2012 Box Office in Review: A Look Back at the Highest Grossing Films of the Year and More

     January 1, 2013


It’s January 1, 2013, which means that 2012 is now officially in the rear-view mirror.  Quality-wise, it was a stellar year in film, and with over a month to go before the Oscars there’s still an exciting air of unpredictability surrounding the awards contenders.  2012 wasn’t so shabby box office-wise either, and we thought today would be a nice time to take a look back at the year’s highest grossing films, lowest grossing films, and everything in between.  This year saw a few comedy surprises, the highest grossing Steven Spielberg drama in a long time, a couple of superhero megahits, and the glorious disaster that was Oogieloves.  Hit the jump to take a look at 2012’s Box Office in Review.

the-avengers-team-imageThough there was some formidable competition this fall, nothing came close to touching the highest grossing film of the year: The Avengers.  Marvel’s superhero team-up closed out 2012 with $623.3 million domestically following its record-breaking opening weekend gross of $207.4 million.  The film now stands as the highest grossing Marvel film of all time, shattering Iron Man’s $318.4 million domestic total.

Coming in a distant second was Christopher Nolan’s trilogy closer The Dark Knight Rises with a $448.1 million total domestic gross.  Though nearly half a billion dollars is nothing to scoff at, the film failed to match The Dark Knight’s $534.8 million domestic total.  Rounding out the top three is the highest grossing non-sequel on the list, The Hunger Games.  The adaptation of the wildly popular book series netted $408 million domestically, which is an impressive feat when you factor in that this was an untested film property that didn’t enjoy the uptick of 3D prices.

the-hunger-games-jennifer-lawrenceMaybe not-so-coincidentally, the top three domestic grossers also hold the top three highest opening weekends of the year with $207.4 million, $160.8 million, and $152.5 million respectively for The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Hunger Games.

At fourth place is Sam Mendes’ stellar entry in the James Bond franchise, Skyfall, with a $289.6 million domestic total.  The pic is the highest grossing James Bond film of all time and recently crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide.  Nipping at Skyfall’s heels is the final entry in the Twilight franchise, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2.  The teen vampire pic scored $286 million domestically, making it the third highest grossing Twilight film behind New Moon‘s $296.6 million and Eclipse‘s $300.5 million.

The rest of the domestic Top 10 is rounded out by two sequels (The Hobbit at #8 with $221.7 million and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted at #10 with $216.3 million), one reboot (The Amazing Spider-Man at #6 with $262 million), and two original properties that feature animated elements (Brave at #7 with $237.2 million and Ted at #9 with $218.6 million).  In fact, in the entire Top 20, only four films aren’t based on any pre-existing material or people: BraveTed, Wreck-It Ralph, and Hotel Transylvania.

Here’s the full domestic Top 20 chart for films released theatrically in 2012:

Rank Movie Title Total Gross (Domestic)
1 The Avengers $623,357,910
2 The Dark Knight Rises $448,139,099
3 The Hunger Games $408,010,692
4 Skyfall $289,600,000
5 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 $286,433,000
6 The Amazing Spider-Man $262,030,663
7 Brave $237,259,580
8 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey $228,693,000
9 Ted $218,665,740
10 Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted $216,391,482
11 Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax $214,030,500
12 Men in Black 3 $179,020,854
13 Wreck-It Ralph $175,505,332
14 Ice Age: Continental Drift $161,130,056
15 Snow White and the Huntsman $155,136,755
16 Hotel Transylvania $143,923,820
17 Taken 2 $138,897,494
18 21 Jump Street $138,447,667
19 Lincoln $131,867,159
20 Prometheus $126,477,084


daniel-day-lewis-lincolnBefore we get into the worldwide box office, here’s a look at some highlights gleaned from the year’s full domestic box office chart:

  • The lowest grossing wide release of 2012 was Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, which grossed just $1.06 million in 2,160 theaters.
  • The highest grossing straight-drama of 2012 was Lincoln, which currently stands at a domestic box office total of $131.8 million.  That makes the film Steven Spielberg’s highest grossing drama of all time if you categorize Saving Private Ryan as a war film.
  • The highest grossing live-action comedy not starring aliens or animated teddy bears was 21 Jump Street with $138.4 million.
  • The highest grossing non-superhero, non-Hunger Games sci-fi film was Men in Black 3 with $179 million.
  • Sony has the most films in the Top 20 with 5 (21 Jump Street, Hotel Transylvania, Men in Black 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Skyfall).
  • 6 of the Top 20 highest grossing films are animated.
  • The highest grossing 3D re-release was Titanic with $57.8 million.
  • The total gross of 2012’s films combined is $10.7 billion with 655 movies released, up 6% over 2011’s $10.1 billion total gross when 601 movies were released.
  • The Avengers far outpaced 2011’s highest grossing film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, which topped the 2011 list with $381 million domestically.

