Warner Bros. has a Banner Freakin' Year

Health care is a mess, the car industry is a joke and the economy just plain sucks. But even with these problems the movie industry saw its most profitable year in history. The truism is that while the economy falters, people don’t go to confession or seek the guidance of a spiritual adviser: they go to the movies. Even with rising ticket prices, movies are still relatively cheap compared to other leisure activities (i.e., attending a rock concert, sporting event) and they make for an easy escape.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. is estimating a record box office gross in 2009 with a worldwide total of $3.99 billion. Domestically, the number is $2.12 billion, a new record for the studio. The overall total is a new benchmark for the movie industry.

Though, the number is due in large part to the studio releasing twice as many films (28) compared to its closest competitor Paramount, who released thirteen films in 2009.

Last year, Warner Bros. had the mega successful sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight. That film grossed more than $500 million in the U.S. alone. This year, the studio had some surprises.

• The sixth installment in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, accounted for nearly 25% of the studio’s earnings, including a worldwide gross of $939 million. It’s success was a given, but it was only $16 million away from overtaking the first Harry Potter film as the most successful entry in the franchise.

• When I reviewed The Hangover I mentioned that it would make a lot of money thanks to good word-of-mouth. Little did I know that the R-rated comedy would overtake the original Beverly Hills Cop as the most successful restricted comedy of all time. It made $459 million worldwide.

The Blind Side, the third Sandra Bullock film that was released in 2009 (after the very successful The Proposal and the horrible All About Steve), was a sports-related movie that appealed to men, women, families, church groups. This $25 million movie has gone on to gross more than $184 million domestically.

• The studio had a few busts (Whiteout, Watchmen, Where the Wild Things Are), but they were minor compared to some other studios.

• Where Warner Bros. has really exceeded this year is taking medium-size budget movies (between $20 to $40 million) and have them be semi-successful at the box office. For example:

He’s Just Not That Into You made $176 million worldwide
17 Again made $135 million worldwide
Friday the 13th reboot made $91 million worldwide
The Final Destination made $183 million worldwide

Only five studios managed to break the $1 billion domestic mark. Warner Bros. is followed by Paramount (due in large part to the success of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Trek and Monsters vs. Aliens), Sony, Disney and 20th Century Fox. Universal Pictures only managed to make $848 million out of 16 films released. That’s roughly $53 million for every movie released. Not a good ratio.

As to whether or not Warner Bros. can have the same success in 2010, the studio’s slate includes:

The Book of Eli (Jan. 15), Edge of Darkness (Jan. 22)
Valentine’s Day (Feb. 12), Cop Out (Feb. 26)
Clash of the Titans (Mar. 26)
The Losers (Apr. 9)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Apr. 30)
Sex and the City 2 (May 26)
Jonah Hex (Jun. 18)
Inception (Jul. 16)
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (Jul. 30)
Lottery Ticket (Aug. 30)
Going the Distance (Oct. 8 )
Prisoners (Oct. 22)
Due Date (Nov. 5)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows (Part 1) (Nov. 19)
Yogi Bear (Dec. 17)
Life as We Know It (Dec. 22)

Look for those in BOLD to make some serious bank.

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