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?


Super Dialogue

June 13, 2011

Watched Super 8 last night. And again, I’m thinking about dialogue.

The adults in this movie are pretty easy to tell apart. They have very few group scenes, and they all have very clear goals that they’re working toward.

More interesting to me is the kids. You’ve got four boys who make up a pretty big chunk of the movie, and they’re always together. So what do they do? Each of them has a particular characteristic that gets exploited again and again in dialogue. Every line Cary has is about blowing stuff up. Every line Martin has is about being a wimp. Every line Charles has is about his movie, or bossing someone around. It makes it real easy for us to know who’s talking when, and it gets tons of laughs.

The other thing I kept thinking about: I remember reading an article once where the author talked about how patient James Cameron was in Alien; that it was an hour into the film before we saw a full-fledged battle with the monster, and up until that point it’s mostly people peering around dark corners with the knowledge that the threat is there. This kept on showing up for me in Super 8, because it’s literally about two-thirds of the way through the movie before we see a nonblurry shot of the actual threat. I actually feel like Abrams could have been more subtle throughout this process, foregoing the track-in-and-horrified-scream and just leave us wondering at people’s disappearance, but even so, it was a really strong choice to build up suspense in this way.

Overall, great job mixing suspense with humor. IMDb was afraid that Super 8, like some of the other things Abrams has done, wouldn’t deliver. I think it did. Well worth the watch.

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