Mark-Wahlberg-Ted-movie-imageOkay, now on to the international box office.  It’s no secret that most studios make the majority of their money back through foreign box office, and this year a great number of films found success overseas.  The most notable surprises are the comedy Ted and the French drama The Intouchables. Though American live-action comedies don’t normally translate to big foreign box office, watching a foul-mouthed teddy bear smoke weed and get into shenanigans with Mark Wahlberg is apparently funny in any language.  Ted managed to drum up a worldwide total of $501.8 million, $283.1 million of which came from overseas box office.

The top two films worldwide are the same as the domestic list, as we have The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises sitting atop the chart.  However, The Hunger Games doesn’t come into play until #8, as the third highest grossing film worldwide is Skyfall with $1 billion.  Just behind the Bond pic is the animated sequel Ice Age: Continental Drift, which scored $875 million worldwide and lands at #4 on the list compared to its #14 position on the domestic list.

As I said in the beginning of this article, some of these numbers are likely to change (expect The Hobbit to continue to inch up the chart), but this provides a nice snapshot of where everything stands as we start a new year full of films.  It’s gonna be incredibly hard for 2013 to top 2012 in quality, but we’re hoping for the best.  If you missed it, check out our 2013 Blockbuster Preview right here.

Here’s a look at the full worldwide Top 20 chart for films released in 2012:

Rank Movie Title Total Gross (Worldwide)
1 The Avengers $1,511.8
2 The Dark Knight Rises $1,081.0
3 Skyfall $1,000.2
4 Ice Age: Continental Drift $875.2
5 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 $799.2
6 The Amazing Spider-Man $752.2
7 Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted $742.1
8 The Hunger Games $686.5
9 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey $685.7
10 Men in Black 3 $624.0
11 Brave $535.4
12 Ted $501.8
13 The Intouchables $420.8
14 Prometheus $402.5
15 Snow White and the Huntsman $396.4
16 Taken 2 $365.5
17 Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax $348.8
18 Titanic 3D $343.6
19 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island $325.9
20 Hotel Transylvania $311.0


*All information via Box Office Mojo.


Around The Web
  • Carlos

    Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 isn’t the highest grossing entry in the franchise, it’s Eclipse with $300 million, domestically-speaking

  • W

    I don’t understand this bullet point: “The highest grossing non-superhero sci-fi film was Men in Black 3 with $179 million.

    The Hunger Games does constitute science fiction and it made $408.

    • Adam Chitwood

      My mistake. For some reason it completely slipped my mind that THG is technically sci-fi.

  • LOL at Rises Fans

    Avengers was waaaay better than rises. The people spoke with the wallets BATMAN SUCK! BATMAN SUCKS! Woooooooooo! Win for Marvel!

    • John

      The Aurora shootings really, really affected TDKR’s domestic gross. I know a lot of people who didn’t see it till it came out n DVD because they were scared to go back to a movie theatre.

      I’m not saying it would have done the same business as Avengers, since t didn’t have that lighting in a bottle quality that Avengers did, but it would have been a lot closer.

      • Lane Myer

        I don’t think they did affect it to that large a degree. I think if anything, The Dark Knight over performed, and the Dark Knight Rises acted like a standard sequel. There wasn’t the same demand to see it like there was with TDK. Ledger’s death had raised the film’s profile so much higher that people who weren’t fussed about the film went to see it. For the second sequel, the fan base and their friends showed up, but not the curious.

    • wolverqueen

      TDKR was a VERY DISTANT second in takings as it grovelled at the feet of the far superior in every single way Avengers. Hulk smash baby !! Yeah !!

  • Lane Myer

    I liked your review of the year – have a look at mine if you get the chance. Covers the entire top ten, the middle hits, the failures and almost everything in between – http://www.boxofficevoodoo.com/2012/12/the-box-office-review-of-2012.html

  • jackd.

    box office does not speak for quality. and I gues the people did spoke with their wallets, because a freaking billion dollars for batman clearly says it sucks

  • ScaredForMovies

    Once the Hobbit pushes Twilight out of the top 5 I’ll be happy. Fanboy trolls aside, The Avengers, Batman, Bond, & The Hobbit make for a pretty great top 4. All quality movies in my book.

  • Lance

    I enjoyed The Hobbit to a good degree as well, but let’s be honest — Jackson took what was always meant to be a children’s tale and tried to make it as big, momentous, and epic as The Lord of the Rings. There’s a good deal of bloat and overreaching as a result.

