Who were the big money winners of 2013? The studios, of course

Tara Brady runs through the year’s most bankable box-office trends

It's never a surprise to discover who the biggest winners at the box office are – the studios, dummy. But with Warner Bros fresh out of Batman and Harry Potter films, 2013 heralded some interesting pillow fights and developments among the Hollywood giants.

The billion-dollar price tags seemed awfully high when the House of Mouse snapped up Marvel and Star Wars. But Disney sure knows how to manage a brand. Last month the company announced that it had broken the $1.5 billion domestic box office record it set in 2012. Just for good measure, Disney also surpassed its own international all-time record of $2.3 billion and a global all-time record of $3.8 billion.

Much of this moola can be attributed to the Marvel imprint: Iron Man 3 took more than $1.2 billion worldwide; Thor: The Dark World is still in cinemas after more than $620 million of trade. Monsters University helped with a global run worth some $744 million. Frozen is only clearing its throat.

Universal also has cause to be cheerful. With nearly $919 million in the kitty from a $76 million budget, Despicable Me 2 is the studio's most profitable title in 100 years of trading. The same folks have cause to toast the Ethan Hawke starrer The Purge. That film's $89 million haul from a $3 million investment makes the anarchic horror one of the most profitable projects of the year. No surprise that The Purge 2 is on the way.

This budding franchise's success is indicative of a larger love of horror films during 2013. Mama made $146 million on a $15 million budget. the Evil Dead reboot, though it featured nothing as appealing as Bruce Campbell in the lead, made $97 million from a $17 million outlay. The Conjuring cost $20 million to make but took $317 million in receipts. Similarly – albeit hardly identically – themed pictures such as Dark Skies ($26.4 million gross, $3.5 million budget) and Haunted House ($40 million gross, $2.5 million budget) scored similar successes.

But here's the rub: most of the year's horror success stories are Amerocentric ones. While The Conjuring scared up well more than half of its business outside the US, the same can't be said for Dark Skies, which made only $9 million outside its domestic market, or The Purge, which scored only 28 per cent of its sales in the Rest of World).

In an international marketplace where the Big Hitters need to score more than 65 per cent of business outside the US if they hope to turn a profit, the new breed of horror is largely an Anglophone anachronism. But when the outlay is as low as $3 million or $4 million, the studios don’t need to care what the Japanese or Brazilian figures look like.

Enjoy 2014’s coming genre onslaught.