“When you can say, here’s ‘Avatar 2,’ and you’ve got six billion people ready to see it, it doesn’t take a lot of marketing to get them into the theater.” –Jim Gianopulos, Chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox, April 2014.
When Will It Stop?!
These past few years, I’ve heard a lot of negativity directed at Hollywood movie franchising (no pun intended). By movie franchising, I mean the production of sequels, reboots, and spinoffs of various character universes (i.e. the films, not the merchandising). Critics of the practice usually accuse studios of producing a series of films based wholly on the fact that the brands will sell themselves. This is commonly referred to in the gamer community as “milking.”
If this practice frustrates you, let me tell you something…
One blogger, Ross Miller, asked six years ago if we’d reached overload, pointing out that sequels go back as far as movies themselves. After all, Birth of a Nation was followed by Fall of a Nation a year later. Little did Miller know that the Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk movies he saw the previous summer were just the beginning of a Marvel Universe that would include eight more installments in less than six years. Imagine his response if you’d told him the four-film Twilight saga would go on to make $3 billion.
The short explanation for the film industry’s lack of originality is as bland as the practice itself: “Franchises are profitable, and Hollywood doesn’t like risk.”
Let’s examine both those statements, one at a time.
**If you’re not prepared for a lengthy, semi-technical analysis and only came here for my data, scroll to the bullet summary at the bottom. If you’re a lover of film history, you’ll want to read the whole thing**
Hollywood’s Formula (Part 1): Brand Loyalty
How do big studios remain profitable given the unpredictability of movie audiences?
The operable word there is “unpredictable,” since a franchise’s brand portfolio can almost guarantee some measure of predictability in the marketplace. Mark Pinkert, a contributor to Scott Feinberg’s awards blog, had this to say on the reliability of franchising, even in the face of huge losses:
…even though 2013 accounted for two of the ten biggest flops in movie history, “the paradigm” still works well for the studio bank accounts. It’s just that the model is not based on producing quality films; it’s based on milking franchises and pandering to built-in audiences.
The truth is, the general demography and IQ range of this blog’s readership is almost diametric to that of Hollywood’s target audience: teenagers and collegiates.
To that end, vacation month releases provide more exposure to a younger demographic that bonds quickly to certain types of brands. Blockbuster PG-13 franchises like Transformers, Spider-Man, and Pirates of the Caribbean have released all their movies between the end of school in May and the climax of summer in July. People aged 12-17 (i.e. suburban teenagers) accounted for only 8% of the North American population in 2010, but 16% of frequent moviegoers.
The restless college-aged crowd is also a target. Members of this group aren’t repaying student loans yet, most enjoy semi-free rent on campus or at home, and most are still on their parents’ insurance (health and car). In short, they’re about as financially independent as teenagers, and probably grew up watching early releases of various franchises. The 18-24 year old demographic made up only 10% of the North American population in 2010, but comprised 19% of film audiences.
What’s more, the 18-24 year old demographic has access to R-rated franchises that they always wanted to watch in theaters as teenagers, but never could without a fake ID. The second installments of many R-rated franchises have been released in May-July in order to capture this demographic, even if the first film had success in the spring or holiday season (e.g. Rambo II, Lethal Weapon 2, Beverly Hills Cop II, Terminator 2, The Matrix Reloaded, Bad Boys II).
These last three paragraphs are telling. People aged 12-24 (18% of the population) represented 35% of movie audiences in 2010. Although both age groups have seen big drop-offs recently, they still comprise a bulk of moviegoers, and they can still be relied upon to turn out for the latest sequel.
The proof is in the exit polling. In 2011, 55% of the audience for Transformers: Dark of the Moon was under the age of 25, and 32% under the age of 18. Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise goes even further to drag entire families along for the ride, both literally and figuratively. For Disney, demand is rooted in younger audiences, but it naturally builds interest in older demographics. I remember when my 50+ year old bishop, whose hobbies were collecting old books and other clerical things, turned to me after the very first theatrical trailer for Pirates and saying “Man, that looks like a really good movie!”
Big 9 Studio Brands
Who owns these “built-in audiences?” Can any studios rely more on franchising than others? Which studio owns your favorite brand?
