Yeah, I’m a bit late with this.
Here are the top-grossing movies domestically for 2011 (domestically refers to Canada and the U.S. As you’ll see, worldwide grosses paint a somewhat different picture):
1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 $381,011,219
2 Transformers: Dark of the Moon $352,390,543
3 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 $281,287,133
4 The Hangover Part II $254,464,305
5 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides $241,071,802
6 Fast Five $209,837,675
7 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol $209,278,301
8 Cars 2 $191,452,396
9 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows $186,842,737
10 Thor $181,030,624
This list can be summed up thusly: YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT TOO MANY SEQUELS. EVER. Exactly one of the top 10 movies is not a sequel and it — Thor — is based on a licensed property and is in a genre (superhero films) that has had titles cranked out regularly over the past decade.
Let’s have a look at each film and figure out why they made buckets of money (apart from exorbitant ticket prices).
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. If you include ‘in 3D’ this becomes one of the longest movie titles ever but no one can keep an accurate count of how many Harry Potter movies there are (7? 8?) so it never got called Harry Potter 7 (or 8), typically being referred to as simply ‘the new Harry Potter’. The success of this is no surprise because it wraps up the saga and all of the HP movies have done well. Most of them have been looked kindly upon by critics, too, which never hurts.
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Regarded as better than #2 (the very definition of damning with faint praise) the third installment proves the least popular of the trilogy (when taking into account ticket sales and not inflated ticket prices) — not a good sign for Michael “BLOW IT UP” Bay but $352 million even in 2011 dollars isn’t chump change, so this series seems safe for awhile or until it’s run into the ground (with Bay directing, this will probably literally happen).
3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1. Another popular series, the sparkly vampires continue to draw in its loyal audience with the penultimate film (at least until Twilight: The New Generation or something comes along). Like Harry Potter, they are squeezing out a few more bucks by splitting the last book into a two-part movie. While I can see this for HP, given that the first book was about 300 pages long and the last was about 10,000, it seems more of a money grab for Twilight. But hey, I have not read the books nor seen the movies, so who am I to judge? As a bonus, even the critics seem to be warming up to this saga of pasty white teenage/werewolf/undead love.
4. The Hangover Part II. Hey, another sequel. Weird! This one seems to have coasted a bit on the success of the first movie. A third is all but inevitable and probably won’t do as well. This will not stop a fourth or fifth from being made. This is the only live action comedy to make the top 10, proving again that for whatever reason people do not like to go to movies to laugh. Maybe the ticket prices put filmgoers more in the mind frame for tragedies.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. In North America the wind seems to no longer be in the sails much for this, although overseas it’s still incredibly popular (over $802 million), so Johnny Depp can probably continue to wear eye makeup (and get paid for it) into the foreseeable future.
6. Fast Five. I am surprised at the resiliency of this series. The April release would suggest it was viewed as not cut out to be a summer movie yet it did boffo box office. People really like Vin Diesel and fast cars, it seems. Don’t blame me if Diesel uses this to leverage a new Chronicles of Riddick movie, I never saw it!
7. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. Another sequel, another surprise. After a tepid reaction to #3 people returned in greater numbers to watch Tom Cruise running again. He can probably crank out a few more before shifting into the inevitable character (‘I’m too old to be a leading man anymore’) parts.
8. Cars 2. The second worst-performing Pixar movie ever and after adjusting for inflation the worst. While you can’t really call a movie that makes close to $200 million a flop, it clearly underperformed. This is what happens when merchandising is a primary consideration and the audience can sense it. This won’t stop them from making Cars 3 before The Incredibles 2, though. There is no justice. This was the only animated film to crack the top 10, a bit unusual in itself.
9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Exemplifying both ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ and ‘more of the same’ the sequel to Sherlock Holmes managed to do almost as well as the first, which means it’s probably considered a failure of sorts. Expect more explosions or zombies or exploding zombies in the third one.
10. Thor. Wait, this isn’t a sequel. How did this get here? Thor is, of course, based on the Marvel comic character and under the direction of Kenneth Branagh (!) it proved a solid hit. But before they can stamp out Thor 2, Thor 3 and Thor 4: I Adore there’s The Avengers movie this summer. I find it hard to imagine a sequel to this but on the other hand, do we really want them to remake The Incredible Hulk again?