Superheroes and animated creatures hog top 10 releases

Pixar's sequel Finding Dory (above) feels like part of a connected universe and superhero flicks such as Captain America: Civil War get blockbuster promotion.
Pixar's sequel Finding Dory (above) feels like part of a connected universe and superhero flicks such as Captain America: Civil War get blockbuster promotion.PHOTO: WALT DISNEY
Pixar's sequel Finding Dory feels like part of a connected universe and superhero flicks such as Captain America: Civil War (above) get blockbuster promotion.
Pixar's sequel Finding Dory feels like part of a connected universe and superhero flicks such as Captain America: Civil War (above) get blockbuster promotion.PHOTO: WALT DISNEY

WASHINGTON • Some viewers bemoan the domination of animated and comic-book films at the multiplex, but the current figures for 2016 bear out why Hollywood is not markedly altering its recipe anytime soon.

Of the top 10 new films at the North American box office this year, all 10 releases are either animated or almost entirely CGI, or a superhero-universe flick.

Suicide Squad, which just opened to US$135.1 million (S$182.2 million) over the weekend, now sits at No. 10, nudging out what would have been the lone exception to the comics-and-pixel sweep: Star Trek Beyond (US$127.9 million).

Ahead of Warner Bros/DC Comics' Suicide Squad are four other superhero-world flicks, four animated features and Disney's The Jungle Book, which is both a remake of an adapted cartoon and a film created almost completely "in computer", virtually animated.

To take a closer look, here are the year's top 10 releases (with North American totals as of Sunday): 1. Finding Dory (US$473.9 million) 2. Captain America: Civil War (US$407.2 million) 3. Deadpool (US$363.1 million) 4. The Jungle Book (US$362.7 million) 5. Zootopia (US$341.3 million) 6. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (US$330.4 million) 7. The Secret Life Of Pets (US$319.6 million) 8. X-Men: Apocalypse (US$155.4 million) 9. Kung Fu Panda 3 (US$143.5 million) 10. Suicide Squad (US$135.1 million)

Some non-fans of these films might look at this list and harrumph with charges of a "dumbing down" at the box office - a gripe that would undersell the more thoughtful and intelligent of these movies, including Pixar's Dory entry, which happens to be the biggest North American release of the year.

Yet, there are bigger conclusions to be drawn from this list.

1. Franchise branding is certainly good for business

Eight of the films on this list are sequels, remakes or part of a larger, connected series of films (even if Deadpool is a far cry from the Deadpool of 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The only fresh entries here are the animal-centric animations Zootopia and The Secret Life Of Pets.

It is a stark reminder: In a crowded marketplace for building awareness, pre-branding breeds a built-in audience, which helps a film studio hedge its bets.

2. Animals are the fuzzy opiate of the masses

When trying to appeal to a massive general audience, it is tough to beat an animal act.

All five animated and/or mostly CGI-painted films on this list are centred on critters, from marine life to domestic life, from an anthropomorphic metropolis to the jungle.

It is also worth noting that in the domestic top 20 are two other creature-friendly films: No. 15, The Angry Birds Movie (US$107.1 million) and No. 20, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows (US$81.6 million).

3. Animation and superhero franchises get blockbuster promotion

Of the year's top 10, it is highly likely that only Fox's Deadpool - which had a reported production budget of US$58 million - had a pre-promotion price tag of less than US$60 million.

(Note: The official budget is not available for three of the animated films, but their high-end, CGI-visual quality points to budgets significantly higher than Deadpool's.)

That means that most of these films are huge investments, which only boost a title with pre- awareness. And nine of the 10 films have a huge parent in either Disney, Warner Bros or Fox.

4. The power of the connected universe

Iron Man (2008) really kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which of course includes this year's biggest live-action film, Disney/ Marvel's Civil War.

All five comic-book films on this list are sequels or part of connected superhero universes, with Batman V Superman sharing connective tissue with Suicide Squad as Warner Bros/DC Comics builds towards Justice League.

These days, even Disney/Pixar's deft sequel Finding Dory can feel like part of an evolving connected universe waiting to happen.

So until the next Star Wars film opens, prepare for superhero features and animated creatures to dominate this year's list.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Superheroes and animated creatures hog top 10 releases'. Print Edition | Subscribe