— $64.6 million
Fox’s $12 million teen super-power thriller is exactly the type of movie that many movie-buffs love to complain never gets made anymore. Where are all the sensibly budgeted movie ideas?! Every. Single. Movie released these days is a dumbed-down action tentpole! As much as the Internet whines, a film like Chronicle (or The Woman in Black, The Grey, Project X, The Lucky One, Contraband, Think Like A Man, The Vow, Magic Mike, or 21 Jump Street — all of which were made for $30 million or less) is always a refreshing reminder that these films still exist. Chronicle‘s tracking was distressingly low in the weeks leading to its release, but Fox effectively captured a young Twitter-friendly demographic with a smart (and cheap!) viral advertisement about people flying in New York City. When it debuted in February, the lo-fi story scored $22 million and garnered good word-of-mouth (it’s a totally fresh twist on the superhero genre), which led it to a sturdy $64.6 million.
— $63.1 million
21 Jump Street wasn’t the only breakout R-rated comedy in 2012. Ted, which opened last weekend with $54.4 million, scored the best debut ever for an original R-rated comedy. (The Hangover Part II and Sex and the City opened higher, with $85.9 million and $57.0 million, respectively.) The $50 million Mark Wahlberg/Mila Kunis feature, which was directed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, led the box office to a June record without the use of 3-D, IMAX, or any explosions. And with an “A-” CinemaScore grade, it’s headed for a finish in the $150-200 million range. It will likely be Universal biggest hit in 2012 (sorry, Battleship).
The Devil Inside (Paramount)
— $53.3 million
How can a truly awful horror movie, which received an “F” CinemaScore, plummeted 76 percent in its second weekend, and dropped from number one to number 25 in three weeks, be on this list? Because it cost $1 million to make and earned $33.7 million in its debut weekend — that’s how. The Devil Inside hit theaters at the perfect moment in the post-Paranormal Activity “found footage” zeitgeist (both are Paramount films), and though it didn’t possess the top spot for long, its breakout debut on Jan. 6 kicked off 2012 with a bang. On the downside, it also spawned the inevitable 400 found-footage horror movies that will be released over the next two years until they go the way of torture-porn.
Magic Mike (Warner Brothers)
— $44.1 million
Magic Mike, which was financed for just $7 million by Steven Soderbergh, proved to be truly magical at the box office, scoring a sizzling $39.1 million in its debut weekend. The male stripper film brought in legions of women — the same crowds that turned out in droves for Sex and the City and The Vow, yet for some reason are still not recognized as primary Hollywood targets. Sure, a more appropriate title for the film might have been Magic Mismarketing (the film is much darker than the glitzy trailers would lead you to believe), but Warner Bros. was savvy — waiting until just a month before its release to roll out trailers and whore their stars out on TV, leading to a massive groundswell of excitement. It could become Channing Tatum’s third $100 million hit in six months.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Search.) — $40.6 million
The British comedy, which stars Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and Maggie Smith, has quietly turned into this year’s Midnight in Paris — a lighthearted trifle with European sensibilities that lit up the box office. Fox Searchlight has a knack for effectively platforming limited releases so as to give them maximum box-office potential, and despite never playing in more than 1,298 theaters or climbing higher than sixth place on the chart, Marigold has humbly trotted away with $40.6 million in the U.S. over the past nine weeks — and $122.6 million worldwide. Not bad for a travelogue starring accented octogenarians!
The Secret World of Arrietty (Disney) — $19.2 million
You’ve got to give Disney credit for remaining totally committed to bringing Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films to the U.S. despite the fact that they always post modest numbers. In 2002, Spirited Away earned only $10 million. In 2005, Howl’s Moving Castle earned $4.7 million. In 2009, Ponyo climbed to $15.1 million. But Arrietty, which was only produced by Miyazaki (though it shares his style), suggested that Disney’s strategy is paying off. The film climbed past $19 million during its run — and sure, that’s less than Brave made on its opening day — but foreign movies are tough sells in America, and Arrietty‘s modest success reveals an encouraging trend of box-office globalization. Internationally, the film earned $126.4 million — $100 million of which came from Japan alone.
Moonrise Kingdom (Focus)
— $18.5 million
Wes Anderson’s latest quirky effort is only a few days away from passing Fantastic Mr. Fox ($21 million) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou ($24 million) to become his second-highest grossing film behind The Royal Tenenbaums ($52.4 million). Prospects were immediately encouraging for Focus Features when the $12 million film found an amazing $523,000 from just four theaters in its debut weekend. In the ensuing five weekends, Focus has gradually expanded Moonrise, allowing its weekend grosses to rise without squashing its per theater averages. (Not many movies can boast a $5,769 venue average on their sixth weekend in release.) The sleeper hit may not even be halfway to its final gross — keep an eye on it over the rest of the summer.
October Baby (Samuel Goldwyn) — $5.4 million
The conservatively-valued pro-life drama earned a meager $199,000 during a three-week run from 13 theaters in 2011, but distributor Samuel Goldwyn, who propelled Kirk Cameron’s Christian marriage drama Fireproof to $33.5 million in 2008, picked up the tiny film for a slightly wider release. The film surprised analysts with an eighth-place finish in its debut weekend, after earning $1.7 million from 390 theaters. I won’t argue that the $5.2 million it’s made in 2012 is an especially amazing figure — but what makes October Baby‘s run so impressive is that it reached that level with minimal media attention and no buzz in New York or L.A., where many indies thrive. The heartland hit played in just one theater in New York City.
*Wondering why some of the top grossing movies of the year aren’t included? Well, like I said, cuts had to be made. Sure, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is well on its way to becoming the franchise’s top earner, but it also carried a $145 million budget and benefited from elevated 3-D ticket prices. Yes, Men In Black 3 has found $170 million domestically, but that looks a lot less impressive against a $230 million budget. Indeed, The Woman in Black was a profitable little venture with $54.3 million, but was its performance actually more impressive than Chronicle‘s? I don’t know — but then, this is all rather subjective. (Unless you’re trying to argue that Dark Shadows, Battleship, John Carter, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, or A Thousand Words were successful. Then you’re just wrong.) That’s why I’m letting you sound off in the poll and comments below: