as robust: In August, the CG-heavy reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sliced its way to $191.2 million in the U.S. and $477.2 million globally, and a sequel is already under way. And Bay's two collaborations with Jason Blum's low-budget horror production company Blumhouse — July's The Purge: Anarchy and October's Ouija — both turned handsome profits, with U.S. grosses of $72 million and $50.9 million, respectively.

What's next? It's unclear: Bay has not announced his next film as a director, though Paramount has already scheduled the next Transformers film for 2016.

Winner: Christopher Nolan

Paramount Pictures

On the other end of the filmmaking spectrum, the coolheaded and cerebral Nolan could have just kept making comic book movies for the rest of his career. Instead, he parlayed his enormous Hollywood clout into his wildly ambitious — and some might argue overly indulgent — sci-fi epic Interstellar, the highest grossing original movie of the year. The movie has made $178.1 million in the U.S., and $648.8 million worldwide, which while not quite Inception money, is still doubly impressive, considering its near three-hour run-time and plot twists threaded with heady theoretical astrophysics.

What's next? Only Nolan himself seems to know.

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Winner: Angelina Jolie

Universal Pictures

Maleficent firmly established Jolie as a global movie star, and now with Unbroken, her second film as a director, Jolie is well on her way to becoming a major force behind the camera as well. Despite its almost unrelenting parade of the miseries endured by WWII POW Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), Unbroken has already grossed over $50 million in five days. Given the (relatively) miserable week she endured herself earlier this month due to everything from the Sony hack to chicken pox, its fair to say Unbroken's success should be that much sweeter for Jolie.

What's next? By the Sea — a small film Jolie directed, wrote, produced, and stars in with her husband Brad Pitt for the first time since 2005's Mr. & Mrs. Smith — should open at some point in 2015. When it does, it might break the planet.

Loser: The Weinstein Company

It would be difficult for any independent studio to equal The Weinstein Company's 2013, between Lee Daniels' The Butler and the awards season largess of 2012 holdovers Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained. But TWC's 2013 awards-y films August: Osage County and Philomena failed to make an impact at the Oscars last March or the box office last winter. Its best awards season prospect this year — the period war biopic The Imitation Game — looks stronger at least at the box office, pulling in $14.6 million over five weeks in a platform release. Its prospects of winning any major Oscar hardware, however, remain very much an open question, and it is doubtful it can make it to the $100 million-plus heights of TWC's most successful releases.

Meanwhile, YA adaptation The Giver pleased pretty much no one en route to a disappointing $45.1 million domestic gross. But at least that's a better box office fate than what befell Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. The total domestic gross of this sequel no one asked for ($13.8 million) is less than half of the opening weekend of the 2005 original Sin City ($29.1 million, with a $74.1 million total).

But even that is better than TWC's treatment of The Immigrant — dumped in May for a paltry $2 million — and Tracks — abandoned in September with a total gross of just $510,007.

What's next? Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in Macbeth, and the controversial Netflix release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend.

Winner: Gone Girl

20th Century Fox

In a marketplace in which "book adaptation" now means "YA series franchise launch" or "comic book franchise launch," it's nice to know that an old fashioned novel for adults can produce a movie that sparks such heated debate and resonates so completely with audiences.

Plus, for everyone involved, it's a career pinnacle: It's director David Fincher's highest grossing film, domestically and abroad. It's novelist Gillian Flynn's first ever feature film as a screenwriter, one that will likely make her an Oscar nominee. It's star Ben Affleck's most successful film since 2001's Pearl Harbor, one that rehabilitated his career as an actor-for-hire after Argo boosted his image as a filmmaking artist. It established Rosamund Pike as a leading actress willing to go to any lengths necessary for the sake of a role, and will likely make her an Oscar nominee. It's the most successful movie Neil Patrick Harris has ever been involved in outside The Smurfs. And it's Tyler Perry's top grossing movie full stop.

What's next? Fincher and Flynn are collaborating again on the HBO series Utopia. Affleck won't appear on screen again until 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Pike is starring in the indie drama Return to Sender. Harris is hosting the Oscars and mounting a variety show for NBC. And Perry is producing and voice acting in the animated feature Tyler Perry's Madea's Tough Love, available on DVD and VOD Jan. 20, 2015.

Winner: Richard Linklater

The sheer filmmaking achievement that is Boyhood, shot over 12 years to capture the aging process of a young boy (played by Ellar Coltrane) and his family, would be enough of a creative triumph for any filmmaker. But Linklater is a filmmaker whose gentle, talky movies have rarely grossed much more than $5 million (the exception being studio films School of Rock and Bad News Bears). Boyhood is in many ways the most Linklater-y movie the director has ever made, and yet it has resonated far beyond his normal fanbase, bringing in $24.2 million so far in the U.S., his highest gross ever for an independent film. Most have the film pegged to win Best Picture at the Oscars, a statement no one ever expected to make about a Richard Linklater movie.

What's next? The baseball movie That's What I'm Talking About.

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Winner: Melissa McCarthy

Warner Bros.

