Less than three months ago, Bloomberg Businessweek published a piece suggesting that there was a glut of animated features. Now, in July, animation is enjoying its best-ever year at the American box office, carving out well over 20% market share among films released in 2016 and breaking two all-time records this weekend alone.
First, let’s talk about the big record: Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets scored an estimated $50.6 million in its second weekend, enough to secure first place over the launch of Ghostbusters ($46m est.), assuring that an animated film is the number one film in America for a fifth consecutive week. (The first three weeks of this record are held by Finding Dory.)
Cartoon Brew examined American box office records dating back to 1982, when weekly top tens were first documented in the current manner, and found that it is the first time that animated features have held the top spot at U.S. theaters for five weeks in a row. It also matches the 2010 record of 11 overall weeks in which an animated film has came in first place at the domestic box office.
After two weeks in theaters, Secret Life of Pets has grossed $203.1m domestically, making it the seventh-highest domestic release of the year. The film which has yet to open in most international territories, added $4.4m abroad. Its global total is currently $254 million.
Coming in fourth place, Pixar’s Finding Dory grossed $11m in its 5th weekend, lifting its cume to $445.5m. That means the film has now surpassed the $441.2m of Shrek 2 to become the highest-grossing animated release in U.S. history. It should be noted that if the film’s numbers were adjusted for inflation, Shrek 2 would still beat Dory, but considering that the Shrek 2 figure had stood for 12 years, it’s still a significant accomplishment for Dory to take it down. And one record that Dory cannot be denied is that it’s currently the highest-grossing domestic film release of 2016.
When Dory’s $276.2m international total is added in, the film has grossed $721.7m globally, a number that will continue to climb for some time.
Not to be forgotten, Blue Sky’s fifth installment of its Ice Age series, Ice Age: Collision Course, scored $53.5m internationally, boosting its overall total to $127m. The film opens in the United States next Friday.
And this brings up another point: animation is not just booming in the United States—it’s booming all over the globe. Take a look at the top four films by worldwide gross this weekend:
- Ghostbusters: $65.1 million
- The Secret Life of Pets: $55 million
- Ice Age: Collision Course: $53.5 million
- Finding Dory: $47.5 million
It’s not a fluke occurrence. For those of us observing the industry, the overall trajectory for animation has been up, up, up for decades. There’s been peaks and valleys of course, but the trend is clear: audiences enjoy cartoons and want more of them.
And yet, Hollywood remains paralyzed by the belief that animation is either a kids or specialty art form, and that too many of them will saturate the market. Even the people who make animation are skeptical of their own success. In 2013, when 10 animated features received wide releases, Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg proclaimed, “We’ve never experienced this level of animation congestion in a period of time,” while Illumination head Chris Meledandri publicly worried about animated films “cannibalizing” each other. This year, there will be at least 15 animated features with wide releases, and animation is likely to have its biggest year ever in terms of both box office gross and market share.
This so-called animation glut that everyone fears can only happen if animation producers get lazy and make the same kind of films. That is clearly not happening right now. As we pointed out last week, Secret Life of Pets is attracting majority adult audiences while Dory skews younger.
Next month is going to be even more interesting when we’ll see a couple major releases that break the mold in brand new ways: a raunchy R-rated CG animated feature (Sausage Party) and a stop motion fantasy/action-adventure (Kubo and the Two Strings). Neither film is tracking to be a blockbuster on the scale of Dory or Pets, but neither should they need to be huge hits. A healthy animation marketplace should provide different types of animated films for different tastes—both grandiose and intimate, funny and dramatic, adult-oriented and kid-oriented.
We’re still quite a ways off from a robust animation marketplace, but 2016 is bringing us closer to that ideal than ever before.