Films With The Highest Return on Investment – Deadline

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Films With The Highest Return on Investment – Deadline

Deadline’s Most Valuable Blockbuster tournament took a hiatus during the pandemic as movie theaters closed for the majority of 2020-2021 and theatrical day-and-date titles on both the big screen and studios’ respective streaming platforms became more prevalent. Coming back from that brink, the studios have largely returned to their theatrical release models and the downstream monies they can bring. Not to mention their power in launching IPs around the world with big global marketing campaigns. When it comes to evaluating the financial performance of top movies, it isn’t about what a film grosses at the box office. The true tale is told when production budgets, P&A, talent participations and other costs collide with box office grosses, and ancillary revenues from VOD to DVD and TV. To get close to that mysterious end of the equation, Deadline is repeating our Most Valuable Blockbuster tournament for 2022, using data culled by seasoned and trusted sources.

As we get toward the end of Deadline’s movie profit tournament (and God knows you can guess what might be No. 1 and No. 2), we shine a spotlight on those low-budget movies that delivered big green margins in 2022.

Last year, as the the major motion picture studios began to realize coming out of the pandemic that theatrical-day-and-date wasn’t the best means to make money, one thing was clear: horror movies were worth every ounce of blood at the box office. The same still can’t be said for comedies and romantic comedies, however, which have largely settled for in-home streaming debuts.


Universal/Atomic Monster/Blumhouse
Total profit: $78.8M


Universal Pictures

Although M3GAN opened during the first weekend of this year — historically a vibrant launchpad for horror movies — the PG-13 film makes into the 2022 roundup on a technicality as it launched in Mexico, Belgium and France in late December. Atomic Monster boss James Wan, who has developed a reputation for killer doll films (re: Annabelle), was looking to create a Chucky for a new generation of girls. The pic was shot cheap in Auckland, NZ, for $12 million off a 40% country tax rebate, after Covid pushed the production out of its original Montreal location. However, the whole conceit of a high-tech doll who goes to gruesome lengths to protect her girl owner was manna from heaven for Universal’s marketing department, which spiked massive interest in the film on TikTok thanks to M3GAN’s creepy dance. In addition, there was a troupe of M3GAN dancers who took over late-night TV, the pic’s world premiere and national landmarks like the Empire State Building. In a post-Christmas marketplace that had already seen Avatar: The Way of Water one too many times, M3GAN seduced, and she did it with a net profit of $78.8M.



Where the Crawdads Sing
Sony/3000 Pictures
Net Profit: $74.7M

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’

Columbia Pictures

When other studios zig, Sony zags and that was especially true this thrifty priced feature ($24M production cost) take of Delia Owens novel which sold 12M. 3000 Pictures, Sony and Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine saw a movie in the story of a young Deep South woman, who becomes a suspect after a man she once had a romance with, is found murdered. In a summer where there wasn’t much for female moviegoers coming back to cinemas from the pandemic, Where the Crawdads Sing fit the bill, overcoming bad reviews (34% on Rotten Tomatoes) and winning over its core audience with an A- CinemaScore. After a $17.2M domestic opening, the movie played its way all the way to $90M+ stateside, $140M+ worldwide. Great TV deals around the globe for Sony and a Netflix output deal get the pic’s TV/streaming worldwide revenues to $95M. Hello Sunshine has a stake in the participations. Sony has dynamited female moviegoers before pre-pandemic with Greta Gerwig’s award lauded Little Women which netted $56M.



The Black Phone
Net Profit: $67.8M

‘The Black Phone’


Great reviews (83% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and very good exits (near 90% on Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak) always spell great box office when it comes to a Blumhouse release. Following Doctor Strange and his departure from that sequel, Scott Derrickson’s return to his horror origins with producer Jason Blum and leading man Ethan Hawke in this 1978-set R-rated horror tale about a masked, creepy guy in the neighborhood who’s snatching up and imprisoning kids in his basement (until they die). One young boy becomes “The Grabber’s” undoing. The movie opened in mid-June, in the wake of Top Gun: Maverick and on the same weekend as the older-skewing Baz Luhrmann biopic Elvis. Audiences answered the call to Black Phone with a $23.6 million domestic box office opening, and a 3.8x leg-out factor to more than $90M stateside in a summer filled with several delayed tentpoles from the pandemic. Global TV and streaming revenues of $100M include what Peacock pays Universal internally for the film, plus a shared Pay One window run on Amazon Prime. As is standard with Blumhouse titles, they’re made low so that everyone reaps profits in the end, with participations here for cast and Derrickson at $35M.



Net Profit: $56.7M



Spyglass absorbed the Dimension library and in doing so reinvigorated its star horror franchise Scream. In 2011, the fourth movie in the Kevin Williamson-conceived franchise fell flat with a $38 million domestic box office take, and under $100M global gross. Paramount, which went 50-50 with Spyglass on the new Scream‘s $24M production cost, shook up the fifth film, with Ready or Not filmmakers Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, a new cast appealing to diverse audiences including on-the-rise stars Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega (this movie debuting before she exploded on Netflix’s Wednesday series), and returning core cast members Courteney Cox, Neve Campbell and David Arquette. Those moviegoers making their way to the cinema post-Spider-Man: No Way Home and at a time when there were Omicron fears liked what they saw, delivering a $33.8M four-day MLK start for Scream and reenergizing new and old audiences for the next generation of the franchise. Paramount and Spyglass promptly put Scream VI into production, and that pic opened in March to a record domestic high of $44.4M and boasts a current cume of $162.5M; the new sequel takes the story’s action to New York City for the first time, and had Ortega’s Wednesday disciples showing up.



Everything Everywhere All at Once
Net Profit: $32M

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

Everett Collection

When it comes to original voices on the big screen, A24 knows where to mine the auteurs. Having originally been in business with Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schneinert on their farting-corpse film Swiss Army Man, which the distributor acquired out of 2016’s Sundance, it easily boarded their fantasy martial arts multiverse movie Everything Everywhere All at Once. Casting Michelle Yeoh was key; the movie paid great homage to her. An added bonus was casting former Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Goonies child star (now grown-up) Key Huy Quan; the pic dynamited the his acting career. A24 knew it had something — not just a fun ride, but something the moms in the audience could weep over given the pic’s moving storyline about the ups and downs of mothers and daughters. A24 shot the film out of a cannon at the first return-to-person SXSW post-Covid and a year later found the movie onstage at the Dolby Theatre winning seven Oscars of its 11 nominations including Best Picture. A24 oversaw the pic’s foreign sales with co-financing by Ley Line Entertainment. After screening the movie extensively to create buzz before its release, in addition to special Imax shows, Everything Everywhere All at Once is A24’s highest-grossing movie ever at the domestic and global box offices. It also provided a beacon of hope for the struggling indie box office sector, the takeaway being that dynamic original material for the 18-34 crowd is what will keep arthouses thriving down the road. The Daniels notched a first-look deal at Universal following the film’s success.


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