Here are some examples of film brands in the Big 9 (i.e. those at least 7% of U.S. market share in 2014):
- 20th Century Fox: Planet of the Apes, Star Wars (relinquished to Disney in 2012), Alien, Die Hard, Home Alone, X-Men, Ice Age, Chronicles of Narnia (acquired from Disney in 2009), Night at the Museum, Fantastic Four, Madagascar’s Penguins spinoff).
- Disney: Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, National Treasure, Chronicles of Narnia (until 2009), Cars, the Marvel Universe (since 2009).
- Lions Gate/Summit: Saw, the Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, The Twilight Saga, The Expendables, The Hunger Games.
- Viacom (Paramount): Star Trek, The Godfather, Friday the 13th (ex. 2002-03), Indiana Jones, Beverly Hills Cop, Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan series,” Mission: Impossible, post-DreamWorks Shrek and Madagascar, the Marvel Universe (relinquished to Disney in 2009), Paranormal Activity, Transformers.
- Sony (includes MGM and Columbia-TriStar): the James Bond and Rocky series (former brands under United Artists), Ghostbusters, Terminator, Men in Black, Spider-Man (both).
- Time Warner (includes New Line and Warner Bros): the Dirty Harry series, Superman, Police Academy, Lethal Weapon, National Lampoon’s “Vacation”series, Batman, the Terminator reboots (with Sony), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (until sold to Viacom in 2009), Rush Hour, The Matrix, Oceans 11, 12, & 13, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit, The Hangover.
- Comcast/NBC (Universal): Jaws, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, The Mummy (and Scorpion King spinoffs), American Pie, Fast and the Furious, the Jason Bourne series.
*Note: “Marvel Universe” refers to Marvel character films excluding Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and a few others which have all distributed by different studios throughout the Paramount/Disney transfer. To see the ownership of all Marvel characters, check out the helpful graphic over at ScreenRant.
Hollywood’s Formula (Part 2): Optimal Timing
Once you have established (or purchased) brand loyalty, the trick now is delivering it to audiences. It is here, just as in a good standup routine, that timing is crucial.
Most studios want to avoid “dump months,” when mediocrity prevails and low-budget comedies and action flicks sneak their way in and out of theaters. Dump months usually coincide with the beginning of a new semester (i.e. Jan-Feb and Aug-Sept). Winter months are already sluggish with weather-related obstacles like snow and ice, and media distractions like the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards, so the Jan-Feb time slot can be particularly risky.
A good example of a recent dump month movie was Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Despite the lasting popularity of the Jack Ryan franchise, I don’t even remember it playing in theaters. Why? Because its theatrical release was in mid-January 2014. I’m aware that generic competition from James Bond and Jason Bourne limits Jack Ryan’s market share, especially considering his popularity in the 1990s, but the fact that I thought it was a straight to video release when I saw it in the $5 bin at BestBuy last summer is worrisome.
While January and February are typically avoided, there is also a lot of focus on tentpole holiday season release dates (November and December). These months fueled Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, not to mention the the last two Hunger Games, the Picard Star Treks, and both James Bond reboots. November and December were also chosen as release months for a majority of Rocky, Toy Story, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, and Twilight movies.
However, summertime still proves to be the most profitable, as 15 of the 25 highest grossing films of all time were released in the three months from May-July, not the holiday season. More importantly, every single one of those 15 summer releases were parts of a series, and only two were the first film of a series (demonstrating the power of summertime sequels).
Studio executives pump billions of dollars into summer movies, which they see as a very calculated risk. For example, movies released last year from May 1 – July 31 had an average budget of $52 million, while those released in all other months averaged budgets of $31.5 million.
To find a 2014 release period with higher budgets than the summer, you have to look at Nov 1 – Dec 19, when Interstellar, Big Hero 6, The Hunger Games, Penguins of Madagascar, The Battle of the Five Armies, and Night at the Museum all came out and pushed average budgets up to $59 million. However, if we only count May and June movies in 2014, average summer budgets rise further to $63 million. For context, a $63 million budget would place in the 81st Percentile of all 2014 movie budgets.
Hollywood Is Riskier Than You Think
Making a movie is expensive. The average budget for films released in 2014 was ~$35.6 million, and ranged from a $250 million brand finale (The Battle of the Five Armies) to a $15k documentary about LGBT life in Kenya (Stories of Our Lives). The worst bomb in 2014 was Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, which lost Clarius Entertainment almost $50 million on their first movie. If a $70 million budget for a maiden film isn’t risky, I don’t know what is.
