All The Wrong Movies, And The Right Ones, Too: Film Wonders and Blunders of 2013

Every year is chock full of box office busts and movie miscalculations, but what was starkly different about 2013 was the sheer magnitude of high profile stars involved: Johnny Depp (“Lone Ranger”) Tom Cruise (“Oblivion”), Channing Tatum & Jamie Foxx  (“White House Down”), Harrison Ford (“Ender’s Game”, “Paranoia”) Bruce Willis (“Die Hard 5”, “RED 2”), Ryan Reynolds (“R.I.P.D.”, “Turbo”) Jim Carrey (“Kick-Ass 2”, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”), Ben Affleck (“Runner Runner”), Papa Smurf (“The Smurfs 2”), the monsters of “Pacific Rim,” and Will Smith (“After Earth”), who not so long ago was deified as Mr. Box Office…but has now become merely a box office blip. So, by all accounts, it was a lot of larger than life entities, experiencing the big-time box office burn.

Sequels and reboots dominated the box office landscape in 2013, with 8 of the top 10 grossing films of the year fitting into this category.  2012 saw 7 of 10 sequels, while 2011 nearly ran the tables with 9 of 10. Yes, the sequel safety net is becoming a regular occurrence, and like it or not, studios will continue to bring these popcorn pushers to the multiplex masses in the foreseeable future.

The overall domestic box office was relativity flat, up +0.8% w/ 10.92 billion, slightly topping last year’s record of $10.83 billion, with admissions dipping -0.3%. Not a whole lot of growth, but on the plus side, not a significant drop-off, either.

The real growth, once again, was the Hollywood brand, which continued to reach all corners of the earth, showing great international expansion in Russia and especially China this year, which outside the US, has become the most important territory in the world.

Thankfully, original content made significant gains. How do we know that? Well, by the number of films that have greenlit sequels already—the true mark of any successful film these days is that it spawns a franchise and somewhere down the line an amusement park attraction: “World War Z,” “Planes,” “The Purge,” “Now You See Me” and likely “We’re the Millers,” “The Croods,” and “The Conjuring.”

I’m sure Warner Bros. would love a “Gravity” sequel, although, that seems about as likely as constructing a moon base right now.  The sci-fi thriller was a one-time wonder and let’s hope it stays that way—the last thing this film needs is a sequel, although I suspect someone will pitch it.

Alfonso Cuaron truly pushed the envelope of what can be achieved in terms of the technical aspects of filmmaking, specifically science fiction films, and made everyone, including myself, feel for a few stolen moments that we were quite literally taken out of this world.

For many of us, “Gravity” is the probably closest thing we’re ever get to going to space—a lot cheaper too, when you consider the average 3D ticket probably cost $11-$12 bucks, versus, the going rate for hitching a ride into orbit, which is around $20 million or so right now.

“Gravity” was a pretty remarkable film-going experience, and that had a lot to do with the film becoming the top story of the year in regards to filmmaking.

Like 2012, it was also another strong year for adult dramas outside of “Gravity,” as “Captain Phillips,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” and “American Hustle” shot past $100+M, with “The Wolf of Wall Street” and possibly “Saving Mr. Banks” headed there too, as all the awards hoopla is starting to kick in.

Without further ado, the best and worst across the cinematic landscape that was 2013.



1. Gravity (Warner Bros.) – Amazingly, the studio’s $80M gamble paid off in a massive way, even topping worldwide grosses for “Man of Steel,” a property they spent $225M on principle production alone, just to reboot. I’m pretty sure no one at WB saw that coming.

2. Frozen (Disney) – Who would have thought that Disney Animation would ever outshine Pixar again? Well, that’s been happening a lot lately with Pixar stuck in sequel-mode and Disney showcasing a three-ring spectacle  with “Tangled,” Wreck-it Ralph,” and now “Frozen.”  Disney’s OG animation outfit is creating quite the in-house rivalry, one that hopefully pushes both to new creative boundaries.

