The Top 10 Box Office Wonders of 2015

Box Office Brasserie: Movie News For Movie Lovers

As Yoda once said: “Powerful you have become.”

The wise Jedi sage was obviously referring to the Disney marketing machine that harnessed the power of the Force for the first time, taking the reigns from Fox and George Lucas, and delivering a film in “The Force Awakens” that has helped power the domestic box office to a place it has never been before: $11B.

That’s a record to behold, for sure, but before we start high-fiving and spraying champagne willy-nilly in each other’s faces, let’s also remember that ticket prices have also reached an all-time high, and that admissions will not be the highest on record, so just play it cool and nod your head, taking it all in with perspective. Sure, if you have to give a lo-fi low five, that’s certainly justified and most definitely worth your time.

Below are the list of films that made the record happen: The Top 10 Box Office Wonders of 2015. Ranked in order of worldwide gross.

10. The Martian (Fox) – $595M* ($226M domestic, $369M int’l)

Ridley Scott and Matt Damon (if you don’t count his cameo in “Interstellar”) have the highest grossing film of their respective careers, and better yet, “The Martian” is proof that you actually can make a box office hit with Mars as your backdrop.

RIP- “Mars Needs Moms,” “Mars Attacks!,” “Red Planet,” “John Carter,” “Mission to Mars.”

9. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Lionsgate) – $639M* ($277M domestic, $362M int’l)

The 4th installment still has some gas in the tank; however, this will turn out as a bit of a disappointment as it won’t match “Part 1,” which hit $755M worldwide.

The good news for fans: there will likely be more games of the hunger variety; whether those be prequels or straight up sequels is still being discussed by Lionsgate. One thing we know for sure: Jennifer Lawrence won’t be back. The girl on fire is burnt out.

8. Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation (Paramount) – $682M ($195M domestic, $487M int’l)

Paramount may not have succeeded with their latest “Terminator” reboot, but Tom Cruise is still the ultimate box office weapon in their stockpile, one that just will not say die. Like Cruise himself, this franchise isn’t showing many signs of aging either as “Part 6” is undoubtedly happening. Plug and play all day.

7. Inside Out (Disney) – $856M ($356M domestic, $499M int’l)

Pixar is synonymous with quality, and with that stamp of approval, box office usually falls in its favor. This one turned out to be their biggest hit outside of “Finding Nemo” and “Toy Story 3.”

A bad day at the office is $500M for Pixar, and unfortunately they released two films this year, with “The Good Dinosaur” struggling to top $200M+ globally. Oh well, next summer’s “Finding Dory” is one of the two films–“Captain America: Civil War” the other–expected to cross $1B worldwide in 2016. They’ll be just fine.

6. Spectre (Sony) – $872M* ($198M domestic, $673M int’l)

While it won’t reach the highwater mark of its predecessor, “Skyfall,” which totaled $1.1B, it’s still on pace to top Pixar’s finest and that puts it in very good company.

No word yet on the next Bond, but it would be silly for Daniel Craig not to return for at least a curtain call. That said, four films was the magic number for Pierce Brosnan when he finally took off the tux.

5. Minions (Universal) – $1.157B ($336M domestic, $821M int’l)

Everyone knew the Minions were the driving force of “Despicable Me”; this was just their coming out party. To top Pixar is one thing, but to create a dominating animation empire on insanely cute yellow freaks is something else entirely. This sh*t is bananas. For realsies.

What’s next for Kevin, Stuart, and Bob? First up is “Despicable Me 3” in the summer of 2017, after that, likely 300 or so “Minions” sequels. Ba-naaaaaaa-nas!

4. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Disney) – $1.405B ($459M domestic, $946M int’l)

Mighty Marvel flexed their spandex yet again, and although it was down from the original’s $1.5B, nobody is remotely concerned about burnout just yet.

“Captain America: Civil War” will play like another “Avengers” sequel this upcoming summer, while the two-parter, “Infinity War,” will drop summer of 2018 and 2019.

3. Furious 7 (Universal) – $1.515B ($353M domestic, $1.162B int’l)

“Furious 7” is actually the top film internationally right now, besting “Jurassic World,” and much of that is thanks to the world’s #2 market, China, which exploded with $390M–making even more than in North America.

