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?


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