One-off hits were the box office superheroes in 2016
10:29 11 January 2017
Last year was a good one for cinema in the UK. And for once our cinema-going hasn’t been dominated by superheroes.
There is still nothing quite as thrilling as sharing an evening with hundreds of like-minded souls enjoying a breathtaking evening at the cinema.
2016 was the year when we saw the return of Bridget Jones, one-off hits have returned to the top of the box office tree, a classic has been successfully re-invented, Star Wars has returned with a bang but surprisingly the world of the superhero didn’t prove quite as popular as it once did.
In 2015 almost 172 million sampled the delights of watching a film on the big screen and after such a record breaking year no-one thought that 2016, with a seemingly smaller roster of blockbuster films, would top it – but it has, even before the final figures are in.
In 2015, total takings for UK cinemas passed £1 billion on October 25, this year it sailed past that figure on October 8, long before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opened to phenomenal business and before the latest Harry Potter film Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them blew all the competition away.
2015 had been dominated by a few hugely popular films. The three biggest films, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Spectre and Jurassic World, earnt a total of £282m between them. Last year the box office rewards have been spread far more evenly.
In 2016 more mid-range films have done well without scoring the record receipts garnered by a smaller cluster of films from the year before.
Looking at the Top 20 films for 2016, it is reassuring to see that there is a good spread of different types of movies. It’s the first year that the top end of the film chart hasn’t been dominated by superheroes of varying flavours.
In fact there are only six superhero movies in the Top 20 and one of those, Deadpool, is an ironic tongue-in-cheek anti-superhero, movie, so really there are only five traditional superhero films this year which has allowed a much more diverse cinematic diet to flourish.
Of the superhero films only Captain America: Civil War, which was really another Avengers film is all but name, was a critical hit. Deadpool was universally lauded but could it be considered a real superhero movie?
As you would expect franchises continue to do well. Star Wars remains the biggest franchise contributing two hugely popular films to 2016 – one at each end of the year. Star Wars: Force Awakens in January and February and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in December. The Force Awakens, a 2015 release, grossed £35.9m in 2016 while Rogue One hauled in an impressive £17.3m in its opening weekend.
At the other end of the Top 20, Star Trek: Beyond, the other great sci-fi franchise, brought in a respectable UK gross of £16m.
But, it’s not just about money, although the box office take is also a measure of popularity it’s only part of the story. Critical acclaim and good word of mouth can also persuade audiences to invest their time in a trip to the cinema and last year’s Oscar films had only mixed success. The only Oscar winner making the Top 20 was Leonardo di Caprio’s backwoods survival drama The Revenant, which finished up in 12th position while Spotlight, the tale of investigative journalists unmasking child abuse in the Catholic church, languished in 49th position. The topic was always going to be a hard sell even with the collective might of the excellent Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucci.
Times have changed and you have to wonder how well All The President’s Men would do in the current action and comedy driven climate.
But, if the Oscar winners and the great sci-fi titans didn’t top the box office charts in 2016, what did? The top film of the year was Disney’s live action re-make of The Jungle Book. Directed by the ever-reliable and often over-looked Jon Favreau, it matched a real-life boy (Neel Sethi as Mowgli) in a real-life jungle filled with hyper-real CGI animals voiced by some of the great actors of our time.
Ben Kingsley voices Bagheera the panther; Idris Elba is the evil tiger Shere Khan; Scarlett Johansson is the hissing snake mesmerist Kaa; Christopher Walken is the voice of King Louie the fire-hungry ape and Bill Murray delivers an outstanding vocal turn as the pleasure-seeking slacker Baloo the Bear.
Considering that Disney’s original animation is a classic, it was a brave decision to revisit the story and a work of inspiration to turn it into a 21st century classic. It will be interesting to see if the CGI animals last as well as their hand-drawn ancestors.
The second most popular film of the year was Bridget Jones’s Baby which was a glorious return to the screen for the most disorganised TV producer on the planet. Written by the original book’s author Helen Fielding with additional scripting by Emma Thompson, it gleefully wiped away all thoughts of the terrible first sequel, 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and provided a neat conclusion for the original 2001 film Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Renée Zellweger can still conjure up a very impressive English accent and all the supporting cast (with the exception of Hugh Grant) are present to give the film authenticity and so it provides a satisfying and entertaining end to Bridget’s story.
It is unlikely that there will be a sequel to Steven Spielberg’s take on The BFG. This Roald Dahl classic, starring a CGI enhanced Mark Rylance, was a huge hit in the UK, finishing tenth in the year-end box office chart but died a death in the USA. It seems that Dahl’s dark storytelling doesn’t travel as well as it used to. Spielberg was very faithful to the original book, creating a dark moody atmosphere and maybe that was what put off young viewers in the States.
One of the biggest surprises of the year was the success of the book adaptation The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt. This one-off taut thriller pulled in the crowds based solely on Blunt’s star persona, good reviews and the popularity of the book. All good reasons but many great films have failed to convert such pluses into ticket sales in the recent past.
A measure of its success was the fact that it was able to top Matt Damon’s return as Jason Borne, even though it was helmed by returning director Paul Greengrass.
Elsewhere, the box office chart shows that despite a drubbing from the critics Dad’s Army proved to be a popular success landing at 33 in the year end figures, with Eddie the Eagle just above it at 32 while Absolutely Fabulous the Movie did absolutely fabulously securing the 22nd spot.
Tim Burton continues to weave his magic over cinema audiences with his gothic tale Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children landing 27th place while Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight did well to land 39th place with an 18 certificate.
Such a diversity of films and ones which showed a reassuring amount of originality gives us hope that 2017 may prove to be even more entertaining.