While Clarius can get in and out of the business rather quickly if things go sideways, all of the big studios have a vested interest in survival. Luckily for them, they can remain profitable annually because of the audiences built into the rest of their brand portfolio (see list above). This allows them to take a few risks, too. For example, while Paramount barely broke even on their Hercules bet, Transformers: Age of Extinction was a billion dollar movie on less than a quarter of a billion dollar budget.
Paramount dodged a bullet with Hercules, and to be fair it would’ve shared heavier losses with its partner (MGM) had the film ended up like Conan the Barbarian, another shirtless hero remake that didn’t fare as well. In reality, studio gambles can turn into massive failures, and some of the worst have occurred in the past 5 years: 47 Ronin, The Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D., John Carter, Mars Needs Moms, Jonah Hex, Green Zone, The Wolfman.
Some failures can be downright catastrophic:
- United Artists was sold to MGM after Heaven’s Gate, the 10th worst box office bomb in history when accounting for inflation, cost them ~$40 million in 1980.
- Titan A.E. losses forced the closure of Fox’s animated division in 2000.
- New Line Cinema (the Lord of the Rings studio) was absorbed into Warner Bros. after The Golden Compass series failed to make it off the ground.
I think it’s worth mentioning that box office flops aren’t always huge departures from a studio’s bread and butter. Heaven’s Gate was supposed to be a Western-style Deer Hunter, which had worked for UA two years earlier, both commercially and in the Academy. The Golden Compass had ‘successful franchise’ written all over it until consumers proved otherwise. Though not mentioned above, DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians looked like a boilerplate animated project by one of the best in the business; it surprisingly flopped after 17 straight box office victories.
What Are The Most Successful Movie Franchises?
It’s clear Hollywood has a formula, but what’s the output? We know what Hollywood studios are doing (milking franchises), and we generally know why they’re doing it ($$$), but let’s dig a little deeper and see how well they’re doing it.
One unfortunate reality of Hollywood profit records is that they’re notoriously misleading. Studio executives perpetually try to reduce their royalty payments and profit-sharing obligations, so they artificially inflate expenditures to show less profit, and sometimes even huge losses. Hollywood accounting is so creative that it has presented smash hits like Return of the Jedi, Spider-Man, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy as being unprofitable.
Since data integrity is out of the question, I can at least shoot for data consistency. This will at least provide valuable context. To that end, all my box office data come from the guys over at Nash Info Services, but I excluded “planned” sequels that might allow franchises like Avatar (three more planned) and Frozen (sequel planned) into this list. Finally, all currencies account for inflation and reflect the CPI conversion into February 2015 US dollars.
The sheer number of James Bond films ratchets the franchise’s gross up to almost $15 billion, a gigantic number that nearly doubles the runner-up. However, film-for-film, no franchise has been as successful as Star Wars. Accounting for inflation, the Star Wars sextology has grossed $1.5 billion per film. Harry Potter has also done well, and would remain #3 in a gross-per-film ranking.
If we assume these budgets and worldwide gross data are accurate (for the sake of argument), we can even formulate a contextual list of “most profitable” franchises using a simple Gross-to-Budget Ratio (GBR). I won’t re-sort to show that list, but below is a summary that accounts for both inflation and every film in the brand.
- Three movie franchises are far and away the most profitable ever, with a GBR of over 1,300% (Star Wars, Rocky, and Jaws). If these franchises were averaged together, they would have made over 14x their stated budgets. In fact, Rocky might be the most profitable franchise film ever, having returned 22,500% on its budget. Another vastly profitable franchise movie was Friday the 13th, which made over 100x its $550k budget in 1980.
- The next tier of franchises had GBRs of 800-1,000%. These brands include Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Ice Age, and the Twilight Saga.
- Star Wars > Star Trek: The twelve Star Trek movies have budgets approaching $1 billion (in 2015 dollars), which is over $300 million more than the six Star Wars movies that grossed 3x as much.
- James Bond drops from #1 in highest grossing franchises to #11 in most profitable, mainly due to dramatic budget increases in the Brosnan and Craig reboots. Skyfall returned on its investment, but Thunderball was able to make over $1 billion in 1965 on the budget of a mere $66 million. It’s obvious that MGM is throwing money at James Bond and trusting him to do the right thing with it, which sounds like the consensus approach to most intelligence agencies.
