Universal; Warner Bros.; Universal; Universal; 20th Century Fox
There are many encouraging effects of Sony Pictures’ decision to allow theaters to screen The Interview on Dec. 25
, but perhaps one of the least acknowledged is the fact that it brings the last original studio movie of 2014 to screens nationwide. It’s probably a minor consideration for Sony (if one at all), but in a year in which all top 10 grossing films stateside were either sequels or based on pre-existing creative properties, the addition of any original creative work born solely from its filmmakers’ imaginations is a significant one.
As Grantland contributor Mark Harris recently laid out
, Hollywood’s entire business model — and therefore, the moviegoing diet of the vast majority of Americans — has been overtaken with sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, reimaginings, and adaptations. As a point of contrast, 15 years ago
, six original films cracked the top 10 domestic grossers of the year. But even prestige-y, awards-y movies that largely don’t bother to compete with major studio releases have also become dominated with telling pre-existing stories
: Just this year, Selma
, The Theory of Everything
, The Imitation Game
, and Mr. Turner
are all based on real people and real events (and all but Selma
, and Mr. Turner
were adaptations of books).
Of course, movies based on other things are often quite good — occasionally, even great — but they shouldn’t be the only
kind of movie. More and more, however, as far as Hollywood is concerned, they are. Original films do still get made, but they are fewer and farther between — of the top 50 grossers of the year in the U.S., just 12 of them are wholly original productions. Last year, that number was 15
As you’ll see in the list below, some of that drop could be chalked up to quality — namely, a lack of it. But as Harris noted in his essay, Hollywood’s resources — both financial and creative — are finite. If the best minds and the most money are being invested in shepherding a suite of franchises scheduled through the rest of the decade
, there is that much less oxygen for purely original creativity to thrive.
Melinda Sue Gordon / Warner Bros.
Total domestic gross: $171,535,531
Total global gross: $635,535,531
Rank for 2014 domestic box office: 15
Let’s set aside for the moment the movie’s wordy portentousness, and marvel instead that co-writer/director Christopher Nolan is using his clout as arguably the most powerful filmmaker in Hollywood today (arguably!
) to make an original movie with as much scope and ambition as this one. Its considerable global box office putsInterstellar ninth worldwide
for the year, and makes as plain a case as possible that investing in a filmmaker’s original vision can pay off handsomely.
In fact, let’s invent a new thing. How about we start calling original filmmakers “human franchises” instead? Perhaps then Hollywood will pay more attention to supporting them.
Glen Wilson / Universal
Total domestic gross: $150,157,400
Total global gross: $268,157,400
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 18
Another human franchise: Seth Rogen, who was
having a very good year (until this month
) thanks to the runaway success of last May’s very funny twentysomething college student vs. thirtysomething new parent comedy. In addition to starring in the film, Rogen produced Neighbors
with his creative partner Evan Goldberg. The duo also wrote, produced, and directed last year’s very funny — and quite original — apocalyptic comedy This Is the End
, and they wrote, produced, and directed The Interview
. What I’m saying here is that Rogen and Goldberg are arguably (arguably!
) the biggest force in original comedy today, and I really, really hope the fallout fromThe Interview
debacle doesn’t diminish their commitment or ability to make original movies.
3. Ride Along
Total domestic gross: $134,938,200
Total global gross: $153,997,819
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 19
An up-and-coming human franchise: Kevin Hart
, who solidified his momentum this year as one of Hollywood’s top comedy stars with this January hit. Hart’s other two films this year — February’s About Last Night
, and June’s Think Like a Man Too
— were a remake and sequel, respectively, and their domestic grosses combined still do not equal Ride Along
’s U.S. box office. Just saying.
Total domestic gross: $126,663,600
Total global gross: $458,863,600
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 21
Many people have rightly pointed at Lucy’s unmistakable box office success and screamed as loud as they could, “SEE! Women CAN kick ass AND make money too!” Months later, female-centric superhero movies Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel were officially announced, and while those movies were long in the works,Lucy’s success surely gave their studios a palpable sense of relief.