    Yes, many have a favorable impression of the movie, and some of that is deserved, but I suspect a lot of it is also due to all the positive feelings people have about Middle Earth. Much in the same way many fans initially expressed a positive opinion about The Phantom Menace — only after several viewings did the truth finally sink in.

    In the case of The Hobbit, with time we’ll point to moments like Radagast getting high off Gandalf’s pipe weed, the poorly animated Wargs, and Jackson ripping off his own Moria sequence from Fellowship as weaknesses, not strengths. And possibly even Bilbo’s transformation into a kind of ultra-brave superhero, too.

    • Weeks

      The Hobbit was definitely way overcooked. I really got the sense that Jackson was putting in a lot of filler to stretch it out to three movies.

    • Omar Sakr

      Actually, the Hobbit is a huge story.

      It’s not as big as Lord of the Rings, but it contains far too much narrative to resolve in one film. People seem to confuse its length and tone – being of average length, and fairly light hearted for the most part – with its content. A reluctant hobbit goes on an adventure with 12 warrior dwarves and an immortal wizard, to steal a dragon’s hoard of gold and reclaim the dwarves ancient homeland. On the way, they are nearly eaten by trolls, then captured by goblins, and after a big to-do, they escape. Except, that is, for Bilbo, who spends a fairly long time in the tunnels, lost, acquires a magic ring, and survives on the strength of his wits and courage, until he eventually catches up with the rest of the group well and truly outside in the forest.

      They’re attacked by Wargs, take refuge in the trees, and after another battle (sort of), are rescued by the Eagles, and delivered into the hands of a shapeshifting giant bear. Gandalf leaves them, and the group spend weeks lost in the woods, where the dwarves are again captured – this time by giant spiders. Bilbo rescues them, again proving his worth. But by this time they’re lost, and weak, and don’t have any food, and they fall prey to the will o’ the wisps, lured into traps by the Wood Elves. It takes Bilbo a good long while but he again rescues the dwarves, using the Ring, and sneaking around the Wood Elves domain for days and days until he figures out a way to get everyone free.

      They arrive at the Lake-town, and are feted, before taking on Smaug. A bunch of crap goes down there, lots of little important details and moment but let’s cut to Smaug raining fire and death on Lake-town, and being shot down by an archer. Now everyone knows the mountain is not guarded, and an army of men, and an army of elves, and an army of goblins, and an army of dwarves march on the mountain defended by a few dwarves and a hobbit. Whereupon they have a gigantic fucking war.

      Oh, and while this was all happening, Gandalf, Galadriel, and the White Council totally attacked, and defeated, the Necromancer (aka Sauron). Another battle, of far greater proportions probably. But yeah, sure, it’s a simple children’s story. And that was a really condensed version of the whole narrative.

      Tolkien glosses over a tonne of shit in his book, so there’s plenty of material ripe for expansion. It just so happens that Jackson did a totally shit job at choosing which bits to expand, and handled them poorly besides.

    • Truthsayer

      The Hobbit wasn’t perfect, that much is true and it is flawed but the flaws don’t really detract from the film-look at TDKR, that is the most flawed film I’ve seen in a long time but that didn’t matter because it was a great film. As is The Hobbit which I’d give an 8/8.5 out of 10. Some stuff was just okay yet other bits like the prologue, the flashback battle, Gollum, the forest fire sequence at the end etc were brilliant. The good far outweighed the not so bad.

  • Adam K

    You would think the writer who covers the weekend box office every week would do this article.

    • Strong Enough

      *shots fired*


  • Joroelcapo

    What quality? for me was ok
    Avengers were fun. Skyfall was a dissappointment for me. The hunger games was horrible. DKR was ok but a mess also. Spiderman didnt add anything new ( i prefer raimi spiderman). Prometheus was good but idont know if it is going to an interesting place ( i doub it). I am a little tired of all these overrated comic book movies. Its almost all commercial crap in that top 20.
    Sorry for my english

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  • Walsh

    Keep in mind that the DKR didnt have 3D to boost its box office take and it still took in over a billion world wide. It would’nt of over taken Avengers but it would of been alot closer if it was realesed in 3D as well.

    • Albert

      But it was on IMAX which is almost the same as seeing it on 3D in terms of prices

  • J Wilson

    I’ll never forgive a movie like the Dark Knight Rises (or Transformers 3 or the Amazing Spider-Man et al) with a budget that big suffering the insulting logic errors that it did.

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  • Bizzare

    It’s amazing the Breaking Dawn part 2 made ~$800MIL world wide and took 7 worst awards. Makes me wonder why there are even critics, they get the pulse of the wallet wrong.

  • Bizzare

    It\’s amazing the Breaking Dawn part 2 made ~$800MIL world wide and took 7 worst awards. Makes me wonder why there are even critics, they get the pulse of the wallet wrong.