- Other noticeable drops from the highest grossing franchise list to the GBR list are the Marvel Universe (from #4 to #18), Lord of the Rings (from #5 to #13), Harry Potter (from #3 to #10), and Batman, Spider-Man, and Pirates of the Caribbean, which all went from 6th, 7th, and 8th to 22nd, 21st, and 20th, respectively. The clustering there at the end is peculiar, since they were released by different studios, directed by different people, and didn’t share a single A-list actor.
- Noticeable jumps in profitability from the simple gross list are Jaws (from #17 to #3), The Hunger Games (from #24 to #9), Jurassic Park (from #14 to #4), and Toy Story (from #23 to #12). The first jump has a simple explanation (horror and suspense is cheap), but the technical precision that went into Jurassic Park and Toy Story would make you assume they cost a lot to make. Not so. The Jurassic Park trilogy averaged a $77 million budget on a $730 million average return, and the first Toy Story movie made 12x its stated budget of $45 million.
The Importance of Individual Movies within a Franchise
A system is only as strong as its weakest link, but a really strong film can solidify a brand’s place in popular culture and overshadow weaker installments. You’ve probably heard people say the first film in a trilogy is always the best. This is conjecture, since a good sequel can lend more acclaim to the first film than it earned on its own. When I think of show-stealing sequels, I think of Terminator 2 and The Dark Knight, both of which made more money and received more critical praise than their prequels.
I don’t have time to consult IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes regarding perceived quality for every movie franchise in our Top 25. The charts below use a franchise’s simple worldwide gross to determine which film in a series was the most watched (or at least paid for). After all, if an initial movie bombs financially, we might not even get a chance to judge a second one on its merits, so a monetary perspective is apropos.
As you can see, one-third of the Top 25 highest grossing movie franchise’s first films were the most profitable in their series. Even if a trilogy isn’t planned, the resounding success of a first movie is usually enough to warrant at least two more. In fact, most successful animated series expanded based entirely on early success. This formula appears to work, since all of the animated franchises above saw higher grosses in their later films.
Here’s the breakdown of the highest grossing installments in each franchise:
- First film: 7
- Second film: 4 (5 if counting reboots)
- Third film: 5 (8 if counting reboots)
- Fourth or beyond: 9 (5 if counting reboots)
The thing that jumps out to me is the staggering amount of money pulled in by the first Star Wars film. A lot of people point to The Empire Strikes Back as one of the best sequels ever, but if that is the case, it’s only because of Empire‘s ability to follow-up on the inaugural film. Let’s not forget that Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope was a $3 billion movie (accounting for inflation), making it the third highest grossing film…ever. It made twice as much as its sequel. Ask anyone who saw that movie in theaters in 1977, and they’ll get a chill up their spine.
It’s probably not that shocking that 9 of the 10 highest earners per franchise were also the highest grossing films released in their respective year. Of the Top 10, only the third Transformers movie didn’t rank as the highest grossing film of its release year, and that’s only because it lost to #6 on the list.
Competition appears to limit the ceiling of the remaining highest earners as well. Of the remaining fifteen movies, only Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rocky, and Mission: Impossible 2 were the highest grossing films in their franchise and release years. The other twelve lost to higher grossing films in their release years, and multiple high earners lost to the same mega-film on more than one occasion. See below:
- 2012: Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, Breaking Dawn Part 2, and Madagascar 3 lost to The Avengers
- 2013: Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Fast and Furious 6, and Star Trek Into Darkness lost to Frozen
- 2014: X-Men: Days of Future Past and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes lost to Transformers: Age of Extinction
Interestingly, only three standalone movies earned more money than the highest grossing film in each of the Top 25 franchises: Avatar, Frozen, and Grease. What do you think their studios did with them?
Grease beat Superman in 1978, so Paramount released Grease 2 four years later. It got murdered in the box office by E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Rocky III, and Poltergeist. As for Avatar and Frozen, they have sequels planned for 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Franchise Box Office Growth: The Film-by-Film Analysis
Let’s take a deeper look and see how interest in the franchise changed with each film. I measured the percentage of growth or loss in box office revenues for each film in a row, stopping at a the twelfth film because only one franchise in the Top 25 has more than a dozen (James Bond).
If there’s one thing we can infer from the data above, it’s that a franchise’s first film is important. Of the Top 25 brands under review, the first film is the most successful 28% of the time, and I have a feeling that number would rise dramatically if we expanded this study to the Top 50.
