Feature Animation Falls Short At the 2014 Global Box Office


For the first time in 17 years, no animated feature earned enough global box office dollars to rank among the top ten-grossing worldwide theatrical releases.

The year’s highest-grossing animated feature, DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, is barely hanging onto the tenth spot amongst 2014 releases with $618.9 million, but will be bypassed later this week by The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (the lists are determined by the release date of a film, regardless of whether its run extends into the following calendar year). There is still a longshot possibility that Disney’s Big Hero 6 will enter the top ten, but it would require a phenomenal performance in its remaining territories, including China.

The lack of a top ten film for the animation industry is especially surprising considering the strong performance of animation in recent years. Last year, three of the top ten global grossers were animated, including the top film of the year Frozen. In each of the previous five years, at least two animated features have landed on the list, and in 2010, a remarkable five out of ten top-grossing films worldwide were animated.

The last time an animated feature failed to make the list of top ten global grossers was 1997, an era that bears scant resemblance to today’s robust animation marketplace. That year, just three films received wide releases, none of which were computer-animated: Hercules, Anastasia, and Cats Don’t Dance. At the time, Pixar had relesed a single film—the original Toy Story—and many of today’s biggest American producers, like DreamWorks, Blue Sky, and Illumination, had yet to release films.

The good news: it’s unlikely that feature animation will fail to make the top ten list two years in a row. With two Pixar films and Illumination’s The Minions scheduled for next year, American feature animation is poised to make an impact on the 2015 global box office.

  • Adzl33t

    Well the Lego movie is still one of the most successful early winter releases

  • Strong Enough

    Still surprised Dragon 2 wasn’t that big of a hit. it doesn’t make much sense.

    • Harrison

      Perhaps between the first and second films, people’s interest wore off with how much time it took. I know mine sadly did.

      • Funkybat

        I was still interested, but giving away a major (probably THE major plot point) in the trailer was damned stupid. I also found the film to be heavier and frankly a bit of a bummer for reasons obvious to anyone who saw it. Like “No Country For Old Men” it was an extremely well-made film that I am glad I saw. Once. It was a good story with great animation, but unlike Lego Movie or Big Hero 6, it didn’t leave me wanting to see it again any time soon, it was just kind of a harsh ride. Even Secret of Kells, which is hardly a “fun and games” film, ended on a positive enough note for me to want to see it a second time right away. Just didn’t get that with Dragons 2. I do hope there will be a third feature, as I like the characters and the world, I would be interested to see where things go from there.

    • jonhanson

      I was surprised to learn that and now I’m surprised once more to learn that after all the talk about it’s failure it’s the top grossing animated film of the year. Unfortunately I feel like this speaks more to the weak performance of other films rather than anything else, which is a shame because I thought it was a fantastic film.

    • http://www.bobharper.com Bob Harper

      I thought it was a wonderful film, but I think two factors for it not being a bigger hit are that the TV series has devalued the property a bit and they released major spoiler in the trailer.

    • KLA

      The thing is, 10 years old is about the maximum age most kids get before thinking animated movies are “just for kids”. Four is is enough time for kids’ (and other people’s) tastes or interest to change and I think that’s what happened here.

      • cetrata

        And then when the 10 year olds become (hopefully smart) adults, they see that animation is more than just a genre and more of a medium.

      • http://brittanyyvonnepenn.wix.com/portfolio Brittany

        I don’t know animation seems pretty trendy to teens on the internet, probably more because of anime though. Sure some of the stigma is still there but I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as it used to be. The oscar judging crowd though, now there’s a bias…

  • George Comerci

    I’m really not surprised, to be honest. Aside from The Lego Movie, I don’t really think any of the animated films this year were really that impressive. Just my opinion.

    • Denise

      It’s basically an hour long youtube video. Don’t even understand how it became (somewhat) popular.

      • ZJ

        I had fun with the LEGO Movie, but I agree with you that the hype it has been receiving is bizarre and completely undeserved. Was it fun? Yes. Was it so good that it deserves to constantly find top 10 spots in critics’ ‘end of year’ lists? No…heck no. Yet that is exactly what is happening. Critics are acting like it was more than a sugar-fueled, pop-culture riddled romp when it wasn’t.

        In my opinion, HTTYD2 was superior to it and I find it really sad that it didn’t make as much money as it deserved.

        • Funkybat

          I lived both HTTYD2 and Lego Movie a lot, but one I saw once and one I saw 3 times. Care to guess which?

          Lego Movie was way better than I expected, but it wasn’t just the exceeded expectations that had me bowled over. Pretty much everything I have seen by Miller & Lord has been solidly entertaining, like A- or better, every time. From Clone High to Lego Movie, those guys just seem to be able to nail the kind of mix of humor and relatable life situations that entertain me. I keep underestimating them, thinking Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs looked OK but going back to see it twice, thinking 21 Jump Street sounded like another lame reboot with actors I am only mildly amused by, and yet again and again they knock it out of the park.