3. R-rated Comedies – Real comedy pushes the limits of taste and often catapults us over the edge of what is comfortable. And if you want to do that these days, you have to bow down (or is that bend over?) to the all-mighty “F” word. Continuing the trend over the last few years: “The Hanover III,” “The Heat,” “Identity Thief,” “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” “We’re the Millers,” and “This is the End” all were winners. That’s not to say some PG-13 comedies weren’t successful, both “Anchorman 2” and “Grown Ups 2” eclipsed $100+M, but those are franchises with a solid base. What you usually get is middle-of-the-road humor like “Delivery Man,” “The Internship,” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” all of which fizzled, rather than sizzled.

4. Blackfish (Magnolia) – When was the last time a documentary film took center stage in the pop culture landscape? Sea World and Killer Whales became the hot button issue of the year, similar to the way “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Super Size Me,” or “An Inconvenient Truth” did in the past. In fact, I think the most vicious Facebook posts I saw this year featured scathing diatribes denouncing Sea World and all that it stands for. I mean, if you posted that you were actually at the park, I wouldn’t be surprised if half your friends unfriended you. I haven’t thought so much about Orcas since 1993, when “Free Willy” and Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There” made such a huge splash.  CNN went so far as the buy the rights to “Blackfish” and air it while it was still in theaters. Unprecedented…and pretty remarkable, to boot. All the hoopla has forced Sea World to resort to Groupon. Gasp! Its days could be numbered, and at the very least, the amusement park will soon be undergoing some major sea changes.

5. Marvel – Not only did “Iron Man 3” ($1.2B) become the top-grossing film of 2013, but “Thor: The Dark World” ($630M) exceeded the original “Thor” ($449M) by a considerable margin. In 2008, when the original “Iron Man” debuted, who would have guessed that Tony Stark would ever be bigger, and frankly more iconic than Clark Kent; “Iron Man” is the official Man of Steel these days, sorry Supes.

6. World War Z (Paramount)/The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros.) All Press is Good Press – Tell that to “The Lone Ranger,” and “R.I.P.D.” Still, it was pretty amazing to see “The Great Gatsby” and “World War Z” go through the media ringer with less-than-encouraging production delays and release date changes, yet still come up roses. “World War Z” had terribly negative buzz, mostly because it was widely known they  scrapped the entire third act (that had already been shot) and kept pouring more moola into a zombie flick that was already oozing red, approaching $200M. To date, it has made $540M and certified Brad Pitt as a producer that can not only make the tough calls, but also deliver the goods. And then there’s Baz Luhrman, who wowed with an adult 3D drama. I didn’t think it was possible, but I should have known with his theatrical background that he would expertly make use of the space. He did. He made a doozy of a film that pops and bursts with the confetti of life…in glorious 3D. Between “Great Gatsby,” “Gravity,” and obviously Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit 2,” it’s refreshing to see directors really harness the capabilities of the third dimension, which should give everyone hope for the oft-beleaguered format.

7. Despicable Me 2 (Universal) – Not since “Shrek 2” have we seen an animated sequel break out and so definitively rule the pop culture roost. Everyone knows who the minions are, and with that, Universal has taken a giant leap, as “Despicable Me 2” and its product-marketing prowess solidified their growing foothold in the animation world alongside heavyweights Disney and DreamWorks Animation.

8. Fast & Furious 6 (Universal) – Before the unfortunate demise of Paul Walker, the only thing people in town were talking about in regards to this franchise was that it had the audacity to break all the known box office rules. This series was supposed to be slowing down, not speeding up and crossing the finish line as the top flick of the series with $788M. And although Universal has pushed the next installment (which will still feature Walker) from this summer to Spring 2015, it will no doubt flirt with $1 billion. And it won’t end there, believe me. I have a feeling Universal may go so far as to do the unthinkable: sure, another sequel, but I’m talking UNTHINKABLE…like replacing the “Waterworld” live-action show up at Universal Studios Hollywood with a “Fast & Furious” set. If that happens, it will be a dark day indeed for me, as I have an unhealthy obsession with Kevin Costner’s aquatic opus. Remember, before The Mariner and The Deacon took over, it was a “Miami Vice” stunt show. So that wouldn’t be such a stretch to retool. Damn, I’m sorry I even put this into the universe…

