Universal is poised to top $5.5 billion in worldwide grosses in roughly a week, obliterating a studio record set last year by 20th Century Fox — and it’s doing so just with nearly five months of releases still to come.
In addition, the studio’s animated hit with Illumination Entertainment, “The Minions,” should top $1 billion soon after its Sept. 13 debut in China, becoming the third Universal release this year to achieve that milestone — a feat no other studio has managed.
As of Sunday, “The Minions” has taken in $855 million at the global box office, with $567 million coming from abroad and $287 million domestically.
“The Minions” success follows the triumphant worldwide release of April’s “Furious 7” ($1.55 billion) and June’s “Jurassic World” ($1.51 billion). And the studio has also been buoyed by earlier international hits “Fifty Shades of Grey” ($570 million) and “Pitch Perfect 2” ($283 million).
“To do it in this amount of time is nothing short of astonishing,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at box office tracker Rentrak, told TheWrap.
It’s especially surprising since the studio, a box office laggard in recent years, is one of the few studios without a superhero franchise in its arsenal. “That’s part of why ‘Jurassic World’ seemed so fresh,” Dergarabedian said, “but I guess Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, Christian and Anastasia and now the Minions are their superheroes.”
Three films hitting $1 billion in a year is unprecedented, and only three times have studios had two movies hit the mark. Disney had “Alice in Wonderland” and “Toy Story 3” do it in 2010, and “Iron Man 3” and “Frozen” did it in 2013.
Warner Bros. had “Dark Knight Rises” and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” cross the 10-figure threshold in 2012.
Universal has four of the top six films on the list of the year’s top grossers at the worldwide box office. Disney’s Marvel epic “Avengers: Age of Ultron” ($1.39 billion) and its Pixar Animation hit “Inside Out” ($602 million) rank second and fifth.
While Universal’s executives wouldn’t talk about the potential records, distribution chief Nic Carpou has repeatedly cited the studio’s teamwork over the past few months in his weekend press calls, and so did Dergarabedian.
“Their record shows how important content is, but also the release strategy, the dating, marketing,” Dergarabedian said. “If you were going to create a playbook for studios, you could base it on the year they’re having.”
The overall box office is on a record-breaking pace, too. This summer is running more than 12 percent ahead of last year domestically at $3.6 billion so far, and 2015 is more than 8 percent ahead of 2014 with $6.8 billion. That puts the year on pace to be the biggest ever at the U.S. box office, with more than $11 billion.
Next up for Universal: the modestly budgeted N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” opening on August 14.