The chart below includes the relevant data, in alphabetical order.
The Jaws franchise declined precipitously after its opening in 1975. Not only did each subsequent film make less than the previous one, but they did so at a greater rate of loss than the previous film. In short, Jaws movies got worse and worse until Jaws: The Revenge lost money on a pretty modest budget. Universal pulled the plug, but not before Roger Ebert gave the final installment zero stars, which he only did for about 60 other films out of 10,000 or so. I guess this time it was personal.
Superman’s decline was almost identical to Jaws. A $1 billion launch wasn’t sustained, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace only made 66% of its modest budget (Jaws 4 made 68%). The Superman reboot in 2006 wasn’t even all that profitable given it’s $232 million budget, but it still did 1,769% better than Superman IV. The Planet of the Apes reboot saw comparable success to Superman, but only after the original series experienced the same increased rate of decline as Jaws.
In fact, it appears a lot of franchises had a hard time maintaining the same revenues they saw in their first films. Sequels to Rocky, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park all fell victim to unfair expectations, and only Indiana Jones and Spider-Man managed to finish their original series strong. While Temple of Doom made a quarter less than Raiders of the Lost Ark, the franchise bounced back with Last Crusade. Spider-Man 2 actually got pretty close to the initial film’s gross, and Spider-Man 3 got even closer. The three-film average for the original Spider-Man trilogy was ~$1 billion, and all three movies came within $40-50 million of that.
The Harry Potter franchise also had a pretty stable decade, its biggest fluctuation being only -13% with the Prisoner of Azkaban. That was the turning point for the series, when people like me were beginning to find the movies a little weird and bailed out (just like I did with the books after Chamber of Secrets). However, committed fans stayed, which allowed the franchise to basically flatline from Goblet of Fire onward, until finishing really strong in 2011.
Then you have the franchises that earned more with each installment. The first four James Bonds did it, but 1967’s Casino Royale sort of throws off the data. It was basically impossible to follow up Thunderball, the only $1 billion James Bond movie until Skyfall. Peter Sellers would find his niche in the mockery of intelligence agencies rather than the romanticizing of them, but even if we ignore Columbia’s little experiment, You Only Live Once would’ve made 25% less than Thunderball, so the trend would’ve been broken, nonetheless.
Kids love familiarity, and the success of animated sequels really demonstrates this. Every single one of the animated franchises represented (Ice Age, Madagascar, Shrek, and Toy Story) enjoyed either a status quo sequel or a higher earning one. Moreover, Ice Age and Toy Story saw continued success throughout their remaining installments, and the only reason Shrek the Third looks weak is because of the $1.2 billion Shrek 2 brought in.
Now, a sequel making less than the previous movie isn’t necessarily deemed unsuccessful. A movie can make less than a previous installment and still be very profitable, but the analysis above does highlight the diminishing returns of movie franchising. Jaws IV, Superman IV, Rocky V, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes all sent their respective franchises into hibernation. Even Batman, Jurassic Park, and Star Wars were waning near the end of their original runs, despite being popular and successful as a whole. It’s only a matter of time before the Marvel Universe runs dry, which brings me to my next chart.
Are Movie Franchises Becoming More Prevalent?
Yes, and it’s all our fault.
It seems that audiences are more eager than ever before to pay for sequels. Just look at the timeline below of the Top 25 highest grossing movie franchises.
The 21st Century brought with it about eight franchises, and within a few years four more popped up. Over half of the Top 25 highest grossing franchises in film history have begun since 2000, and another eight have been rebooted. Of the four remaining, two bled into the 21st Century (Toy Story and Mission: Impossible), one is being rebooted this summer (Jurassic World), and the other, well… the shark thing may be coming full circle.
Those franchises that have launched since 2000 (i.e. starting with X-Men) have accounted for…are you ready for this?…$56.6 billion in box office revenues. To put it another way, the 70 movies included in those brands alone earned Hollywood studios more than the cost of the Sochi Olympics.
However, studios are no doubt cognizant of the diminishing returns highlighted in the film-by-film analysis, which could be linked to anything from audience fatigue to aging. This is the reason ten Marvel movies have been crammed into about six years of release time. Disney knew that when they took the franchise from Paramount following their acquisition of Marvel. This is also the reason all five Twilight films came out in as many years, and why a Spider-Man reboot came out five years after the end of the original Columbia trilogy.
