In the last two decades the film industry has adapted to the demands of the internet, social media, DVD piracy, illegal downloading sites, and streaming sites as Netflix. It’s a complex situation with fluctuating results, but for the movie studios in Hollywood it’s still a highly profitable. Business is booming – in 2013, Disney’s Frozen became the highest grossing animated film in history.

20 years ago everything was a bit different. 1994 was a particularly iconic year for cinema, with many classics such as Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, The Lion King, Shawshank Redemption, and The Mask released to commercial and critical acclaim. The industry was riding high on the success of 1993’s Jurassic Park, in which special effects stunned the world and ushered in a new era of cinema. Back then, to market their films, studios were restricted to newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and an array of billboards. Advertising was wholly much more difficult, but earnings were still vast.

Separated by two decades, a statistical analyses of a year in budgets and revenues reveals just how things have changed. This is the film industry: 1994 vs 2014.


Forrest Gump

From 12 months which boasted a remarkable amount of enduring classics, there were a selection which proved to be notable smash hits. As cited by Box Office Mojo, these were the 10 highest grossing films of 1994:

  1. The Lion King ($877 million)
  2. Forrest Gump ($677 million)
  3. True Lies ($378 million)
  4. The Mask ($351 million)
  5. Speed ($350 million)
  6. The Flinstones ($341 million)
  7. Dumb and Dumber ($241 million)
  8. Four Weddings and a Funeral ($245 million)
  9. Interview with the Vampire ($237 million)
  10. Clear and Present Danger ($215 million)

It was a year of new stars and record breaking results. Pulp Fiction proved a sensation as it was made on a budget of $8.5 million, yet gained over $213 miliion at the box office as glowing reviews, and word of mouth, launched the film to success. Quentin Tarantino hasn’t looked back since, reeling off numerous hits such as Kill Bill and Django Unchained.

The two Jim Carrey comedies were an indication of the Canadian’s comedic talent, and box office pulling power. Despite being panned by critics, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (on a budget of only $15 million) amassed some $107 million, making it the 24th most successful film of the year (the 1995 sequel made over $200 million). This catapulted Carrey to international stardom, and launched him into roles in The Mask and Dumb and Dumber.

Conversely, The Shawshank Redemption (despite now regularly featuring in the Top 5 of many “Best Films Ever” lists – it recently placed 4th in Empire magazine’s reader poll) had a poor box office run. Made for $25 million, it only scraped to $28 million in global revenue. In 1995 a successful VHS rental campaign, and word of mouth from enthusing filmgoers,  earned the film the recognition it deserved.

Advertising in 1994, as in contemporary cinema, often hinged on an effective trailer and poster campaign. Lining up major stars for the film was vital, as noted with Tom Hanks (having just won an Oscar for Philadelphia), and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s still impressive clout in James Cameron’s True Lies.

Film critics played a vital role during all this. In modern life, film fans can head to Rotten Tomatoes to gain an aggregated score from the global critical response. In 1994, the likes of Roger Ebert and the UK’s Mark Kermode were imperative to find out a film’s worth, as were newspaper reviews. Quotations began appearing on poster billboards singing a film’s praises (some of which were spurious), a practice used to this day.


Captain America

Although it’s only halfway through the year, what’s transpired in the first six months of the year displays the ongoing popularity of film. Whilst there is more piracy to contend with now, along with streaming video services such as Netflix and YouTube, the film industry is booming. So far in 2014, once more courtesy of Box Office Mojo, the 10 highest worldwide grossing films are:

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (totals as of 29th May 2014: $708 million)
  2. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($676 million)
  3. The LEGO Movie ($461 million)
  4. Rio 2 ($449 million)
  5. Noah ($345 million)
  6. X-Men: Days of Future Past ($340 million)
  7. 300: Rise of An Empire ($340 million)
  8. Godzilla ($325 million)
  9. Mr. Peabody & Sherman ($267 million)
  10. Divergent ($264 million)

There is no denying worldwide gross totals are up on 20 years ago, and there are several potential reasons for this. Since 1994 there has been a population explosion, standards of living have risen, and advertising is more precise than it ever has been.

What won’t come as a surprise is the vast differences in film budgets over 20 years. In 1994, The Lion King cost $45 million to make, whilst Captain America was $170 million. Disney are still riding on the success of 2013’s Oscar winning Frozen – the budget this time was some $150 million. This rapidly became their highest grossing film ever, finally eclipsing The Lion King’s after two decades of dominance. This also makes Frozen the most successful animated film in history.

Ironically, in the 2002 science fiction film Minority Report, audiences were startled to come across personalised advertising in the fictional world. This, however, is now a reality. The internet allows brands to target us, as individuals, based on our browsing history. Social media devices, such as Snapchat and Twitter, also allow film studios to advertise themselves very effectively. Famously, in 1999, The Blair Witch project was one of the first films to utilise the internet to portray its (fictional) story as a real event. The film cost less than a million dollars to make, yet eventually grossed in a staggering $248 million worldwide.

Modern film market, thanks to social media, is a personalised event. Furthermore, emerging technologies are turning it into a tangible experience. 3D printing technology has been on the rise since 2012, and film studios are using its unique potential to wow fans. Of particular note was The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, who offered blueprints to print off a 3D Key of Erebor. Warner Bros UK’s Danni Murray from Warner Bros UK and Ireland stated the reasoning behind the idea, “We asked Microsoft to come up with a solution that challenged the previous conventions around what was possible with its display offering and we’re confident this interactive campaign will excite and engage fans as they journey into the second film in the Trilogy”.

Whether this is a short lived gimmick or will be commonplace is unclear, but what’s clear is the film industry has come a long way in two decades. The marketing world has more than kept up, and we head into the second half of 2014 with

Highest and Lowest Grossing Films Ever


On a final note, for some interesting statistics, the five highest grossing films of all time are as follows:

  1. Avatar ($2.78 billion)
  2. Titanic ($2.19 billion)
  3. Marvel’s The Avengers ($1.52 billion)
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 ($1.34 billion)
  5. Frozen ($1.2 billion)

Director James Cameron dominates the top two places, and Avatar 2 is expected for 2015. Conversely, the lowest grossing films are believed to be (based on respective worldwide revenue compared to budget):

  1. 47 Ronin (Budget: $225 million – Worldwide Gross: $150 million – Loss: $149 million)
  2. Mars Needs Moms (B: $150 million  – WG: $38 million  – L: $130million )
  3. The 13th Warrior (B: $160 million – WG: $61 – L: $129 million)
  4. The Lone Ranger (B: $250 million -WG: $260 million  – L: $120 million)
  5. R.I.P.D (B: $154 million million – WG: $78 million – L: $90 million)

47 Ronin (2013), starring the once bankable Keanu Reeves, was met with general disdain from critics. In 2003, Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai proved a big hit amongst the Japanese – one of its target audiences. 11 years later, 47 Ronin failed in its attempts to replicate this success (suggesting Reeves is losing his star power, once in abundance during the mid-late 1990s). However, Johnny Depp’s The Lone Ranger was another miserable failure following mediocre reviews. This indicates a star name isn’t a guaranteed hit – the film has to be good quality. Audiences expect it, and no amount of effective advertising will mask a terrible film.