2010 provided valuable lessons about what works - and, more important, what doesn't work - when it comes to the box-office performance of movies. Studios might want to take note:
Be careful what you pay for. Reese Witherspoon (How Do You Know), Johnny Depp (The Tourist), Russell Crowe (The Next Three Days), and Tom Cruise (Knight and Day) may still command fat paychecks, but that isn't necessarily good for the box office, because each of the actors' last movies faltered. And Disney spent about $260 million making Tangled (domestic gross: $132 million), which was clobbered by Universal's $69-million-budgeted animated movie, Despicable Me (domestic gross: $250.6 million).
Originality is for the ivory tower. Of the year's 10 top-grossing films, only Despicable Me and Chris Nolan's Inception were purely original - not sequels, remakes, or adaptations.
The art house stands on a shaky foundation. Fox Searchlight's movies grossed an average of $22.4 million in 2009, but the studio's average (with Black Swan not yet at its peak) fell to $12.6 million in 2010. The Kids Are All Right, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Winter's Bone, and City Island were among the strong performers, but a number of acclaimed dramas, such as Never Let Me Go, flamed out fast.
There's no trade deficit in Hollywood. Many movies dismissed for a less-than-stellar performance domestically turned in huge numbers overseas. Robin Hood, starring Crowe, grossed $105.3 million in the United States and Canada, but $212.8 million elsewhere.
Kids rule. Now even the most child-phobic studio executives will have to change their thinking. The G-rated Toy Story 3 was the year's top-grossing film and the biggest hit in Pixar's history. The Last Airbender packed in families, as did Despicable Me and How to Train Your Dragon. But it's not all about rugrats: The Expendables and Red proved grandparents matter, too.