2011’s Highest-Grossing Films Were All Sequels

Monday, December 12 by
"Familiar is good," the studios chanted. "Familiar is good." 

These are the highest-grossing films of 2011 so far. And barring some sort of last minute miracle, there isn’t much likelihood that the list will change. David Fincher‘s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, due out December 21, could possibly steal #8 or #9, but at this point, it’s a long shot.

9. Captain America – $176,654,000
8. Thor – $181,030,000
7. Cars 2 – $191,446,000
6. Fast Five – $209,837,000
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $241,071,000
4. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II – $249,388,000
3. The Hangover Part II – $254,464,000
2. Transformers III: Dark of the Moon – $352,390,000
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – $381,011,000

Seven sequels and two comic-book adaptations round out the list. In case you were looking for the highest-grossing original premise for a film, you’ll have to scroll past #10 (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) to find Bridesmaids, one of the year’s few cinematic causes celebres.

I realize that bitching about the lack of original ideas is pretty unoriginal in itself, but this list demonstrates just how little both studios and audiences want to make or experience something new. I feel like the quality of these films almost takes a backseat to the glaring lack of originality.


The films vary in quality, as one would expect, but I’m not really inclined to hate on these movies for a variety of reasons. Mostly, though I have avoided them like the plague, and don’t feel qualified to speak on the matter. That said, the banality of this list compels me to attach each film’s Rotten Tomatoes score to it.

9. Captain America – $176,654,000 – 78% RT
8. Thor – $181,030,000 – 77% RT
7. Cars 2 – $191,446,000 – 38% RT
6. Fast Five – $209,837,000 – 78% RT
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $241,071,000 – 33% RT
4. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II – $249,388,000 – 26% RT
3. The Hangover Part II – $254,464,000 – 35% RT
2. Transformers III: Dark of the Moon – $352,390,000 – 35% RT
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – $381,011,000 96% RT

This list contains one excellent movie, the good movies, and five bad movies. When viewed through that lens, it’s little surprise that five of the highest-grossing films of the year are bad. Four were good or better. That’s not so terrible, is it?

I think it is, given the familiarity of films. I have always viewed sequels, adaptations, and reboots as a crutch for moviegoers and studios alike. Taking an old idea and repackaging it takes away much of the fun. But people would rather buy a ticket to something they know, even something they know to be mediocre or even bad, than they would take a chance on something that could be great, but could also be a complete mess.

Take a movie like Hugo. It’s 100% family-friendly, possibly the best use of 3D since Avatar, and a seasonal (pretty much) film. It is also regarded as one of the year’s best, having garnered a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has made $26 million dollars in three weeks. It probably will get to $35 million. Twilight made $35 million dollars in the time it took you to read this sentence.

Again, this article isn’t meant to plod through the well-worn territory of “everything Hollywood makes is crap,” but rather offer up some quantitative evidence of what audiences are valuing. It doesn’t make me happy or sad. I really don’t care how much money a film makes or loses. You would have to pay me to care about that. But I do care that these box office takes indicate trends that will dictate what movies will be made in the future. Sure, if Martin Scorsese didn’t make Hugo, he probably would have made another awesome film, probably starring Leonardo DiCaprio. But I’m guessing Scorsese won’t be given another big-budget film for a long time, and that sucks.

Michael Bay, on the other hand, is currently in talks to direct a fourth Transformers film.

Looking at these lists makes me feel like someone just slid a bowl of plain oatmeal under my face. It doesn’t make me mad. It doesn’t make me feel much of anything, other than a smug sense of superiority, which was around way before the list.

So if you wanted to know how much movie goers value “Hey! I know that!” more than they do “Hmmm. That sounds like a great movie,” compare the above lists with this one:

9. Winnie the Pooh – $26,700,700 – 91% RT
8. Arthur Christmas – $25,300,000 – 92% RT
7. Source Code – $54,700,000 – 92% RT
6. Midnight in Paris – $55,900,000 – 93% RT
5. Drive – $34,600,000 – 93% RT
4. Hugo – $26,000,000 – 94% RT
3. Moneyball – $74,000,000 – 95% RT
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – $381,011,000 – 96% RT
1. The Muppets – $56,400,000 – 97% RT

As much as critics and movie journalists discuss the gap between the quality of films and their financial success, the truth is it could be even bigger than we thought.

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