Understanding the Success of Jurassic World

NOTE: I am currently in Japan. As a result this was written towards the end of last week, and does not reflect the 3rd weekend box office figures for Jurassic World.

Records were made to be broken. Even the ones that seem to stand forever eventually crumble. And it is not all that surprising to see box office records tumbling in 2015 with some major media franchises releasing big films this year. But I don’t think many people would have had Jurassic World being the movie that toppled record after record. In a year where Age of Ultron and The Force Awakens is releasing, it was the sequel to the 1993 beloved classic Jurassic Park that is charging through the competition. And it’s leaving everybody asking, how?

It would be one thing if the movie had received rave reviews from critics in the lead-up to its release. It hasn’t though. For every positive review there’s been an equally negative one. It’s one of the most polarising big name films to come out in some time. The last movie I recall causing such a clear divide in opinions was Man of Steel. The general consensus has been that Jurassic World is good. Definitely better than III, probably better than Lost World (depending on taste) but not as good as the original. And the reviews haven’t been positive enough to win over skeptics.

Now, let’s consider the records it is breaking. Best opening weekend (both globally and U.S domestic) of all time and the first to do half a billion in that first weekend. It’s the fastest movie to one billion, which is did in just 13 days (the record had only recently been broken by Fast 7, which took 17). It’s the fastest movie to $400 million in the U.S, taking only ten days (compared to Avatar – 23 days, Dark Knight – 18 days, Avengers – 14 and this years competition Age of Ultron – 24 days). It is also broke the record for best non-opening weekend ever, beating The Avengers $103 million dollar effort by a couple of million. By doing so it also handed Pixar their first second place ranking for one of their opening weekends since the original Toy Story back in 1995. And it wasn’t like Inside Out did bad numbers, it was one of Pixar’s best opening weekends ever from a money standpoint, but it still wasn’t enough.

It’s not just breaking records, it’s smashing them like Usain Bolt in the 100m sprint. And it hasn’t even released in all markets yet. Japan has to wait until August before it gets a taste of this behemoth. So when will it end, and when the dust is settled how far up the all time list will Jurassic World sit? Right now it is hard to know for sure. But it is going to take a massive fall in interest for it not to at least challenge the third placed movie: The Avengers, which sits at $1,518 million (Furious 7 sits just behind that and then Age of Ultron at $1,367 million). That will take around another $500 million, which even accounting for fall-off might only take another two weeks.

Beyond that? It’s the two James Cameron juggernauts, Avatar and Titanic (I want to come back to Avatar in a couple of months, so keep an eye out for that). Titanic sits at $2,186, million and then it’s a substantial leap to Avatar at $2,788 million. Even taking into account the sheer numbers it has been doing, achieving another billion, or nearly two, is a tall order. It’s unlikely it will reach either of Cameron’s movies at this stage. But I’m stating that with nothing to back it up. There’s no proof it won’t keep going from strength to strength over the next few weeks. Jurassic World has captured the movie going public much like Avatar did. There was so much hype surrounding the sheer numbers it was doing that it encouraged people to see what all the fuss was about. Success bred more success. The main difference was that Avatar was being pushed as a technical marvel.

So why? Why has Jurassic World done the numbers it has? Sometimes there is no definitive answer, but there is a couple of potential reasons. First of all, Universal were relentless in their marketing campaign. Trailers were everywhere in the weeks leading up to it, and it had a strong overall media presence. It is also possible Chris Pratt is even more marketable than we first thought. Jurassic World has a good cast, but Pratt is the only star name. This won’t really be tested until his next movie though, but between this and Guardians of the Galaxy Chris Pratt could be Hollywood’s most wanted new star.

The other factor that is hard to argue with is the timing of the movie. Jurassic Park released in 1993, twenty-two years ago. That is plenty of time for the nostalgia to kick in, while still being able to present the franchise to a new audience. And Jurassic World is going to win over kids just like the original did. Even ignoring the sheer numbers it is doing, we were probably going to see an increase in dinosaur related media again (reboot Dino-Raiders anyone? I have said it was primed for a Michael Bay attack). But perhaps equally as important, is that it has been 14 years since Jurassic Park 3. That was a disappointment to most fans, but it’s been long enough since its release that people were ready to give the franchise another chance. It was also the last dinosaur themed movie that received any kind of major cinematic release, so fans of the genre were ready for more anyway.

The other thing is, maybe people were just relieved to see something other than superheroes getting the Hollywood treatment. That’s not to say the superhero genre is already heading down (Age of Ultron is the 5th highest grossing film of all time, and it did that on mixed reviews). But the media has been saturated with Marvel and DC talk. Dinosaurs provide a nice alternative to that. Needless to say, if people were sick of franchises being revived, Jurassic World’s success has done that sentiment no favours.

The next question that has to be asked, quite simply, is how will all these records fare against Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Everyone, including myself, predicted this year to be a two horse race between Age of Ultron and The Force Awakens. That prediction was already shaken by Fast and Furious 7 which ended up outperforming Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. That makes 2015 an impressive four horse race, all surrounding movies which will do (presumably) over $1.3 billion.

But The Force Awakens has no competition in the cinema around its time, whereas Age of Ultron and Furious 7 did, and even Jurassic World has had to deal with some big name family films, and soon has Terminator Genisys to worry about. Star Wars is between the end of the Oscar hopeful season and the black hole of January. So the only thing standing in the way is the distractions of Christmas and New Year.

But Jurassic World has set perhaps a new standard of box office success. Believe it or not, it is becoming less of a feat to reach a billion at the box office now. With Jurassic World getting there we now have 22 movies to hit the mark, and there could be a couple more by the end of the year (Star Wars, plus Minions, Inside Out, Hunger Games and more could all challenge for it). Given the cinematic landscape, it’s not unreasonable, perhaps even probable, to think that number will double by the end of the decade. It’s still an impressive achievement, but once upon a time reaching that mark put you in truly elite company. Now, you join Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland at the table.

Now, speed it perhaps key. Jurassic World sits alone at the $500 million opening weekend mark, but the final Harry Potter movie wasn’t too far from getting there. Reaching this will be a true testament to hype and brand popularity. We know it’s possible now, so of course the companies will try to get their film to that mark. Now it might not be hitting a billion dollars, but doing it in less than two weeks and joining only The Avengers and Jurassic World at that point. Or maybe the true benchmark rises from one billion to one and a half (four movies right now, with Jurassic World aiming to be the fifth).

There is no denying the Jurassic World juggernaut. It has dominated the pop culture news since the release and all reports over the next couple of weeks will still revolve around either reflecting on the numbers it does or comparing every release with it. It is still somewhat perplexing to me. I figured it would do well, but I figured since the franchise was arguably one for three in ‘great’ movies that it would need to win back over fans, especially when the early reports were mixed, which is the same reason why I feel Age of Ultron didn’t make even more money than it did. But if Jurassic World can recapture the minds and hearts of the mainstream audience, then the other major companies will all be trying to knock it off its perch.


One comment

  1. Great article as always. Box office profits and critical success though are two totally different things. To be honest, only one of those things interests me at all. I would rather a great film that flops than a bad film that makes a lot of money. Some would scoff but bad films that make money seems to encourage more bad films to be made. The aim should always be to balance marketability with creativity.


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