Nobody looks forward to the first quarter of theatrical releases. January and February, in particular, are probably the worst months of the year to go to the movies. Statistics even back it up (check out this helpful infographic on Slate.com).
But 2014 has so far proven to be a nice surprise in a few key ways, offering an unusually high number of the two types of films most people might have figured Hollywood had given up on: family-friendly and faith-based ones.
And there was also “Noah” — in other words, a very odd beginning to the year in movies, with enough highlights and missteps to keep things interesting.
With box office information from Box Office Mojo, here's a look back at the first three months of 2014 in film.
Without a doubt, this quarter’s biggest hit was “The Lego Movie.” Warner Bros.’ toy-to-film adaptation rode a wave of (mostly unexpected) critical praise and positive word of mouth from audiences, who gave it an “A” CinemaScore rating.
What’s more, it not only managed to spawn a new catchphrase but also pulled in an impressive $250.7 million in U.S. ticket sales, singlehandedly lighting up an otherwise ho-hum February box office. Worldwide, its box office totals a little more than $410 million. And all that on a reported production budget of only $60 million — $9 million less than what the film made in just its first weekend.
Needless to say, Warner Bros. is already hard at work on a sequel.
Almost as surprising as the box office numbers for “The Lego Movie” is the fact that it was just one of a few high-profile movies targeting families this quarter — a rare occurrence these days.
Just a few weeks after “The Lego Movie” opened, March saw the release of DreamWorks Animation’s CG redo of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, two characters parents (or grandparents) might remember from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” Even though the big-budget animated time-travel flick hasn’t been quite as much of a hit in terms of box office here in the states ($102.4 million on a $145 million budget), audiences who turned out to see it scored it highly. OK.com users, for instance, gave it an 87 percent Worth Your Time rating (compared with “The Lego Movie’s” 94 percent). Also, like “The Lego Movie,” it earned an “A” CinemaScore.
Finally, at the tail end of March, Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” brought Jim Henson’s felt creations to the big screen for the eighth time since 1979’s “The Muppet Movie.” Despite a soft opening ($17 million in the U.S.) and complaints that there wasn’t enough Kermit, “Muppets Most Wanted” suffered only a 33.7 percent drop in its second weekend ($11.3 million), meaning it could still wind up earning a reasonable profit for the House of Mouse.
Although, really, there’s no reason to feel too bad for Disney right now. Despite the fact that it came out last November, Walt Disney Animation Studio’s “Frozen” has been making headlines all through the first months of 2014 due to its unending series of box-office triumphs.
The multiple Academy Award-winning film is now the highest-grossing animated feature of all time, surpassing “Toy Story 3” to the tune of more than $1.097 billion worldwide (and Idina Menzel belting out “Let It Go,” of course). That also means it’s now one of the 10 highest-grossing films, period. Can there be such a thing as a re-renaissance?
All in all, this combined lineup of films (including “Frozen,” which got another boost in January from a singalong release), together with a few smaller movies such as “The Nut Job,” made for one of the best first quarters for family audiences in years.
Everything wasn’t quite as awesome for the slightly older demographic, but this year hasn’t been a total bust, either, thanks to the first installment in what could be the next big young adult movie franchise.
Opening on the same weekend in March that proved so successful two years ago for “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” didn’t quite put up Katniss numbers — $54.6 million compared to the jaw-dropping $152.5 million for “The Hunger Games.” For comparison, the other huge YA franchise starter, “Twilight,” made $69 million in its first weekend.
Nevertheless, the first installment adapted from Veronica Roth’s sci-fi series looks like it’s on track to be a success for Summit Entertainment, especially considering the books’ relatively small fan base next to previous YA adaptations such as “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” and the fact that other recent movies based on YA series have not fared overly well. “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and Stephenie Meyer’s “The Host,” to name a few, all proved to be costly duds for their respective studios, making “Divergent’s” current domestic box office of $114.8 million (on a budget of $85 million) a respectable accomplishment. Early predictions have it finishing its domestic theatrical run at around $160 million — more than enough to earn a sequel.
Unfortunately, other movies aimed primarily at teens and 20-somethings haven’t been on quite the same level. DreamWorks’ video game-to-movie adaptation “Need for Speed” and Lionsgate’s comic book movie “I, Frankenstein” were both met with harsh reviews and weak audience reactions.
“I, Frankenstein,” which stars BYU grad Aaron Eckhart, bears the dubious honor of being one of the worst-reviewed movies of 2014 with a 4 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. One of the highest, on the other hand, is “The Lego Movie” with 96 percent.
However, both “I, Frankenstein” and “Need for Speed” have actually performed pretty well overseas, so don’t be too surprised to see an announcement for a “Need for Speed 2: Even More Speed” or “We, Frankensteins” in the not-too-distant future.
Faith-based entertainment and ‘Noah’
The frequently talked about resurgence of biblical films in Hollywood kicked off in earnest with this year’s February and March releases, and so far, for better or worse, it looks like it’s a trend that might stick around for a while.
First, “Son of God,” Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s theatrical recut of scenes from History Channel’s “The Bible” miniseries, proved a big success among audiences, if not among critics. With an “A-” CinemaScore and a 95 percent Worth Your Time rating on OK.com, the religious film overcame its 22 percent Rotten Tomatoes score to gross around $58.5 million domestically — not bad for a movie that was mostly cobbled together from pre-existing footage.
The other, even higher-profile biblical film released so far this year was, of course, Darren Aronofsky’s less-than-faithful adaptation of the story of Noah from the Book of Genesis.
In spite — or perhaps because — of the controversy in the months leading up to the film's March 28 release, which included everything from rumors of studio intervention in the editing room to cautionary disclaimers being appended to advertising materials to irate religious test audiences and even an irate director, the Russell Crowe-starring fantasy epic managed to draw in a sizable audience, earning the fourth largest opening weekend so far in 2014 with $43.7 million (plus an additional $51.1 million overseas). Those figures, along with audience attendance fueled by the divisive nature of the film, helped it easily clear its $125 million budget.
Audiences, though, have apparently not been onboard with some of Aronofsky’s artistic liberties. The film earned a “C” CinemaScore and currently has a 35 percent Worth Your Time rating on OK.com.
In between “Son of God” and “Noah,” however, another Bible-related movie managed to squeeze into a handful of theaters and make headlines for itself: “God’s Not Dead,” starring ’90s TV vets Kevin Sorbo (of “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” fame) and Dean Cain (“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”).
The guerrilla success of movies such as “Son of God” and “God’s Not Dead” could open up the market for a style of biblical filmmaking that Hollywood may not have banked on — not the large-scale epics of directors such as Aronofsky and Ridley Scott (whose next film is “Exodus: Gods and Kings” with Christian Bale as Moses), but films made by Christians for Christian audiences.
Overall, 2014 is off to an interesting start. In a year where an American “Godzilla” actually looks like it could be good and an upcoming Marvel movie stars a talking, gun-toting raccoon, these kinds of record-breaking box-office numbers, new trends and weird developments could wind up being par for the course, making 2014 one of the more unexpectedly remarkable years in recent mainstream cinema.
Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. Along with writing for the Deseret News, he also contributes to the film discussion website TheMovieScrutineer.com.