9. Woody Allen – Although he often polarizes people with his real-life choices, there is no doubt Allen’s a treasured artist in the truest (not purest) form. Not only has the writer/director released a new film each year for over 30 years, but at 78, he is consistently delivering the most challenging and introspective films of his career, and also the highest grossing, as well. “Blue Jasmine” has earned $75M worldwide, and features the two best female performances of the year (something Allen has always had a knack for) with Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins leaving everyone else in the dust. Here is a man, in the stages of his own European renaissance, one who is afraid to travel, traversing the globe and falling in love with the world all over again. That love is definitely being reciprocated as  “Midnight in Paris,” “To Rome With Love,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Match Point” and “Blue Jasmine” have turned him into something he hasn’t been since his comedy heyday of the 70s—a sure box-office bet.

10. The “Before” Trilogy – If ever there was a trilogy that truly captured what love is, was, and will be…it’s Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s transformative series consisting of 1995’s “Before Sunrise,” 2004’s “Before Sunset” and most recently, this summer’s “Before Midnight.” I can’t say that I truly enjoyed the last installment. I loved it, to be sure, but it was hard, like the downward swing of a tough relationship. That’s just life, I suppose, and it didn’t get any more real onscreen than “Before Midnight.” This is more than hipster porn (although it is that, too), this is what it means to be alive, and to love and be loved to be a part of this flotsam and jetsam we call existence. You either get it, or you don’t. You either feel this deeply, or you don’t. And most people don’t, as it was the top-grossing film of the franchise with $8M, which means it grossed less than, you guessed it, “Movie 43.” That puts it all in perspective doesn’t it? Life is maddening…but it’s all any of us have.

Even the trailer for “Gravity” is wondrous.


1. R.I.P.D. (Universal) – Between this and “Green Lantern,” Ryan Reynolds has now had two huge chances to prove he can carry a blockbuster pic. He can’t. And this may have been a bigger bomb than “The Lone Ranger,” as the budget is listed as $130M, but many inside sources were whispering closer to $200M.

Gross: $78M (Domestic $33.6M, Int’l $44.7M)
Budget: $130M

2. 47 RONIN (Universal) – Whoever greenlit this for $175M should be shamed and then probably beheaded. $75M would have been stretching it. It’s not that it’s a horrible film, it’s not, but it just isn’t worth anything close to what Universal paid for it. It is starting to pick up a little steam overseas, which in the past has saved many-a-troubled blockbuster.

Gross: $105M* (Domestic $35, Int’l $70)
Budget: $175M

3. THE LONE RANGER (Disney) – With good reason and sound fundamentals, Disney stopped production in its tracks when the budget ballooned over $250+M. In fact, they stopped it multiple times to wrangle in the runaway train wreck that this would become. The brass didn’t want to make this film, and they should have stuck to their guns, eventually putting a $215M pricetag on it. Vegas may be where the action is, but Hollywood is the real gambling town, and when the same dynamic duo of Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski have given you the multi-billion dollar franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean” you have to bite the bullet sometimes. Disney bit hard…and it wasn’t pretty. Still, it puts Disney in Depp’s good graces for “Alice in Wonderland 2” and “Pirates of the Caribbean 5″…which is probably why this was greenlighted in the first place. One for you, two for us.

Gross: $260M (Domestic $89M, Int’l $171M)
Budget: $215M

4. JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (Warner Bros.) – It’s not that Bryan Singer’s fairy tale flick is bad, it’s just that it’s mind-numbingly boring and lacks anything resembling a heartbeat. I mean, unless you ask my young daughter who, eyes-popping, jumped in my lap and clutched my arms holding on for dear life, and never let go until the credits rolled, as she watched her first PG-13 film. Bad daddy. Bad flick. And even worse use of a great cast: Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Nicholas Hoult and Ian McShane.

