In 2015 the Force was with… Universal

By Roberto Pérez Antolín, alumnus of the Master en Dirección de Marketing, 2000.
For years I’ve been observing and analyzing the world movie box office scene. In all these years there have been many surprising results, but the performance of film launches in 2015 merits special attention.
In 2014, Fox was the first studio to pass the barrier of $5.5 billion dollars ($5,500 million) in a year. Fox cemented its success with sequels of prequels like X-Men: Days of Future Past ($748m) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($708m); sequels of animated films like How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Rio 2; and literary adaptations like Gone Girl, The Maze Runner and The Fault in Our Stars.
But in 2015 it was likely that this record would not last very long. Disney showed up with its arsenal of products, ready to break the bank. Its new credentials were nothing more and nothing less than the new installment of The Avengers, the new Pixar jewel Inside Out, the timeless classic Cinderella, the new Marvel factory adaptation Ant-Man and, above all, the long-awaited Star Wars epic The Force Awakens (which has surpassed $2b worldwide).
Nevertheless, and to everyone’s surprise, it wasn’t Disney but Universal that surpassed the most optimistic predictions, with more than $5.53b at the beginning of August. And the most spectacular thing about that figure is that it was reached in less than eight months, making Universal into the first studio with three billion-dollar films in the same year.
How has this studio achieved such unprecedented success? While it cannot be said that creative or original new cinematic concepts provided the magic formula –four of its five most successful movies were sequels or spinoffs– it’s undeniable that Universal has had a special eye for selling its movies and making them attractive to an audience.
Its marketing campaigns have been fresh and daring, and set the studio apart when it came to selling its premieres. Jurassic World ($1.62b) has already brought to the studio $700m more than the original Jurassic Park ($913m) and $1b more than the latest sequel, Jurassic Park III. Fast & Furious 7, originally slated for a 2014 launch, is the main reason behind these impressive numbers.
The studio’s decision to delay release of Fast & Furious 7 to 2015 following the tragic death of actor Paul Walker (Universal had to shoot new scenes) was a key factor, just as when Heath Ledger died before the release of The Dark Night: the public showed up en masse to see the star’s last movie. If to this we add the impact that China is having on international earnings ever since the government there opened its arms to Hollywood dollars –the first Fast & Furious is the largest-grossing movie in the history of China, with $391m, more money than it earned in the USA– the result is a monstrous global figure of $1.51b for Fast & Furious 7. Put into perspective, it’s double what Fast & Furious 6 brought in.
In third place is Minions with over a billion dollars, ahead of the two original Despicable Me movies in the series. At first it might seem that Minions had less appeal than its predecessors: those yellow bugs are charming in small doses, but 90 minutes? Well, the people have spoken and the people want more Minions.
Fifty Shades of Grey, reviews apart, like Fast & Furious 7, was skedded for 2014 release, but the executives thought it would be much better positioned on Valentine’s Day. Of course! What better time for a romantic comedy, right? And they took the right decision. The film earned more than $500m worldwide. Incredible but true.
Perfect Pitch 2 was a pleasant surprise, bringing in almost $300m globally, or three times the earnings of the first film in the United States and double what it grossed internationally.
And the 2015 Universal story didn’t end there. Trainwreck, the first film by comedienne Amy Schumer, passed the $100m mark, while Straight Outta Compton took in $60m in its first US weekend and more than $200m worldwide.
Everest did fantastically well, also with more than $200m around the globe.
In Spain, the distributor continued in the successful wake of the parent company, bringing in real fortunes with its releases, after the fabulous results of 2014. They did quite well then with a small Spanish comedy called Ocho apellidos vascos, and in 2015 they repeated that success with Ocho apellidos catalanes, generating 25 million euros, some 20 million behind the original movie but still enough to secure fifth place on the all-time list of the most profitable movies released in Spain, behind Avatar, Ocho apellidos vascos, The Impossible and Titanic. The truth is, it’s not a bad company.
The only question was: would there be a studio that could surpass Universal’s 2015 numbers? Well, Disney made an extraordinary effort, but it hasn’t been able to achieve the huge Universal numbers. The more than $2b from Star Wars: The Force Awakens seemed to be closing the gap, but it wasn’t enough… And to be fair, income from Star Wars has dropped in 2016. Now we’ll just have to see what happens this year as we impatiently await the chance to analyze international box-office trends.

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