Genre and the UK box office 2011

The top 50 grossing films in 2011 at the UK box office account for a total of $1264 million (approximately £813 million at £1=$1.5547). A breakdown of the total gross by genre is given in Table 1. (For consistency, I’ve employed the same genre classifications that used in earlier posts).

The highest grossing film by quite some distance was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) with $117.2 million (~£75.4 million), easily outstripping The King’s Speech ($75.0 million/£48.2 million).

Table 1 Top 50 UK grossing films 2011 by genre (Source: Box Office Mojo)

Two of the top 10 films were action/adventure films: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (3D) (4th) and Transformers 3 (7th). The performance of the third Transformers film is comparable to the first two (give or take an adjustment for inflation): Transformers grossed $49.9 million in 2007 and Revenge of the Fallen grossed $44.4 million in 2009 (these figures are in 2010 US dollars), while T3 grossed $45.1 million (in 2011 dollars). In contrast, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides grossed only $54.2 million (2011 dollars) compared to $106.8 million for Dead Man’s Chest in 2006 and $85.6 million for At World’s End in 2007 (both in 2010 dollars). Thus the Transformers franchise has maintained its level from film to film, whereas the gap between the 2007 and 2011 films and the loss of key cast members (Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly) for On Stranger Tides has seen the Pirates franchise shed a substantial part of its value in the UK market.

2011 was comedy’s year. Comedy just beat out action/adventure as the second highest grossing genre and accounted for seven films in the top 50, but of these four made it into the top 10: The Inbetweeners Movie, The Hangover Part II, Bridesmaids, and Johnny English Reborn. The median gross for 54 comedy films to make the top 50 in the UK from 2006 to 2010, inclusive, is $12.84 million (in 2010 dollars); but the median gross last year (in 2011 dollars) was $32.0 million. The Inbetweeners Movie is the highest grossing comedy film in the UK in the past six years with $71.2 million/£45.8 million, easily beating Borat into second place (which grossed $49.8 million in 2006, in 2010 dollars). No matter how you look at it, that’s a big success for a movie based on a British TV show. Paul (21st), Horrible Bosses (27th), and Bad Teacher (37th) were less impressive, but comedy was the big story at the UK box office in 2011.

The most frequently occurring genre is family films accounting for 15 films, which have not performed outstandingly well. In fact this genre did not perform even close to family films in recent years, when Toy Story 3, Shrek 3, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Up have been amongst the very highest grossing films in the UK. The highest grossing family film in 2011 was Tangled, which was only the ninth highest grossing film of the year. Eight of the family films grossed less than $15.54 million or £10 million pounds. Why might this be the case? Well, if we look at the family films that made it into the top fifty (Table 2) we note that many of them are animated films while very few are love action films. It may be that the family genre suffered from a lack of variety with a glut of animation and too few other types of family films to attract a diverse audience. There is no Night at the Museum film in this year’s top 50, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins is too close to Happy Feet to make the difference worth noting. Horrid Henry seems to have performed particularly poorly. It is also interesting that The Lion King outperformed many new films, but then it would not be unfair to state that, compared to recent years, this year’s animated offerings were not as good as in recent years. Certainly, there is no Ponyo or Up amongst those films listed in Table 2.

Table 2 Rank and total grosses of family films in the UK 2011 (Source: Box Office Mojo)

As noted above the top grossing film last year was a fantasy/science fiction film, but Harry Potter accounted for 65% of the total gross for this genre in the top 50. Rise of the Planet of the Apes performed respectably as the 11th highest grossing film, but the other three films (Super 8, Source Code, and The Immortals) all feature in the bottom 10 films. In fact, Source Code and The Immortals were ranked 49th and 50th respectively.

The King’s Speech accounts for 51% of the gross of drama films, with the three other films performing modestly. The Black Swan ranked 15th, grossing $26.0 million ($16.7 million), but I can’t decide if this is a good performance of a film about ballet or a disappointment for an Academy Award winning film. 127 Hours (39th) and The Fighter (47th) also performed poorly despite Oscar nominations and awards.

Beyond these five genres, there is very little to note about the others.

The majority of the gross for romance films is accounted for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, the 6th highest grossing film of the year. This Twilight film achieved similar rankings to Eclipse (2010 – 6th) and New Moon (2009 – 7th); and achieved similar grosses. The other romance films – One Day (38th) and Friends with Benefits (46th) – aren’t worth commentating on.

Only two horror films made the top 50: Paranormal Activity 3 (26th) and Insidious (42nd). Measured in 2010 dollars, Paranormal Activity grossed $16.3 million in 2009 and Paranormal Activity 2 grossed $17.5 million in 2010. The third instalment in the series grossed $17.0 million in the UK (in 2011 dollars), and so while this series is not troubling the upper reaches of the box office charts it is consistent in the level of its gross from film to film and year to year.

The one film classed as ‘other’ is the Coen Brother’s version of True Grit, which ranked 35th.

Crime/thriller films are barely worth commenting on. The highest grossing film in this genre (if you don’t consider it be an action/adventure movie) is Sherlock Holes: Games of Shadows (18th) and this film was only released on 16 December 2011. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (23rd), Limitless (33rd), and Unknown (44th) did very little business. The television schedules in the UK are full to overflowing with crime dramas – Lewis (and the upcoming Endeavour), Midsommer Murders, New Tricks, Sherlock, and so on, along with masses of imports from America (CSI, Criminal Minds, NCIS, The Closer, etc) and Europe (The Killing, Wallander, Romanzo criminale) – so there is clearly an audience for producers to tap into. But no one makes crime movies anymore. Weird.

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About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on January 12, 2012, in British Cinema, Film Industry, Film Studies, Genre, Motion Picture Exhibition and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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