Gross: $197M (Domestic $65M, Int’l $132M)
Budget: $195M

5. ENDER’S GAME (Lionsgate) – Folks have been trying to launch Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi novel since it debuted in 1985, but until recently the technology didn’t exist to really do it justice without spending $200+M. Still $110M isn’t cheap, especially when you consider it’s made only $88M worldwide. Sci-fi didn’t have a great year at the box office, with “Oblivion,” “After Earth,” but hopefully “Gravity” will inspire filmmakers to think outside the box more.

Gross: $88M (Domestic $61M, Int’l $27M)
Budget: $110M

6. OLDBOY (Film District) – If this was “Tyler Perry’s Oldboy” it would’ve grossed $50M. Thankfully, Spike Lee is no Tyler Perry, but the fact that this has made less than $5M globally certainly can’t help his career, which has now gone the way of Kickstarter to fund his next project.  File Under: He Don’t Got Game. This was officially FilmDistrict’s last release, as they merged with Focus Features.  BTW, the original made nearly $15M worldwide and didn’t star Josh Brolin or Samuel L. Jackson…for those keeping score.

Gross: $4M (Domestic $2M, Int’l $2M)
Budget: $30M

7. THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS (Sony) – Turns out, this isn’t the next “Twilight” franchise.

Gross: $80M (Domestic $31M, Int’l $49M)
Budget: $60M

8. THE HOST (Open Road) – Turns out, even the creator of the “Twilight,” Stephanie Meyer, can’t figure out how to make the next “Twilight” franchise.

Gross: $48M (Domestic $26.6M, Int’l $21.6M)
Budget: $40M

9. AFTER EARTH (Sony) – M. Night Shyamalan…you’ll never eat lunch in this town again. It really is inconceivable that the same filmmaker that gave us “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” and “Signs” also directed this. It must be a ruse. There must have been a “prestige” ala Christopher Nolan going on here, because it’s quite possible, that if Shyamalan continues to make films like “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth” that he’ll soon be in the same league as Uwe Boll or even Alan Smithee.

Gross: $243M (Domestic $60M, Int’l $183M)
Budget: $130M

10. THE FIFTH ESTATE (Disney/DreamWorks) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had his revenge. He didn’t want this film to see the light of day. It barely did, grossing a pitiful $3.2M in the US, and had the worst debut of the year for a wide release with a puny $1.6M in 1,769 theaters.  Overseas reaction wasn’t much better as it tallied up a woefully wimpy $5.3M.

Gross: $8M (Domestic $3M, Int’l $5M)
Budget: $28M

11. JUSTIN BIEBER’S BELIEVE (Open Road) – The Biebs has hit puberty, and with that comes the reminder that one must transform into an adult…and not own a pet monkey or go on egg raids. Personally, I’m still waiting for that realization to dawn on me, but for Bieber, in just three short years, he’s gone from the very top “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D” ($99M worldwide) to the bottom, as “Believe” has scored just $6M. On the plus side, he’s like 19…plenty of time for a cocaine-fueled (alleged) comeback.

Gross: $6M (Domestic $6M, Int’l N/A)
Budget: $5M

12. SLY & ARNIE – Schwarzenegger’s “The Last Stand” and Stallone’s “Bullet to the Head” were two of the lowest grossing films of their respective careers, yet when they teamed up for fall’s “Escape Plan” it turned into a $100+ million hit. How did that happen? It wasn’t the US, where it grossed just $25M, no, it was China, where it has shot up nearly $40M. To be fair though, it’s doubtful China has ever allowed “Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot!” or “Jingle All the Way” to cross over their  border.

13. MOVIE 43, OUT OF THE FURNACE, PARANOIA (Relativity) – With this trifecta of trash, Relativity was the big winner of the losers. Actually, “Movie 43” has to be seen to be believed. The fact that it got a theatrical release at all truly boggles the mind. Not surprisingly, there was a huge changeover at the studio this year.

*Still in Release

Yes. This was a real film that was released in real theaters. For reals.


Jeff Bock, NewsWhistle’s movie editor, is the senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations in Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at