Conclusion: Familiarity Breeds Contentment
It’s been said that brand familiarity is the most rudimentary form of consumer knowledge, and that means the simplest decisions will usually be based on what we know and trust. Between 3-12% of the U.S. population goes to the movies more than twice a month. At that rate, they’ll see most of the major studio productions.
However, I only go to the movies a few times a year, like 35% of America. Another 27% of the U.S. population sees 1-2 movies a year. This 62% chunk of infrequent American moviegoers pay for two types of movies: 1) something they’re already familiar with, or 2) a highly anticipated or talked about original (like Frozen, Avatar, Titanic, etc) that quickly becomes something they’re familiar with.
As an infrequent moviegoer, I’m simply not willing to risk $8 on a movie that might suck, especially when I can expect a baseline level of entertainment watching something I recognize. I’ll see a Liam Neeson sequel over a Liam Hemsworth original, and I’ll rewatch the latest James Bond movie online over Jack the Giant Slayer in theaters. From the looks of the latter’s box office, it appears that a lot of people did this.
When it boils down to it, consumers are as risk-averse as Hollywood. I’ve been gambling my adult money on crappy theatrical experiences from Pearl Harbor in 2001 to Noah in 2014, but the bulk of my money has been spent on Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Batman.
The continued and recent failure of big-budget standalones is a sign that as much as consumers whine about the lack of originality, they don’t actually want it. The standalone failures weren’t exactly lacking for diversity. For instance, mega-bombs have happened in all genres: action films (The Alamo in 2004 and Stealth in 2005), science-fiction movies (Battlefield Earth in 2000 and The Adventures of Pluto Nash in 2002), animated children’s flicks (Osmosis Jones in 2001 and Legends of Oz in 2014), rom-coms (Town & Country in 2001 and How Do You Know? in 2010). Every single one of those came out in the same period as half of the Top 25 highest grossing franchises.
Even seemingly formulaic standalones don’t work. Hollywood gave us Pain & Gain in April 2013, a fast-paced true crime story set in Miami, featuring two A-list actors, and directed by Michael Bay. Instead of watching it, America spent its money on the third Iron Man, the fifth Scary Movie, and the twelfth Star Trek. A month later, one of the great American novels was cinematized with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead. What did everyone go see? A third Hangover and a sixth Fast and Furious movie.
As long as franchises don’t deviate too much, the symbiotic relationship between Hollywood and moviegoers will continue. This makes the evolution of certain well-known brands (e.g. female Ghostbusters, a black James Bond, etc) a huge step in Hollywood filmmaking, and I’m curious to see how receptive audiences (and subsequently studios) are to the change.
- The most bankable demography for franchises appears to be people aged 12-24, which make up 35% of movie audiences. Evidence? 55% of the audience for Transformers: Dark of the Moon was under the age of 25 (32% under the age of 18).
- Timing isn’t everything, but it’s important: 15 of the 25 highest grossing films of all time were released in the three months from May-July.
- The biggest budgets go into summer movies: May and June movies in 2014 averaged budgets of $63 million, an average that places in the 81st Percentile of all 2014 movie budgets.
- Film-for-film, no franchise has been as successful as Star Wars, which has grossed $1.5 billion per film (accounting for inflation).
- Rocky might be the most profitable franchise film ever, having returned 22,500% on its original $1 million budget.
- Best Sequels? Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Dark Knight both made more money and received more critical praise than their prequels, the only ones in the Top 25 to do so.
- ….but, one-third of the Top 25 highest grossing movie franchise’s first films were the most profitable in their respective series. For example, Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope was a $3 billion movie (accounting for inflation), making it the third highest grossing film ever. None of its sequels came close.
- Only three standalone movies earned more money in their release year than the highest grossing film in each of the Top 25 franchises: Avatar, Frozen, and Grease (if that sounds confusing, see chart above).
- The Jaws franchise had the worst decline of any in the Top 25. The sequels got so bad that the brand was basically retired, as it is the only brand in the Top 25 to not be rebooted.
- Indiana Jones and Spider-Man were the only franchises to maintain their worldwide gross throughout their runs. Harry Potter also remained fairly stable.
- Animated franchises actually increased or maintained worldwide gross with each film, which is probably why Disney bought Pixar in 2006. The franchise gross amounts for Ice Age (Fox) and Toy Story (Disney/Pixar) increased with every film.