How Did 'Inside Out' Break A Box Office Record?

by Michael Arbeiter

In a year that has seen the fourth Jurassic Park film, seventh Fast and the Furious movie, and 11th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe all hit theaters to nauseating levels of box office success, it’s refreshing to see an original movie (one not sequelized, rebooted, adapted, or in any other way ripped off from anything else) meet its own impressive levels of audience attention. Pixar’s Inside Out enjoyed a $91 million opening weekend — the highest ever debut for an original film.

Though it’s not especially surprising that a Pixar film (and one with glowing reviews, no less) should attract mass appeal, it’s still impressive to see Inside Out pulling its weight alongside franchise competitors. Movies like Jurassic World, Furious 7, and Avengers: Age of Ultron draw viewership for likewise understandable reasons: Thanks to familiarity, people know that they can rely on a dinosaur-, high speed chase- or superhero battle-laden film as a worthwhile way to spend two hours and change, so they’ll submit to the same old story in lieu of risking that same time on something new. But what, then, draws the world to see original pictures?

Sure, they’re few and far between among the highest Hollywood earners, but a search through the annals of box office power players will reap a few noteworthy original entries, bound perhaps by a common thread or two. The question isn’t one of whether or not the world still enjoys a good original movie, but of what kinds of original movies it prefers.

Let’s first look at Inside Out’s immediate company: the highest grossing domestic box office openers. Living among the top 100 of this breed are only eight original features: in addition to Inside Out, we have (in descending order) Avatar, The Incredibles, The LEGO Movie, The Day After Tomorrow, Up, Bruce Almighty, and Brave. The readiest observation is the prevalence of not only animation, but Pixar animation: five animated pictures appear on the list, and four of them are Pixar productions (with only Warner Bros’ The LEGO Movie claiming parentage elsewhere).

The top original worldwide openers differ quite a bit from their domestic counterparts, with one fewer picture and only two titles in common. The seven to rank among the top 100 are Avatar, 2012, Hancock, The Day After Tomorrow, Interstellar, Django Unchained, and The Croods. In this lot, we see only one animated film, and a DreamWorks Animation/20th Century Fox flick at that. The list replaces a fixation on animation with one on disaster and adventure. Avatar, 2012, Hancock, The Day After Tomorrow and Interstellar are high-concept, action-heavy science fiction films; Django Unchained lacks the sci-fi characteristic, but tops the lot in action (and blood).

Stepping over to the realm of lifetime box office intake, we see a great deal more original titles taking residency in the top 100 spots. The domestic list boasts 26 originals: Avatar, Titanic, Star Wars, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, The Sixth Sense, Up, Inception, Monsters, Inc., Home Alone, The Hangover, Gravity, Shrek, The Incredibles, Jaws, The LEGO Movie, Despicable Me, Night at the Museum, Men in Black, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Cars, Bruce Almighty, Ghostbusters, Twister, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. On this list, we find 11 live-action science fiction or fantasy films, and, of the animated fare, only five of those films are from Pixar (with Disney beating them in the animated department with six films).

The worldwide top 100 claims only 17 originals: Avatar, Titanic, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, Inception, Independence Day, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Star Wars, 2012, Up, Gravity, The Sixth Sense, Interstellar, Kung Fu Panda, The Incredibles, Hancock, and Ratatouille. Among that lot, we find 10 live-action science fiction or fantasy films and, of the six animated films, five from Disney and four from Pixar.

Lofty concepts, fantastical endeavors, some good laughs, and animation seem to be what it takes to attract audiences of any feature lacking the Marvel banner, a "Based on the book by..." writing credit, or a roman numeral at the end of its title. Inside Out manages all of the above (and with aplomb), making it an unsurprising and worthy candidate for its record-breaking position. Maybe the latest Pixar feature will be a reminder about how good original properties can actually be... or maybe it'll just get people clambering for Inside Out 2. Eh, either way.

Images: Disney; The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures