Most Profitable Films of 2011

January 5, 2012

Yesterday, The Bitter Script Reader analyzed 2011′s Top 20 grossing films, and what that means for us as screenwriters. The summary is, not surprisingly, a bitter one, pointing out that 18 of the top 20 are either franchises, adaptations, animated films, or some combination of all of the above. And as BSR points out, these categories represent  “the three types of scripts that it’s nearly impossible for an aspiring screenwriter to break in with.”

As I was looking at the numbers, though, I realized that most of these top-grossing films also had enormous budgets. Which got me thinking: which films were the most profitable - i.e., had the highest box office return as a percentage of their budget?

Movie Budget US Gross Profit Margin (Domestic)
Insidious $1,500,000 $54,009,150 3601%
Paranormal Activity 3 $5,000,000 $104,007,828 2080%
Courageous $2,000,000 $34,088,360 1704%
Like Crazy $250,000 $3,372,100 1349%
Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain $750,000 $7,706,436 1028%
The Help $25,000,000 $169,499,546 678%
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never $13,000,000 $73,013,910 562%
Jumping the Broom $7,000,000 $37,295,394 533%
Bad Teacher $19,000,000 $100,292,856 528%
Bridesmaids $32,500,000 $169,106,725 520%
Our Idiot Brother $5,000,000 $24,814,830 496%
50/50 $8,000,000 $35,016,118 438%
Apollo 18 $5,000,000 $17,686,929 354%
The Ides of March $12,500,000 $40,850,788 327%
The Hangover Part II $80,000,000 $254,464,305 318%
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II $125,000,000 $381,011,219 305%
Limitless $27,000,000 $79,249,455 294%
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules $18,000,000 $52,698,535 293%
No Strings Attached $25,000,000 $70,662,220 283%
Super 8 $50,000,000 $127,004,179 254%

Before I go any further, let me mention that I got my data here, and there were some conspicuous omissions – including six of the films from the Top 20 grossing list – but after collecting the data for those films manually, I discovered that of those six films, only one made it into the top 20 most profitable, so I think this list can at least give us some useful information. It’s also worth noting that films released late in 2011 won’t make this list, though they may very well be headed in that direction. For example, War Horse has yet to make back its budget, but it was only released a week and a half ago.

The first thing I notice is that of these films, 4 are horror films (Insidious, Paranormal Activity, Apollo 18, Super 8), 9 are comedies (Laugh at My Pain, Jumping the Broom, Bad Teacher, Bridesmaids, Our Idiot Brother, 50/50, The Hangover: Part II, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, No Strings Attached), and 5 are dramas (Courageous, Like Crazy, The Help, 50/50, The Ides of March). Fourteen of them had budgets under $20 million, none were animated, and only 6 were adaptations or sequels (Paranormal Activity 3, The Help, The Ides of March, Harry Potter, Limitless, Diary of a Wimpy Kid). All of this, I think, is good news, as these are the films that make people’s careers.

The worldwide results admittedly look much more like the franchise/adaptation/animated features list that BSR posted about, as does the list of films in places 21-60 (the 100-200% of budget range). But I think this is an interesting point: comedies and horrors sell well on spec, and can launch a career, as can a good drama.

What do you think?


Catching Up

December 26, 2011

It’s been a while. My last post was three months ago, and since then a whole lot has happened. With the end of the year coming up, I’ve been thinking about my annual completion of goals/creation for the New Year, but in the meantime there are just so many things I want to talk about.

  • Acting: Went on cast for the Texas Renaissance Festival, and pretty much accomplished everything I set out to do. Created a swordfight that everyone was talking about. Won Performer of the Day on the third weekend, and Best New Character at the end of the season. Made a lot of friends, and had just a ton of fun. And I’m setting myself up to do more with that (hopefully in a way that I can actually make money at it) in the coming year.
  • Books I’ve read: Reading for AFF seems to slow things down on the reading front. Up to a point this year, I was counting the number of books I read, and then I stopped, because it just seems weird that the entire couple of months I’m reading 30+ scripts, I don’t get to count any of that toward my book count. But whatever. I’ve been on a crusade looking for self-published books that have sold well, as a possible avenue to finding property to adapt into movies. To that end, I just got done with Waiting for White Horses by Nathan  Jorgenson. As a storyteller I felt the drama could have been much more consistent; as a screenwriter I felt it could have been much less meandering; as an editor I felt it was way overnarrated; and as a product of the twenty-first century I would have preferred the plot move in a different direction. But the literary fictionist in me could appreciate it for what it was – a product of love, and a deeply personal story to which anyone familiar with rural America can relate.
  • Movies I’ve seen: Been a lot of these. Two of the recent ones – and also two of the best I’ve seen this year – were Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (in IMAX – totally awesome) and Midnight in Paris. Both had really well-written scripts with strong character voices.  Also watched the entire first season of Dexter (and can’t wait to see more), and got to see some amazing stuff at Austin Film Festival – the ones I still think about, and talk about, are The Artist and Butter.
  • Screenwriting: Taking ScreenwritingU’s ProSeries. Although I am, at this point, about three weeks behind, the information and the attitude of the class is really amazing, and I’m hoping to spend the next week or two catching up. Tonight I get to watch The Usual Suspects, starting with the end first. Fun. The script I’m working on is the true story of Ragen Chastain, the world’s only plus-sized professional Country & Western competitive dancer. And I’m continually taking Postville to the next level.

I guess that’s it for now. Catcha in the New Year for completion and goals.


Drama: The Absence of Action or Results

March 18, 2009

There’s a personal development program I participate in, and as part of that, I was today looking at my most recent “training issue” and the structures I’m putting in place to have a breakthrough around that.

My most recent training issue is Give up drama and arrogance.

On reflection, I find this very interesting.  I am a very dramatic person.  It makes perfect sense.  I grew up as an actor, I’m now a writer, and so for most of my life I’ve been trained in how to add drama to everything I do.  It’s a strong suit; being dramatic is, in a sense, what I rely on to produce results.

The irony is that for me, as with most people, my strengths and weaknesses are very closely related, and this area is no exception.  Because the way this translates into life is it’s all about me and how difficult it all is and how I’m suffering and failing and as I look at all of that, whether it’s around work or relationships or my marriage or cleaning my effing house, it’s all kind of silly and gross.

So now that I’ve distinguished it I can be responsible for it, and I can be dramatic where it serves me (in my writing or performing) and I can give up the drama where it doesn’t.

Where it starts to get even more interesting is when I started to look at the structures to put in place around giving up the drama.  What everyone keeps telling me is that I’m addicted to insights, and that I need to stop “seeing things” and start doing and being in action.  Which led me to the following structure for having a breakthrough: “…instead of looking for insights and talking about it, I am getting into action. Being in action in all areas of my life is an access to giving up the drama, since drama only exists in the absence of action or results.”

Let’s look at that last sentence again: Drama only exists in the absence of action or results.

I’ve long been revering McKee for his insight that story exists in the gap between expectation and result, and I think I’m on to something else here, too.  Because where drama occurs in a film or a book is in those moments when there is no action or when results are not being produced.

Think about it.  When are the “dramatic” moments of a film?  It’s not when someone’s blowing up a car or getting chased down an alley, it’s when there’s a pause in the action; when people are talking to each other about themselves or others.  The drama in The Dark Knight occurs when Bruce Wayne is sitting in the penthouse saying, “She was gonna wait for me, Alfred,” or when Alfred tells him “Some people just want to watch the world burn.”  Crashing into a skyscraper in Hong Kong and then returning to the plane while it’s in mid-flight isn’t dramatic, it’s just cool.

To take it a step further, there’s a whole genre of movies called “drama.”  These are the movies that come out in the fall, and are the ones that win Oscars because they’re deep and moving and meaningful, but when you look at the plot of these movies, typically speaking, not a lot happens.  The Shawshank Redemption is not a high concept flick filled with people doing stuff or producing results.   It’s a story about what happens to our hero between the decisions he makes.   The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is clearly dramatic, but when you talk about that movie, you’re not talking about the things he  does.  In Star Wars on the other hand, you do talk about the things they do – blowing up the Death Star or using the Force.  Where’s the drama?  “No, I am your father …”

Which means that if you’re looking to create drama, have the characters slow down and talk.  Have them fail to produce the desired results (save Rachel Dawes’ life, kill Darth Vader, get a new trial based on Tommy’s testimony). And if you’re not looking for drama, then don’t – have them be in action and actually causing something and producing results.


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