Family Films Fuel The Industry

Rick Hamada
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Wednesday - June 18, 2008

Summer in the cinema means Hollywood blockbusters. From a money standpoint, however, it is clear that family fare at the multiplex is where the cash is.

The tally for this year has yet to be finalized. You can bet that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Hancock will be near the top of the list. But for consistent financial performance, family movies are the bread and butter of the film industry. I can see Kung-Fu Panda and WALL-E topping the box office list at the end of this year. Why? Because those of us with kids are thirsting for decent entertainment our whole family can safely enjoy.

Consider the USA’s box office numbers of all time. Titanic, released in 1997, is still on top of the world. It has remained at the top ever since its first year. However, the next 17 of 20 top-grossing U.S. films are considered family-friendly (suitable for kids under 17). As a matter of fact, nine of the top 10 movies are family films. I may be stretching the definition somewhat. I am including the Spider-Man series, Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films. Personally, I am not a Harry Potter fan and would pass on bringing my kids to see them. However, the MPAArating is PG-13 or less and therefore I do include them.


Last year was a banner year for family-themed movies. According to IMDb, the Top 10 movies of 2007 are:

1) Spider Man 3
2) Shrek 3
3) Transformers
4) Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
5) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
6) I Am Legend
7) The Bourne Ultimatum
8) Alvin and the Chipmunks
9) Ratatouille
10) The Simpson’s Movie


I Am Legend starring Will Smith is an apocalyptic look at a virus out of control, virtually destroying all human life. The Bourne Ultimatum featuring Matt Damon is the third installment of a government assassin trying to recover his life taken from him by the “Agency.” I saw both movies on pay-per-view, alone. But, as far as heading out to the theater, we saw three of the 10. Not too bad - that’s 30 percent of releases. If not for Shrek 3, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Ratatouille, we would have stayed home. Another contributing factor to the family movie financial success is repeat viewings. We saw Alvin and Ratatouille twice.

But simply because a family movie is made doesn’t mean it will succeed. The 2007 version of The Ten Commandments, an animated feature starring Sir Ben Kingsley, was an absolute disaster. It had a great story and wonderful cast, but it was one of the worst-performing releases of the year. The premise for success still holds for family films as it does for traditional ones. If the marketing and distribution aren’t there, it won’t fly. If the film isn’t that good, it probably will fail.

Regardless, family movies are still the financial backbone of most studios and help generate box office revenues, keeping the film business relevant and profitable. Movies with moral messages, positive characters and uplifting themes will always trump films that slash, torture, maim and destroy. Even if you don’t agree with the conclusion, there is no disputing the Hollywood barometer of victory - the dollar bill.

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