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2013 Sure to Set a Domestic Box-Office Record — and Hollywood Did It the Hard Way (Video)

This year’s biggest movies haven’t matched the grosses of last year’s leaders — it’s depth that’s made the difference

It looks now that 2013 will be the biggest domestic box office year in history, eclipsing last year’s record haul.

It’s hardly a knockout. The past weekend moved the overall total to $10.224 billion — ahead of the $10.202 billion last year hit at this point, but by less than 1 percent.

Nonetheless, with “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug” in high gear, “Anchorman 2” landing Wednesday, “American Hustle,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” going wide on the same day and a slew of releases set for Christmas Day, that margin should only increase.

Also read: ‘Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’ Blasts Past ‘Frozen’ with $73M Box-Office Debut

But in many ways, it hasn’t seemed like a record-breaking year. And Hollywood set this standard the hard way.

There was nothing like “The Avengers,” which led 2012 with $623 million. Another Disney Marvel superhero romp, “Iron Man 3,” will be this year’s biggest movie at $409 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo.

The No. 2 and No. 3 movies don’t match up, either. Last year “The Dark Knight” did $448 million and “The Hunger Games” brought in $408 million, while this year “Despicable Me” hit $367 million and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is at $356 million, though it’s still ticking.

Last year’s fourth- and fifth-place movies, “Skyfall” and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” both topped $300 million, while this year’s “Man of Steel” and “Monsters University” won’t.

You’ll recall that the summer was a record-breaker, too. Thirteen of this year’s top 20 grossing movies came out in the summer, compared to nine last year. But that jam-packed season was remarkable as much for its batch of high-profile bombs as its blockbusters.

Also read: 5 Reasons Hollywood Isn’t Celebrating a Record Summer Box Office

“Summer was a case in point, and it cuts both ways,” Patrick Corcoran, director of media & research at the National Association of Theater Owners, told TheWrap. “We had a lot of movies which made for a lot of box office – five straight weeks over $300 million – but at the same time, some of those movies underperformed because they had no room to breathe.”

That may have a microcosm of the year. A lot of movies made money, but many might have made more were the market not so crowded, and a number that tanked might have found their footing with a little more time. And we’re talking the top 100 films at the box office here, so those naturally tend to be those with bigger budgets.

Also read: Don’t Worry Christian Bale, You’re in Good Box-Office Bomb Company

But the year also got a boost from a number of lower-budget indie films. Seven movies that started out as platform releases – “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “The Way Way Back,” “Mud,” “Don Jon,” “Blue Jasmine,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Instructions Not Included” – topped $20 million. And Pantelion’s “Instructions” became the highest-grossing Spanish language film ever in the U.S., with more than $44 million.

Also read: ‘American Hustle’ Cons Way to Year’s Biggest Limited Box-Office Debut

The record may come with some bruises for the industry, but for moviegoers, 2013 has been a great year in terms of options, diversity of the offerings and quality. And with the movies facing ever more competition from video games, cable and online entertainment options, that’s probably the biggest reason Hollywood should be celebrating.