The box office receipts for 2011 have been tallied, and the news is pretty bad for Hollywood. Despite a year that saw the blockbuster end to the Harry Potter franchise, the surprising success of films like The Help and Bridesmaids, and an army of movie sequels that racked up hundreds of millions of dollars, movie audience attendance hit a 16-year low in 2011. (See the Top 10 films of 2011 below.) What do these results say about movie audiences and the film industry? Here, five lessons:
1. Sequels had success...
"Movie audiences in 2011 wanted more of the same," says Jay Stone at Canada's National Post. Considering that eight of the top 10 films at the worldwide box office were sequels and another (The Smurfs) was based on a TV show, it's clear that moviegoers craved "familiar characters or guaranteed entertainment."
2. ...But we still may have sequel fatigue
Take a closer look at these numbers, says David Germain for the Associated Press. The attendance plunge may prove that fans are "growing tired of over-familiar characters and stories." While the latest Harry Potter and Transformers installments were blockbusters, most other franchise entries — Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men, Kung Fu Panda — came up short of their predecessors. Looks like "a case of the same-olds same-olds."
3. Animated films fared particularly poorly
2011 was plagued by a subpar slate of animated films, says Germain. For the first time since 2005, no animated feature passed $200 million in the U.S. In the past, films like Up and Toy Story 3 were well-received hits across all demographics. In 2011, tepidly-reviewed films like Rio and Rango just "weren't catching hold with the teen and adult audiences" in the same way, says Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress. Furthermore, says Matthew Rosenbaum at ABC News, there was a glut of kids' films. "Too many family movies on the marquee" ended up pushing out the "teens and young adults who usually pack the theaters."
4. The "nerd dollar is over"
Hollywood can no longer rely on geeks to turn out for genre films, says Graeme McMillan at Spinoff. "On paper, both Green Lantern and Cowboys and Aliens were almost guaranteed hits." They were relentlessly marketed, boasted well-liked stars, and touted cutting-edge special effects. And then they flopped. Sucker Punch and Conan the Barbarian were box-office disasters — despite their Comic-Con-ready appeal — while J.J. Abrams' Super 8 wasn't the massive hit pundits expected.
5. Women can turn a film into a smash
"If we're lucky," says McMillan, 2011 will be remembered as the year "moviemakers realized the power of the female demographic." The Help — a smart, female-driven drama — and Bridesmaids — a raunchy, female-driven comedy — finished just outside the Top 10 at the box office, despite insiders' low expectations. When you factor in the huge profit that female-centric (and often irreverent) comedies like Bad Teacher and Friends With Benefits returned, says Gabe Toro at Indie Wire, perhaps executives will learn that "films for adult women" no longer only includes schmaltzy romantic comedies.
Top 10 films of 2011 at the global box office
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 — $1.3 billion
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon — $1.1 billion
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides — $1.0 billion
4. Kung Fu Panda 2 — $665.7 million
5. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 — $657.1 million
6. Fast Five — $626.1 million
7. The Hangover Part 2 — $591.5 million
8. The Smurfs — $562.5 million
9. Cars 2 — $559.9 million
10. Rio — $484.6 million