If the would-be blockbusters deliver and a couple of awards hopefuls break out, 2014 could rally and match last year's record haul
It will take major scores by Christopher Nolan‘s starry space epic “Interstellar,” Jennifer Lawrence's latest “Hunger Games” installment and the finale in Peter Jackson‘s “Hobbit” trilogy for the 2014 box office to match last year's record-breaker. And it still won't be easy.
The fall and holiday box office seasons will have lots of ground to make up after a roller-coaster summer that is ending on high notes — as in a record-breaking August — but still has the year running about five percent behind 2013's unprecedented $10.9 billion domestic total.
In addition to the biggest films delivering, the year would benefit greatly if one of the season's awards hopefuls could take off. Among the best bets for that are Sony Pictures Classics’ fact-based wrestling psycho-thriller “Foxcatcher,” the David Fincher drama “Gone Girl” and the civil rights drama “Selma,” which is produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt.
“It would be the comeback story of the year,” Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap, “And I think it can be done.”
“Just a month ago it was all gloom and doom with the summer off 20 percent, then ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ came along and turned it around,” he said. “With 2013 and the summer both being record-breakers, it seems we've been playing catch-up all year, but it really only takes a couple of movies over-performing, and I see plenty of potential for that.”
September is traditionally the slowest month at the box office, and this year looks unlikely to buck that trend, though tough guys Liam Neeson (“A Walk Among Tombstones”) and Denzel Washington (“The Equalizer”) might choose to differ. Opening a week apart isn't going to help either film, however.
It will be hard to match 2013's “Gravity”-fueled October, as well. There are several films that appear to have the potential to connect — the horror tale “Ouija,” the Melissa McCarthy-Bill Murray comedy “St. Vincent” and Disney's “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” – but they are by no means locks. The black comedy “Birdman,” which is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up superhero actor, could be a sleeper.
The month lightened up when Fox pushed the action saga “Kingsman: The Secret Service” to a 2015 Valentine's Day showdown with “Fifty Shades of Grey.” But it gained heft when Sony moved the David Ayer-directed WWII saga “Fury,” which stars Pitt and Shia LeBeouf, up to Oct. 24.
November is when things should get interesting. Paramount's “Interstellar,” which stars Academy Award-winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, opens on Nov. 7. So does “Big Hero Six,” the first Marvel-based production from Disney Animation. Two weeks later, Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen in Lionsgate's “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1,” which features one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's final performances and is expected to be bigger than “Catching Fire,” last year's highest-grossing domestic movie.
“There are a lot of reasons for the ‘Interstellar’ hype,” BoxOffice.com assistant editor Shawn Robbins told TheWrap, “and the biggest is Nolan's track record. This one has the feel of an event movie, and I'd expect to open in the range of ‘Inception’ and play very strongly, at least until ‘Mockingjay’ lands,” Robbins said. “Inception” debuted with $62 million in 2010.
If the year is close to last year's haul at that point, there appears to be enough firepower to pull off a holiday rally.
Fox's Biblical epic Ridley Scott-directed “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which stars Christian Bale as a defiant Moses, lands on Dec. 12. And the following week brings the Jamie Foxx musical “Annie,” “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” – one of Robin Williams’ final films – and Warner Bros.’ Middle Earth blockbuster “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”
On Christmas Day, Universal's Angelina Jolie-directed biopic “Unbroken,” about Olympic and World War II hero Louis Zamperini, and the Disney musical “Into the Woods” lead a parade of five wide openers. Paramount's Ava DuVernay-directed Martin Luther King biopic “Selma” and Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper, open in limited Oscar-qualifying runs.
“If ‘The Hobbit’ delivers, and one of those awards contenders catches fire, matching last year is very possible,” Dergarabedian said.
As with the down summer, matching last year's record-breaking total isn't the primary concern for the studios, it's profitability and building momentum at the multiplexes. And even if 2014 doesn't top 2013, it will be very easy to say “Wait 'til next year.”
That's because 2015 could well be the biggest ever at the box office, with a lineup that includes “Star Wars: Episode VII,” a new James Bond movie, “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Pixar's “Inside Out,” “Jurassic World” and the finale to “The Hunger Games” franchise.