          I’m sure some of it’s a matter of personal taste, but despite how well-done Dragons 2 or Big Hero 6 were, The Lego Movie is probably gonna be my favorite animated feature of 2014.

    • KLA

      I disagree, but only in the sense that I think it was HTTYD2 that was impressive while everything else was just kind of meh.

    • Raspyberry

      I think The Lego Movie is impressive, but it’s definitely not the only one.The quality & variation of features this year trumps last year’s batch, that’s for certain.

  • Reinstrom

    You’re saying like as if box office equals quality

    • WarriorMermaids

      I don’t think anybody implied that. But how much money these movies make impacts what kinds of animated films we’ll get in the future.

      • Funkybat

        Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who DO seem to equate box office tallies with “quality.” I have a friend who judges mainstream films on how well they do in the first few weeks & how much “buzz” he hears from co-workers and friends. I know he’s not alone, for better or worse. Me, I’d rather see a film based on a mix of critical reaction (both film critics and audience reactions) and topic/type of film. I know what I’m gonna like and am rarely disappointed by films I choose to see. But again, I would imagine I am the exception.

  • John

    Well Big Hero 6 isn’t even out in many countries yet including the UK.

  • http://tresportfolio.tumblr.com/ Tres Swygert

    To be honest, was it suppose to this year? There were some wonderful feature films that came out this year, but not enough to make crowds get really intrigued to watch them when some came out.

    I am still shocked of the lackluster performance for How To Train Your Dragon 2, especially when it was a wonderful film, and no other animated film was competing against it during its release. No Pixar or Illumination Entertainment, and DreamWorks still couldn’t dominate the box office (though its returns weren’t terrible like Mr. Peabody & Sherman).

    Some wonderful films this year, but not enough for people to come in droves unfortunately…so I guess it wasn’t too expected as one would hoped.

  • Inkan1969

    Sounds anecdotal (one year a “Frozen” dominates everything, another year no such film is released) as opposed to systematic.

    • John A

      It’s like how every film released after The Lion King was a disappointment because it didn’t earn the exact same amount. Then Finding Nemo made a lot of money and THAT was the only acceptable number. I agree with the above comment that box office doesn’t equal quality and I hope that in the future studios continue to fund animated films aimed at all types of audiences, without expecting them all to be blockbusters.

      • DJM

        Studios rarely aim their toons to “all types of audiences.”

        • RCooke

          Actually, that’s generally all studios aim their films to. At least, that’s the audience the “studios” want–it’s by far the biggest. Not always successful, as a gamble. But when they win, it’s a cash cow (quickly run into the ground). Films with more specialized audiences can do well for their budgets–and I could not wish more they got wider distribution. The internet has made that possible, along with great sites like Cartoon Brew for publicity.

  • RCooke

    The profit margins of mainline films released this year are listed below. The budgets listed are the promoted budgets; they are usually higher in reality. And the promoted budgets don’t include prints and advertising, which can add up considerably – especially for the larger studios. Conservatively, I would lop off 7% of each major releases final returns to include this, which I have not done here.

    The financial returns listed below do not include home video or foreign and domestic television sales (the big money, sometimes 3 times it’s ww theatrical gross depending on the salability of the product. TV is a gaping maw looking for content—especially family films). They also don’t include ancillary product, such as toys, games, and other promotional items.

    (Different films have budgets arranged tailored to the specific needs of a given production. Larger studio films share overhead costs with multiple productions and usually fund the films themselves. Smaller films have budgets spread over pre-sold markets/scenarios with varying interest rates/plans, which can affect their profitability greatly).

    The only two films worth mentioning I could not find even a basic budgets for were The Wind Rises, which currently has a ww gross of $117,932,401. Having read how Myazaki keeps tight budgets, I would not be surprised if it has turned a profit. And also The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which has made a ww gross of $24,053,660.

    A couple of final notes. Several of the films may not have finished out their world wide rollouts. They absolutely have the chance of making their way up the profitability list. This list for films theatrical releases within 2014.

    And lastly, this list is pure financials – it is not meant to comment on a film’s artistic merit. Except for one.

    Basic financial returns list for this years animated features:

    Lego Movie
    Budget: $60 Million (*promoted cost, minus prints/advertising)
    WWGross: $468,060,692
    Minus cost of production (Potential return): $408,060,692


    Rio 2

    Planes: Fire and Rescue

    The Nut Job

    The films below have yet to turn a basic profit (some of which may have not completed their ww release):

    Big Hero 6 (The only film I know has not completed it’s ww release, to be explicitly fair)

    Peabody and Sherman

    Penguins of Madagascar

    Box Trolls

    Book of Life

    Legends of Oz
    $ – 51,337,973

    hero of color city
    Who cares? Though I do hear it’s still playing in Guantanamo Bay Prison.