One Billion Dollars

Kevthewriter weighs in on the increasing number of movies that gross a billion dollars or more.

About 10-20 years ago, it wasn’t that common for a movie to make a billion dollars. In the 90’s and 2000’s, the only movies that were able to do so were Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The Dark Knight, and Avatar. While making over a billion dollars wasn’t the only reason these movies were phenomenons, this definitely helped up their popularity, as it was considered a big deal that not only were (most of) these movies considered great and became pop culture phenomenons but they also managed to break box office records as well.

But something happened in the 2010’s. More movies started making over a billion dollars. From 2010-2017, 24 movies have grossed over a billion at the box office and at least one movie a year since 2010 has managed to do so. Not only that but thanks to a couple re-releases, two movies that came close to grossing a billion dollars (Jurassic Park and Star Wars: Episode 1) have managed to join the billion dollar club as well.

But has this desensitisized people from being surprised when a movie makes a billion dollars? Is it no longer a big deal thanks to the fact that more and more movies these days are managing to do so?

On the surface level, the answer is yes. I might be wrong but I don’t think most people would really be able to tell the difference between any of the Transformers movies or Fast and the Furious movies yet a couple of movies in those franchises were able to reach a billion dollars with seemingly little fanfare. Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and Minions were sequels that were quickly forgotten yet they both managed to pass the billion dollar mark.

Hell, want more proof that it doesn’t seem like a billion dollars=a movie leaves a long last impact?

Of the two, which made a billion dollars at the box office? Iron Man 3 or Guardians of the Galaxy? Why Iron Man 3 of course!

But of the two, which really had the more long lasting impact? The movie that people complained about because of a stupid twist or the movie that made previously obscure characters household names?

Speaking of Marvel and DC, it’s been reported that many studios have become disappointed when a movie reaches a billion dollars or doesn’t make more than a billion dollars. For instance, it was reported that Warner Brothers found Batman vs. Superman to be a failure because it didn’t join the billion dollar club.  Meanwhile, Disney and Marvel were apparently somewhat disappointed by Age of Ultron‘s box office gross because, despite grossing over a billion dollars, it made slightly less than the original.

If a studio is actually disappointed that a movie didn’t make the money they wanted, despite making a billion dollars, that means that it’s no longer special when a movie makes a billion dollars, right?

Well, for the most part, yes. It’s now expected that most movies, like your average superhero and franchise fare, have to make a billion dollars. But it seems like people are ambivalent toward, well, any movie making a billion dollars. No one expected Zootopia to gross a billion dollars at the box office yet its box office gross didn’t really do anything to up its popularity. It remained a moderately popular animated film that got some attention due to its timely message more than anything else, it seemingly wasn’t a phenomenon like Frozen or The Lion King.

But there is one thing to consider: other countries.

What might be a phenomenon in one country isn’t necessarily a phenomenon in another country.

Franchises like Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and even franchises that do very well but have never had a movie in the billion dollar club like the Ice Age series are actually very popular in other countries even if, in America, it seems like people are either tired of these movies or they just don’t care.

Heck, similar thing for Zootopia above. While it may not really have been any more popular than your average Disney or Pixar movie despite grossing more at the box office, it was actually insanely popular in China. How popular? Not only was its theatrical run extended there but it got so popular that a minor character who had 3 lines became popular enough for children to want a pet who was the same species as him and the Chinese army considered it a threat.  I don’t think this movie did anything that crazy in America.

But thinking about it, it makes sense. No movie has grossed a billion dollars domestically. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, being a Star Wars film and all, came close but ultimately it didn’t. However, when you factor in both domestic and worldwide box office numbers, 30 movies have grossed a billion dollars.

Then, when you consider that, it starts to make sense that not every movie that joins the billion dollar club becomes a huge cultural phenomenon because, the thing is, while a movie may not have been huge all over the world (just look at Pirates 4, which didn’t even make its money back domestically), a movie that wasn’t a phenomenon in one country could be a phenomenon in another country. As a result, the movie makes a lot of money at the box office it does become a phenomenon in, which ups the movies total box office gross to a billion dollars or more.

Therefore, most movies that make a billion dollars are still phenomenons, they just aren’t phenomenons in every country.

So, back to the question, is it becoming too normal for a movie to make a billion dollars? The answer is yes and no. At least in America, it doesn’t seem to be all that surprising anymore when any movie makes a billion dollars. However the answer is also no because, even if the majority of people in one country didn’t care about a certain movie, it doesn’t mean that the majority of people in another country don’t. And the popularity there might just be enough to make the movie a billion dollars.


Posted on August 23, 2017, in Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. What Kevin is describing here is a pretty common phenomenon with any kind of dollar values—they tend to rise over time (one word: inflation). When I was growing up in the 1970s, it was still rare for a movie to reach $100 million in domestic box office. Star Wars in 1977 was, I am pretty sure, the first film ever to reach $200 million (or $300 million) in domestic box office on its initial release.

    You can see this happen with a lot of other widely-reported dollar figures. Take sports salaries. When I was very young, $100,000 a year was a very good income for anyone, and a very rare salary figure in pro sports. Willie Mays was baseball’s highest paid player in the 1960s, peaking at a salary of $135,000 per year. In the 1970s, we hit the first $250,000 per year player (Dick Allen) and the first $500,000 a year man (Mike Schmidt). The first $1 million salary comes by 1980 (Nolan Ryan), and by 1997, the year of Titanic, we have baseball’s first $10 million a year player (Albert Belle). In the following decade, we reach the first players to earn $20 million and then $30 million per year, both named Alex Rodriguez.


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