If you haven’t already picked up on the theme of this story, however, let me also scream as loud as I can in written form: “SEE! Women IN ORIGINAL MOVIES can make money too! THEY DON’T JUST HAVE TO BE BASED ON COMIC BOOK SUPERHEROES! They can also be metaphysical sci-fi insanity!”
Total domestic gross: $92,168,600
Total global gross: $222,809,600
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 29
Another year, another gift of a fleet, original Liam Neeson thriller. This movie isn’t exactly breaking the mold, but at least that mold isn’t in the shape of a battleship, amirite?
Total domestic gross: $84,705,660
Total global gross: $182,205,660
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 32
Brad Pitt kind of invented the modern human franchise as one of Hollywood’s biggest forces in original and/or impactful filmmaking. (His only sequels to date have been the Ocean’s
movies.) Even when Pitt is making a troubled adaptation of a best-selling zombie thriller, it somehow turns out to be far more inventive and interesting
than it has any right to be. Whether that is also true of this World War II tank drama isopen for debate
, but it is also clear that without Pitt’s support of writer-director David Ayer’s vision, this movie likely would not exist.
Michael Tackett / Warner Bros.
Total domestic gross: $84,525,432
Total global gross: $100,375,432
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 33
Here’s where things start to get maybe a little depressing. Melissa McCarthy is a gift to the world, but this movie — written by McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, and directed by Falcone — was…not. Sold as a raucous comedy, Tammy was instead an almost gentle character drama weirdly punctuated with broad fits of humiliation-based humor. As an attempt to fashion McCarthy into a full-on human franchise, it left a lot to be desired. But thanks to that misleading marketing campaign, it ended up as the seventh highest-grossing original film of the year. Hooray?
8. The Other Woman
Barry Wetcher / 20th Century Fox
Total domestic gross: $83,911,193
Total global gross: $196,570,008
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 35
If it wasn’t already clear, high-concept comedy is the last bastion of original studio filmmaking. And if you’ve been to any high-concept studio comedies lately — likethis quasi-feminist revenge comedy
— you’ll know why this isn’t an unambiguously great thing. Moving on!
9. Let’s Be Cops
Frank Masi / 20th Century Fox
Total domestic gross: $82,390,774
Total global gross: $126,939,075
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 37
10. The Nut Job
Open Road Films
Total domestic gross: $64,251,541
Total global gross: $113,307,962
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 43
Full disclosure: Placing this January release on this list is cheating a tiny bit, since it was based on an original animated short called Surly Squirrel. I felt it was worth including since the same director, Peter Lepeniotis, made both, forming a kind of closed loop of creativity.
But I also wanted to point out that every other major animated feature film this year was decidedly not an original film. It used to be the opposite. It used to be unusual that a feature animation studio would make a sequel or spin-off or adaptation of a popular toy line. This year, it was the rule. (Next year, however, Pixar will release twooriginal movies — Inside Out in June and The Good Dinosaur in November — and not too soon.)
11. God’s Not Dead
Pure Flix Entertainment
Total domestic gross: $60,755,732
Total global gross: $62,630,732
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 45
The Bible — one of the oldest pre-existing stories! — enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity at the box office
this year. But this original Christian-based film, about a college student who challenges his professor’s assertion that God is dead, stood out even more. The independent production opened with $9.2 million in just 780 theaters in March, and then went on to earn more than six times that figure in the U.S.
12. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Total domestic gross: $59,076,019
Total global gross: $172,711,636
Rank for all 2014 domestic box office: 48
Wes Anderson is one of the most original filmmakers working today, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is far and away his most successful film, especially worldwide. Anderson credits writer Stefan Zweig for inspiring his film — Zweig even gets an “inspired by” title card in the movie — but the film’s story, characters, and setting all sprouted from Anderson’s fertile brain (in collaboration with artist Hugo Guinness, who gets a “story by” credit on the film).
Original creativity is always building on outside influences and inspirations. What drives our culture forward, however, are artists like Anderson who take those inspirations and transform them into something new, something we’ve not quite seen or experienced before. It’s that kind of originality that should be celebrated, encouraged, and supported. Without it, that well of inspiration — from which wildly creative adaptations like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie draw — begins to diminish. And we diminish with it.