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The 30 most popular movies of 2014

Congratulations, Guardians of the Galaxy. You're the number one movie of 2014.
Congratulations, Guardians of the Galaxy. You're the number one movie of 2014.
Marvel Studios
  1. The yearly domestic box office for 2014 was down over $500 million from 2013, capping off a year that proved an overall disappointment in ticket sales.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy comes in at #1.
  3. A major problem for Hollywood is the mega-franchise films it favors cost a ton of money to produce.

The 30 highest-grossing films of 2014 are...

Here are the 30 most popular films of 2014 in the US and Canada. I've also included international box office numbers, where the Transformers franchise continues to reign supreme. Please note that not all films have opened in all parts of the globe, and movies like Big Hero 6, for instance, will likely improve their international numbers dramatically in months to come.

These numbers will shift and change a bit as movies released in November and December complete their runs, but this gives you a good snapshot of where things stand as we enter January. All data is from Box Office Mojo, where you can dig much, much more deeply into these numbers. An asterisk indicates a film that is still playing in a significant number of theaters.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy — $332,862,030 ($772,452,030 internationally)
  2. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1* — $313,229,000 ($676,229,000 internationally)
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier — $259,766,572 ($714,083,572 internationally)
  4. The LEGO Movie — $257,760,692 ($468,060,692 internationally)
  5. Transformers: Age of Extinction — $245,439,076 ($1,087,404,499 internationally)
  6. Maleficent — $241,410,378 ($757,752,378 internationally)
  7. X-Men: Days of Future Past — $233,921,534 ($746,045,700 internationally)
  8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — $208,545,589 ($708,279,489 internationally)
  9. Big Hero 6* — $206,457,000 ($327,357,000 internationally)
  10. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — $202,853,933 ($708,982,323 internationally)
  11. Godzilla — $200,676,069 ($524,976,069 internationally)
  12. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies* — $198,857,000 ($638,157,000 internationally)
  13. 22 Jump Street — $191,719,337 ($331,333,876 internationally)
  14. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — $191,204,754 ($477,204,754 internationally)
  15. Interstellar* — $179,389,000 ($650,089,000 internationally)
  16. How to Train Your Dragon 2 — $177,002,924 ($618,909,935 internationally)
  17. Gone Girl* — $166,337,000 ($356,837,000 internationally)
  18. Divergent — $150,947,895 ($288,747,895 internationally)
  19. Neighbors — $150,157,400 ($268,157,400 internationally)
  20. Ride Along — $134,938,200 ($153,997,819 internationally)
  21. Rio 2 — $131,538,435 ($498,781,117 internationally)
  22. Lucy — $126,663,600 ($458,863,600 internationally)
  23. The Fault in Our Stars — $124,872,350 ($304,186,490 internationally)
  24. Mr. Peabody & Sherman — $111,506,430 ($272,912,430 internationally)
  25. 300: Rise of an Empire — $106,580,051 ($331,114,051 internationally)
  26. The Maze Runner — $102,085,973 ($339,816,589 internationally)
  27. Noah — $101,200,044 ($362,637,473 internationally)
  28. The Equalizer — $100,915,604 ($191,715,604 internationally)
  29. Edge of Tomorrow — $100,206,256 ($369,206,256 internationally)
  30. Non-Stop — $92,168,600 ($222,809,600 internationally)

Movies still playing that will likely make their way onto this list eventually include Unbroken, Into the Woods, Selma, American Sniper, and The Imitation Game.

2014's total take was down over $500 million from 2013

Some of that was the result of timing. As Forbes's Scott Mendelson has pointed out, that $500 million would have almost certainly been recouped by the seventh film in the Fast and the Furious franchise and Pixar's The Good Dinosaur, both of which vacated 2014 for 2015. But this was still a year of underperformers, with several big franchise films falling short of previous installments.

Even The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, which should have enough legs left to eke out a win for top film released in 2014, was a huge comedown from the previous two films in the series. Mockingjay, Part 1 should end in the mid-$330 million range. However, its predecessor, Catching Fire, made $424,668,047 domestically.

The problem with sequels

If you look at the list of the 30 biggest hits at the box office, you can see why Hollywood keeps cranking out these franchise films — they reliably make lots and lots of money. The problem is that they also reliably cost lots and lots of money, which is why something like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can make over $700 million worldwide and be in danger of not turning a profit.

Somewhat counterintuitively, the longer a film series runs, the more its budgets tend to balloon. Salaries for creative personnel increase, and the scale of visual effects sequences gets bigger and bigger, requiring more money to up the level of spectacle.

A good example of this is the original Spider-Man trilogy, whose budgets rose from $140 million to $200 million to $258 million. But even 2014's Amazing Spider-Man 2, which specifically tried to trim its budget, wound up with a reported budget of $200 million, a number many doubt.