More importantly, there were approximately 1.36 billion tickets sold, which is higher than 2011 (1.28 billion) and 2010 (1.34 billion). While it isn't anywhere near the 2002 high of 1.58 billion, it still confirms that, even with the ever-increasing options for home entertainment, people will head out to movie theaters if the product is appealing enough.
As always, though, there were both winners and losers at the box office this year. Instead of breaking it down by title, we've decided to highlight a few trends in both the positive and negative column.
Superheros: Two of the most-anticipated superhero movies ever were released in 2012, and from a box office perspective they didn't disappoint. After five lead-ins, Marvel team-up movie The Avengers set an incredible new opening weekend record ($207.4 million) on its way to $623.4 million, which makes it the highest-grossing movie ever not directed by James Cameron (its worldwide total is over $1.5 billion, which also ranks third all-time behind Avatar and Titanic). Meanwhile, The Dark Knight Rises wound up below The Dark Knight at the domestic box office ($448.1 million vs. $534.9 million), though its gross still ranks seventh all-time.
The Amazing Spider-Man wasn't in the same league as The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises—or, for that matter, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies—but its $262 million (and $752 million worldwide) proves that rebooting a character just five years after a successful trilogy is financially viable. Finally, Chronicle was the highest-grossing found-footage movie of the year with $64.5 million, which suggests that the sub-genre isn't only for horror flicks.
Computer Animation: It wasn't the best year ever for computer animation—thanks to Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me, that title still belongs to 2010—but it was a very, very good one anyway. Six titles made over $145 million at the domestic box office: Brave ($237.3 million), Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted ($216.4 million), Dr. Seuss' The Lorax ($214 million), Wreck-It Ralph ($176.6 million), Ice Age: Continental Drift ($161.2 million) and Hotel Transylvania ($145.5 million).
Interestingly, these six titles came from six different animation houses—Pixar, DreamWorks, Illumination, Disney Animation, Blue Sky, and Sony Pictures Animation—suggesting that the animation industry as a whole is doing incredibly well (with two noteworthy exceptions, but we'll save that for later).
Politics: Political movies tend not to perform well at the box office and, with the presidential election dominating headlines, it would have been easy to expect that to be the case again this year. Instead, movies with a political tie-in found tons of success in 2012.
The greatest example is Lincoln, which opened in nationwide release less than two weeks after the presidential election; by the end of the year, it has racked up a remarkable $134.2 million, and it still has plenty of money left to earn. Argo wasn't quite as political as Lincoln—the context of the Iranian Hostage Crisis was secondary to the espionage thrills—though its $108.7 million gross in 2012 is still remarkable for a movie with such heavy real-world subject matter.
On the lighter end, Will Ferrell-Zach Galifianakis comedy The Campaign quietly wound up being one of the biggest comedy hits of the year with $86.9 million. Finally, 2016 Obama's America became the second-highest-grossing political documentary ever with $33.5 million.
Channing Tatum: Channing Tatum went in to 2012 as a punch-line and came out of the year as an A-list movie star. The actor headlined three $100 million movies—21 Jump Street ($138.5 million), The Vow ($125 million) and Magic Mike ($113.7 million)—which had a combined budget of around $80 million.
Tatum is so in-demand now that part of the stated reason for pushing G.I. Joe: Retaliation back nine months was so that they could resurrect his character by adding some more scenes in. Between G.I. Joe, Steven Soderbergh drama Side Effects and Roland Emmerich actioner White House Down, 2013 should be another great year for Tatum.
Lionsgate: In 2012, Lionsgate made a very compelling case for consideration as the seventh "major" studio. To kick off the year it acquired Summit Entertainment, which meant that the final Twilight movie's grosses ($800 million and counting worldwide) wound up in Lionsgate's coffers. More importantly, Lionsgate struck gold with The Hunger Games, which ranked third at the domestic box office this year with an incredible $408 million (three sequels are on the way over the next three years). Overall, Lionsgate/Summit earned $1.26 billion at the domestic box office this year, which ranks ahead of Fox and Paramount among major studios.
Wall Street was apparently thrilled with all the news coming out of Lionsgate this year: in 2012, the company's stock price nearly doubled to an all-time high over $16 per share.
Three of the biggest box office successes this year don't clearly fit in to any of the above categories. The 23rd James Bond movie, Skyfall, obliterated all previous franchise records: its $290 million domestic gross is over $120 million more than previous record-holder Quantum of Solace, and it's the first 2D-only movie to gross $700 million overseas since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003/2004.
Speaking of The Lord of the Rings: after underwhelming a bit in its debut, The Hobbit wound up righting the ship a bit and is on pace to wind up with around $300 million at the domestic box office and around $1 billion worldwide. That's a huge accomplishment, though it remains to be seen how its lukewarm reception in some corners will affect the performance of its sequels.
Finally, Seth MacFarlane comedy Ted was one of the biggest surprises of the year with $218.8 million, making it Universal's highest-grossing movie in a year that they released big-budget movies like Battleship, Snow White and the Huntsman and The Bourne Legacy. Remarkably, the movie also played really well overseas, and is only the second R-rated comedy ever to earn over $500 million worldwide.
Continued with a look at the losers in 2012 >>
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• 2013 Preview
• Domestic Box Office Sets New Yearly Record in 2012
• Blockbuster Franchises Help November 2012 Destroy Record
• October Starts Strong, Ends on Down Note
• 'Hotel Transylvania' Tops Solid September
• Awful August Ends Summer 2012
• Five $50 Million Debuts Propel June Business
• 'Avengers' Accounts for Over Half of May 2012 Grosses
• 'Hunger Games' Tops Average April
• March 2012 Easily Sets Record
• 'The Vow,' 'Safe House' Lead Record-Breaking February
• January 2012 Improves on Atrocious Start to 2011
• 2012 Preview
• Franchises to Rule Again in 2012
• Sequels, 3D Can't Save 2011
• 2012 Grosses (2012-only releases)