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What Frozen's remarkable rise tells us about the movie industry

Frozen is still a box office force, six months after it was released.
Frozen is still a box office force, six months after it was released.

Frozen came out in November, during the big Thanksgiving opening weekend. And it still — STILL — is making box-office news. According to Deadline, the film has just become the top-grossing animated movie internationally ever. In addition, the film is now the all-time sixth-highest-grossing film worldwide and is the top-earning animated film of all time.

How has Frozen climbed so high (and how is it still climbing after six months)? There are a few reasons.

1. Inflation

...Or rather, lack thereof. In global box office earnings figures, Frozen is now at $1.1 billion, according to movie data provider BoxOfficeMojo. And in the US, it's at almost $400 million, making it the 19th highest-grossing film domestically.

But that global all-time box office list doesn't appear to include inflation-adjusted figures. Titanic, for example, earned $659 million domestically on that global all-time list, but look at the inflation-adjusted list of domestic earnings and it's nearly $1.1 billion. Make that adjustment for all movies, and the rankings can shift dramatically. In the US, for example, adjusting for ticket price changes bumps Frozen's place down from 19th place to 101st.

BoxOfficeMojo doesn't provide an inflation-adjusted global grosses list, and different countries presumably have different ticket price fluctuations. But adjusting with the US consumer price index can illustrate just how powerful a force inflation is, even if it doesn't exactly capture ticket price changes worldwide. Adjusted using the CPI, 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, at $975 million in lifetime global grosses, would today beat out Frozen by a healthy margin, with an inflation-adjusted $1.3 billion.

2. Foreign earnings

Foreign earnings are an increasingly huge part of movie earnings, says one analyst.

"This is a major change in the past decade. a decade ago, about say 2001...the North American market was the major market for the studios," says David Hancock, senior principal analyst for cinema at IHS Global Insight. China in particular is becoming a major market for US films.

For Frozen, it's no different. The movie is currently No. 1 in Japan for the sixth week in a row, and it has taken in $104 million there, meaning Japan accounts for nearly one-tenth of the movie's total earnings. And in China, the movie has grossed $48 million. Altogether, only 35 percent of Frozen's gross earnings have come from within the US.

That's different from comparable animated hits made around the turn of the millennium. More than half of the grosses from Monsters, Inc. (2001), Shrek (2001), and Toy Story 2 (1999) came domestically. Compare that to recent hits Toy Story 3 (2010), Up (2009), and Despicable Me 2 (2013), all of which earned around 40 percent or less of their profits domestically. Though it's not a perfect correlation, especially considering that many animated movies like The Lion King have been rereleased years later, the trend toward reliance on foreign earnings has been growing.

3. Let it Go

This is just a guess, but Adele Dazeem's Idina Menzel's vocal badassery has to be helping at least a little.

All kidding aside, it does bear repeating that the movie has done well because people like it (duh).

"It's [a movie] people wanted to see over and over and over," says Karie Bible, box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, a box office analysis firm. Though you can't really quantify those repeat viewings, she says she has seen anecdotal evidence that many people are seeing the movie more than once. And Disney has encouraged this by releasing other versions of the film; not only the now-standard 3D version but also a sing-along. Because silently humming it at your desk just isn't quite satisfying.

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