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The Box Office Success Stories of 2011

December 26, 2011

By John C.

When I wrote about the box office success stories of 2010 this time last year, I noted that the top ten moneymakers were all films that got at least a passing grade, with the year topped off by Pixar’s masterpiece Toy Story 3.  It is hard to believe a year has passed since I wrote that aritcle, and now it’s time to look at the highest grossing films of 2011.  First, a look at what did and didn’t bring in the money over Christmas weekend.

Coming in at second place was the entertaining sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with $31.8 million.  The incredibly mediocre kids movie Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked was a distant third with $20 million, and David Fincher’s stylishly gritty take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came in a close fourth with $19.4 million.  But Fincher’s film has the potential to pick up over the next few weeks.

For the number one spot, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol continued its winning streak and easily won the weekend with $46.2 million.  Directed by animation mastermind Brad Bird who gave us such great films as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, this is the classic example of holiday escapism done right.  With visual flair and exhilarating action sequences, including a stunning scene where Tom Cruise has to climb up the side of the tallest building in the world, the film is pure fun of the highest order.  It’s an excellent action film that would be worth seeing at any time of the year, but people really relate to this sort of thing during the holidays.

Steven Spielberg had two films open over the last week, and neither one proved to be that big a force at the box office.  The excellent performance-capture film The Adventures of Tintin came in at number five with $16.1 million, and War Horse took the seventh place spot with just over $15 million.  Even many of those who liked War Horse still found some flaws with the film, particularly the overlong 146-minute running time, which is generally too long to enjoy before Christmas dinner.  I think it was pretty easy to tell that The Adventures of Tintin was never going to be as big a hit in North America as it is in Europe, where it has already made back more than its budget.

There was a lot of competition over the last week, and it once again got me thinking about the year’s box office returns in general.  The highest grossing film of the year is also one of the very best.  The epic Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was the stunning finale to a franchise ten years in the making, generating over a billion dollars at the international box office.  The same unfortunately can’t be said about the next three films that found themselves some of the biggest moneymakers of the year.  The second place spot went to Michael Bay’s noisy and overlong Transformers: Dark of the Moon, third place was The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and the fourth spot went to the dreadful sequel The Hangover Part II.  The fifth slot was taken by the entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, proving just how lucrative Johnny Depp can be in a popular franchise.

Take a look at all of 2011’s top grossing movies at Box Office Mojo right here, including some other excellent and disappointing films.  Just like the summer months, there are so many movies opening in November and December that it can be disorienting to try to keep track of them all, and even more dizzying for audiences who have to decide which film gets their dollars.  But all of these films prove something that we already know.  A lot of the time, audiences will opt for a sequel in a familar franchise over an original film, regardless of whether or not it is as good as the predecessors.  But in the case of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 it means that a truly great film gets to be the biggest moneymaker of the year.

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