Get used to that. It’s the same reason some folks think “The Force Awakens” can take down the worldwide record held by “Avatar” ($2.8B), as “Star Wars” debuts in China January 9.

The unfortunate demise of Paul Walker had a lot to do with this, too, so it’s doubtful the next “Furious” films will even come close to these gaudy numbers. Still, with Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson behind the wheel, there’s no stopping this franchise as at least another trilogy is being mapped out as we live and breathe.

2. Jurassic World (Universal) – $1.668B ($652M domestic, $1.016B int’l)

No one really knew how big Universal’s long-dormant franchise would be, certainly no analyst or pundit I know was expecting record-breaking debuts of $208M in North America and $524M worldwide.

There’s something primal about people’s love for these real-life creatures that once walked our earth. And so, no doubt, Universal will bring earth’s mightiest reptiles back for “Jurassic Galaxy” or “Jurassic Universe.” However, it’s hard to imagine exactly where they’re headed. Dinos in space? Maybe. Just maybe.

When the dust settles on this, the fourth installment, its tromp through the record books already upended by “The Force Awakens,” people will likely see it for what it is: not quite of the caliber of Steven Spielberg’s original or his sequel.

Certainly it’s a lot better than “Jurassic Park III.” However, keeping this series fresh will be the real challenge for Universal.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney) – $1.734B* ($812M domestic, $921M int’l)

The minute I typed in the numbers above they dated themselves. That’s how fast “The Force Awakens” is rewriting record books and tearing through hallowed box office records.

This is a massive extinction level event on all “Jurassic World” records, and can be firmly chalked up on the corner of hype and circumstance as one of those rare films that actually lived up to the media circus that surrounded it.

Its record-breaking North American opening of $247M will likely stand for quite some time, as fandom’s greatest franchise finally delivered a product that was worth 32 years of waiting for. Yes, they finally uncorked the true power of the force. Namely: Disney’s Deathstar–their marketing machine.

Disney has transformed into a super studio now with Star Wars, Marvel, live-action fairy tales, and Pixar in their portfolio, and all the other studios are mere mortals. That’s how it’s gonna play out for the next decade or so, folks. This will likely be the last year in quite some time that Disney loses out on the yearly box office crown.

Universal hit a rare trifecta in 2015, but that was really an exception rather than the rule for now.

The biggest question is: Can “The Force Awakens” beat the world-record established by James Cameron’s “Avatar?” Well, $2.8B is an astronomical sum. One that, to be topped, will have to be predicated on insanely good holds around the world, and China. China is the key here, folks.

“Star Wars” doesn’t really have any kind of legacy in China. In fact, “Revenge of the Sith” grossed just $9.1M there. Don’t let that fool you, though. That was a decade ago, but it might as well been a millennium, as the floodgates to western culture have opened, seeping through China’s great wall like a sieve.

I mean, Disneyland Shanghai will be opening soon there…and yes, it is the first, besides Disneyland, to offer up Star Wars Land. The Force will be strong there…for a long, long time.

*Still in release


Yoda also said: “If you choose the quick and easy path…you will become an agent of evil.”

Now, I don’t necessarily prescribe to the wisdom of puppets, not over my trusty Magic 8-Ball, but with the plethora–and I do mean plethora–of sequels and reboots coming our way in 2016, studios seem to be in agreement that continuing sagas are primarily what audiences pine for these days.

It’s hard to disagree with that assessment as 7 of the top 10 grossing films of 2015 were of that ilk, and those percentages are consistent over the last decade, but if we continue down this path, “…forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”

Like it or not, that’s what the movie industry has become: crystal palaces in the sky. Blockbusters that promise the world. Premiere ticket prices that are approaching $20 USD.

The folks that are getting gouged don’t mind. Top-of-the-line seating, IMAX, and 3D have opened the wallets of steadfast consumers–customers that don’t mind the surcharges– while it masks the dark secret of Hollywood…the fact that attendance continues to drop.

Don’t blame the theater owners though; they need to find ways to stay in business while Hollywood figures out how to grow audiences without Roman numerals.  Because someday that safety net will wear thin, someday soon.  And that’s just the state of the industry, folks.

Peace be with you into the New Year, and may all your ticket stubs be worthy.


“Furious 7” Poster Image Courtesy of Universal Studios; Poster Design by Art Machine




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