Listen: I love Melissa McCarthy, but I did not care for Tammy, and judging from its C+ CinemaScore, many moviegoers didn't either. I thought it was a small, odd character study that would've been a very modest success at Sundance but was stretched into an ungainly lowbrow studio comedy by its overly aggressive marketing campaign. And yet. The movie opened with a decent $21.6 million over an otherwise disastrous July 4 holiday weekend, and held on long enough to pull out an $84.5 million gross and $100.4 million worldwide. That is entirely due to McCarthy's appeal — Warner Bros.' marketing was built entirely on her face and persona. It's like McCarthy's Cocktail, the film that confirmed her popularity was about her as much as her movies. That is an unambiguous good.

What's next? McCarthy will reunite with her Bridesmaids and The Heat director Paul Feig in May for the creatively titled spy comedy Spy.

Loser: Adam Sandler

Macall Polay

Is he even a movie star anymore? That is even more of an open question after May's Blended, Sandler's second outright flop after 2012's That's My Boy, pulled in just $46.3 million. The second half of the year was supposed to turn things around, with two indie films debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival that could have burnished Sandler's rep as he retrenched for 2015. Instead, The Cobbler, from director Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent), was knocked for feeling far too much like a studio Sandler movie, and pegged as the worst movie at the festival. As for the ensemble Men, Women & Children, well, uh, see the next entry.

What's next? The July sci-fi comedy Pixels, produced by and starring Sandler, with Kevin James playing the president of the United States.

Loser: Jason Reitman

At the beginning of the year, Reitman's Labor Day opened to sniggering that it was not much more than a Nicholas Sparks movie made with slightly higher artistic standards. (I don't know what is exactly wrong with that, per se, but moving on!) But that is nothing compared to the depressing destiny of Reitman's Men, Women & Children. Fashioned as a 21st-century suburban drama cum internet cautionary tale in the vein of American Beauty, it opened at TIFF with a star-studded cast — Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, and Emma Thompson doing voice-over from space for some reason — and promptly dropped with a hollow thud. Almost no one liked it. And then it opened in theaters to crickets, with just $705,908 to date. That has got to sting.

What's next? A relaxing vacation, I hope, but no projects have been announced yet.

Winner: Ava DuVernay

Paramount Pictures

In 2014, it should not be a remarkable thing that a black woman has directed one of the very best films of the year. But here we stand, and it is so. DuVernay is on track to be the first black woman nominated for an Oscar for Best Director for her electrifying portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and the march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. And as happens during awards season, the film has come under some criticism for its accuracy (the same thing happened to Lincoln, by the way), which DuVernay herself ably swatted back on social media. Meanwhile, the movie has already earned $1.1 million in just 19 theaters since Christmas. It stands to, and should, make much, much more.

What's next? Nothing has been announced yet.

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Loser: CBS Films

There is no way to sugarcoat this: This was, by far, the worst year in CBS Films' short history, with a mere $14.2 million to its name for 2014 — and most of that was from 2013 holdover Inside Llewyn Davis. What makes this even more depressing is that the micro studio had two of the most delightful movies of the year, the Daniel Radcliffe-Zoe Kazan romantic comedy What If in August, and the deeply moving fact-based British drama Pride in September. Both these films had all the makings of true word-of-mouth sensations; instead, the former fizzled with $3.5 million, and the latter whimpered with just $1.4 million. You can draw a direct line from those grosses to Lionsgate's takeover of CBS Films' distribution in November.

What's next? The DUFF, in February.

Winner: Kevin Hart

Screen Gems

There was no bigger actor in comedy this year than Kevin Hart. His three starring roles in Ride Along, About Last Night, and Think Like a Man Too accounted for $248.8 million in domestic grosses. Then Hart wisely let things cool off, save for a standout cameo in Chris Rock's Top Five this month. 

What's next? The Wedding Ringer with Josh Gad in January, and Get Hard with Will Ferrell in March.

Loser: Woody Allen

Sony Pictures Classics

In the spring, the family sexual-abuse scandal that has lingered in the back corner of Allen's life and career for two decades came back to public attention after his daughter's scathing New York Times "open letter" attacking him and publicly shaming everyone who works with him. Five months later, Allen's latest film, the lighthearted period trifle Magic in the Moonlight, starring Emma Stone and Colin Firth, opened in theaters, ultimately expanding to 964 theaters and grossing $10.5 million. Allen's films released at that level haven't grossed that little since 2003's Anything Else. Allen will reportedly keep making one film a year through at least 2018, but the question before him now is who will keep paying to see his movies.

What's next? An untitled film with Stone and Joaquin Phoenix for 2015.

Draw: Bryan Singer

20th Century Fox

On the heels of the Allen scandal came a series of seemingly damning lawsuits accusing director Bryan Singer of similarly criminal behavior. At the time, it looked like it could ruin Singer's career, and those headlines haunted him well into the summer.

Instead, X-Men: Days of Future Past is his highest grossing movie ever ($233.9 million in the U.S., and a huge $746 million worldwide), and he's officially been hired to direct its sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse. He's also going to be a father. And the central figure behind those lawsuits, Michael Egan, was indicted for fraud. As for whether he can ever make a movie without X-Men in the title? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What's next? X-Men: Apocalypse, for 2016.