If you'll recall, last year I ran a post taking a look at that top twenty-grossing films of 2009 and extrapolated some lessons that writers might take from knowing what's popular with audiences. Well, with 2010 behind us, we can now take a look at the trends of the past year. Here's a look at the top domestic grosses for 2010.
1) Toy Story 3 - $415 million
2) Alice in Wonderland - $334 million
3) Iron Man 2 - $312 million
4) The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - $300 million
5) Inception - $292 million
6) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I - $284 million
7) Despicable Me - $251 million
8) Shrek Forever After -$238 million
9) How To Train Your Dragon - $217 million
10) The Karate Kid - $176 million
11) Tangled - $169 million
12) The Clash of the Titans - $163 million
13) Grown Ups - $162 million
14) Megamind - $144 million
15) Tron: Legacy - $135 million
16) The Last Airbender - $131 million
17) Shutter Island - $128 million
18) The Other Guys - $119 million
19) Salt - $118 million
20) Jackass 3-D - $117 million
First off, there are fully seven films that are part of a franchise (Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Harry Potter, Shrek Forever After, Tron: Legacy, Jackass 3D). Five of those are in the top ten!
Two other entries are remakes of older movies: The Karate Kid, Clash of the Titans
On top of that, five films are adapted or based from other mediums: Alice and Wonderland, How To Train Your Dragon, Tangled, The Last Airbender, Shutter Island (not counting the sequels already listed in the franchise category.)
Number of animated films: 6
So if you're planning your new spec script, obviously you can't count on writing a franchise, remake or adaptation. That right there takes out fourteen of the top 20 films as something YOU could have written.
Animated specs are long shots as well. There are only three serious animation houses in the feature business and you'll find that stories tend to be developed in-house at those studios. So let's take those off the table.
Number of original spec scripts in the top ten: 1 (Inception.)
What are we left with when we remove franchises, adaptations, and animation from the Top 20? Inception, Grown-Ups, The Other Guys and Salt.
That's basically two high concept comedies and two high concept action-thrillers. If you're writing for the market, comedy, action and thriller would be where I'd concentrate my efforts.
Do you know how far down the list I had to go to find a drama? The Social Network at 29. And after that it took until Eat, Pray, Love and Dear John at 37 and 38 respectively. And guess what? Both of those were based on novels. Spec dramas did not finish well on the yearly chart at all.
Straight-up dramas are a longshot. True, they can often be low budget, meaning that a failure to appear in the top 50 films doesn't necessarily mean they weren't profitable. But you won't need the entirety of one hand to count all the original drama specs in the top 100 films of the year!
But what do a lot of first-time writers write? Drama.
Yes, The Social Network is brilliant - but that came from one of the mediums strongest writers - Aaron Sorkin, and a director who's able to make even the most unlikely material compelling, David Fincher. (Could anyone else have made the nearly three-hour Zodiac as engrossing?)
Consider yourselves warned.