Universal Pictures recorded its biggest year ever for the second year in a row with global theatrical grosses totaling $2.834 billion for 2008. Universal’s domestic box-office tally of $1.12 billion outpaced the record it previously set in 2007, which was $1.099 billion. Internationally, Universal shattered last year’s box-office mark of $1.034 billion, with a 2008 total of $1.714 billion, for an incredible year-over-year improvement of 66 percent. Celebrating the studio breaking its own records for the second year in a row, the announcement was made today by Marc Shmuger and David Linde, Chairman and Co-Chairman, respectively, of Universal Pictures. All numbers are estimates, and final figures will be available on Monday, January 5, 2009.
“If 2007 was a turnaround year for Universal, 2008 proved our studio’s ability to consistently deliver the highest quality commercial hits,” stated Shmuger and Linde. “To have two successive years of record-breaking success is an incredible achievement, and we thank our teams from around the world that produced, marketed and distributed a slate of films that, again, set a new standard for our studio. This year, we created new franchises, extended others, released the most successful movie musical in history and continued our tradition of turning modestly budgeted comedies into solid hits. Our strength of success comes from this diversity. We worked with some of the most interesting and inspiring filmmakers and talent working anywhere and released some of the years most critically acclaimed and rewarded films. We are proud to close out another year with historic success.”
Here are the studio’s details of the success:
The studio released four films this year that grossed more than $100 million domestically: “The Incredible Hulk”, “Wanted”, “Mamma Mia!” and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”. In addition, the studio released three comedies — “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, “Baby Mama” and “Role Models” — which turned into solidly profitable hits by grossing more than $60 million apiece, while being produced with modest budgets.
At the international box office, Universal Pictures International (UPI), in its second year of operation as a wholly owned distribution entity, tallied $1.714 billion, beating its former 1999 record (when it was part of joint venture UIP) of $1.16 billion by nearly 50 percent. UPI reached the $1 billion threshold on August 13, earlier than ever before in Universal’s history. The record-breaking $428.5 million foreign success of “Mamma Mia!” led the juggernaut, and UPI also had two other films gross more than $200 million with “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” and “Wanted”, and one more to break $100 million with “The Incredible Hulk”.
“Mamma Mia!” was the studio’s biggest earner of the year, both domestically ($144 million) and internationally ($428.5 million). Opening on July 18, it set the record for biggest domestic opening ever for a musical and reached $100 million faster than any other tuner in history. But the success story of the year is how “Mamma Mia!” turned into an unprecedented global phenomenon. The film is now the biggest film ever in the history of the United Kingdom, a record held previously by “Titanic”. Since its release in early July, “Mamma Mia!” has broken records of the biggest opening of a musical in history in territory after territory and is now the highest grossing film of 2008 in the U.K., Austria, Greece, Hungary, Norway and Sweden.
“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is the highest-grossing entry of Universal’s three-film “Mummy” franchise at the international box office. With $294.3 million, it easily bests the previous foreign $260.5 million record of 1999’s “The Mummy”. The film opened at No. 1 in 38 territories and was Universal’s biggest opening ever in Russia, Spain, Ukraine, Korea, Latin America and Thailand, among others. Stateside, the film was released on August 1, opening to $40 million on its way to $102 million.
An all-new action franchise was born with “Wanted”, released on June 17 to a $51 million domestic first weekend and ultimate domestic take of $144 million. The film delivered the biggest opening ever for its star Angelina Jolie and the biggest R-rated opening ever for the month of June. Universal took a cult graphic novel and paired it with Timur Bekmambetov, a Russian director and inventive visual stylist who made an unforgettable English- language debut with “Wanted”, and placed James McAvoy at the center of this action-adventure. “Wanted” also was an international hit, totaling $209.5 million in foreign grosses.
Universal released Marvel Entertainment’s “The Incredible Hulk” on June 13 to a rousing $55 million opening domestic weekend, and the film went on to gross more than $135 million in North America. Having released a previous film based on the Marvel Super Hero just five years before, Universal reintroduced the character and, by emphasizing the action and heroism of this franchise, outperformed that 2003 release and invigorated the franchise with the potential for future installments. “The Incredible Hulk” crossed the $100 million mark at the international box office as well.
Also of note was the breakout success of “The Strangers”, one of the first Rogue Pictures films to be marketed and distributed by Universal Pictures. Released on May 30, this small horror film starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman became one of the surprise hits of the summer, accumulating more than $52 million in its North American release.
On the comedy front, Universal continued its prosperous and long-time relationship with Judd Apatow with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, produced by Apatow and Shauna Robertson, directed by Nicholas Stoller and led by a cast that turned into some of the year’s biggest breakout stars. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was released on April 18 and went on to gross $63 million domestically. “Baby Mama” followed the next week, pairing two of the year’s most formidable comedy talents and pop-culture stories, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. “Baby Mama” was released on April 25 and went on to make $60 million domestically. Later in the fall, Universal released Stuber Films’ “Role Models”, starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott under the direction of David Wain, and turned in a fall comedy sleeper hit that has made more than $66 million to date.
In addition to these commercial successes, Universal also released some of the year’s most critically acclaimed motion pictures. Guillermo del Toro dazzled audiences and critics alike with the detail and depth of his imagination in “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”. And Clint Eastwood debuted his drama “Changeling” at the Cannes Film Festival to rave responses. The film was included among the best of the year by the Critics’ Choice Awards and the National Board of Review, and Angelina Jolie earned nominations for Best Actress from the Golden Globe Awards, the SAG Awards and the Critics’ Choice Awards.
Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Films’ “Frost/Nixon” is among the most heralded films of the year. Directed by Ron Howard and written by Peter Morgan — who adapted his own award-winning play — “Frost/Nixon” is one of only two films to be recognized as one of the best of the year by the four leading awards groups: the Golden Globe Awards, the Critics’ Choice Awards, the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute. Included on many critics’ year-end Top 10 lists, including those from Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, the Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan, The Associated Press and many others, “Frost/Nixon” also earned five Golden Globe Award nominations: Best Picture (Drama), Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Score.
Focus Features retained its position as one of the industry’s most consistently successful specialized film companies, both in terms of quality and commercial success. Focus began 2008 with the noteworthy achievement of having Working Title’s “Atonement” honored with seven Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture.
In September, Focus enjoyed the biggest opening in its history with the $19.2 million opening weekend domestic take of Working Title’s “Burn After Reading”, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, which went on to gross more than $60 million domestically (making it the highest grossing film from a specialty company this year). “Burn After Reading” also earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Picture (Comedy or Musical), a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for Best Comedy and inclusion among the National Board of Review’s Best Films of the Year.
“Milk” has become one of the most honored and acclaimed films of 2008. Directed by Gus Van Sant from an original screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, “Milk” has earned accolades including being named Best Picture of the Year by the esteemed New York Film Critics Circle. Already a winner of Best Actor honors from nearly a dozen critics’ groups, star Sean Penn has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award, a SAG Award and a Critics’ Choice Award, and the film’s entire ensemble was nominated as one of the best of the year by SAG.
Last but not least, writer/director Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges”, which world premiered as the opening-night film of the Sundance Film Festival, also has been cited by many critics as being among the best and most original films of the year and earned a Best Picture and two Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) nominations from the Golden Globes.