Metacritic's First Annual Movie Studio Report Card

  • Comments: ↓ 14 user comments
  • Publish Date: January 27, 2010

A look at how the studios fared last year

We have already examined the best and worst films of 2009; now it is time to look at exactly who was responsible for those films. In this, our very first Movie Studio Report Card, we evaluate both the box office performance and film quality performance of the six major studios (and many indie distributors) as we determine the best and worst studios of 2009.

Which studios collected the most money?

The short answer to that question is "all of them": 2009 was a record-setting year at the box office, with the studios combining to gross over $10 billion domestically for the first time in history. Their combined overseas take also established a record -- for the third straight year -- with approximately $10.7 billion in receipts. The studios also sold nearly 100 million additional tickets versus their total in 2008, posting their highest total in admissions since 2004. So much for the bad economy.

Of course, while a rising tide lifts all boats, it apparently lifts some of them higher than others. As the chart below indicates, one studio (Warner Bros.) dominated the domestic box office, while several others also put together great overall years. We'll talk about each studio in greater detail in a moment, but note that -- since this is a report card, after all -- we have assigned letter grades to each major studio, assessing them on their box office performance in 2009 in comparison to their peers.

2009 Box Office Performance for Six Major Studios
(All grosses in millions of US$)
Studio Domestic Gross Domestic Mkt. Share Hits (>$100M) Avg Per 2009 Film* Foreign Gross Foreign Mkt. Share Performance Grade
Warner $2,105.5 19.9% 6 $81.8 $1,850 17% A
Fox $1,394.5 13.2% 6 $103.8 $2,400 23% A
Paramount $1,476.1 13.9% 5 $112.6 $1,310 12% A-
Sony $1,456.2 13.7% 5 $68.7 $2,140 21% B
Disney $1,228.8 11.6% 4 $72.4 $1,685 16% C+
Universal $867.2 8.2% 2 $58.6 $1,200 11% D

* Average Per 2009 Film is the average domestic gross for all new films released by the studio in 2009, and includes 2010 box office grosses (through January 25, 2010) for those films that are still in theaters. Hits indicates the number of 2009 releases grossing more than $100 million domestically. The Foreign Market Share percentages include only the big six major studios, while the Domestic Market Share percentages include all domestic box office figures, including releases by independent studios. The Performance Grade is an overall grade representing each studio's 2009 box office performance compared to other major studios, as assigned by Metacritic. Sources: Box Office Mojo, The Hollywood Reporter, and Metacritic staff research.

Which studios produced the best films?

Foreign film specialists Zeitgeist Films and Sony's specialty unit Sony Pictures Classics take our top honors for highest overall film quality in 2009, as the pair combined to release 29 films without a poorly-reviewed title among them, while also compiling average Metascores exceeding 70 out of 100. A third studio, Focus Features, also avoided bad reviews last year, but didn't average as high a score as the other two distributors. Sony Classics also tied for the lead in the number of "great" releases (films with a Metascore of 81 or higher) in 2009 with a total of five, which was matched by indie distributor IFC Films.

As for the major studios -- well, let's just say that their record-setting box office performance was not attributable to above-average film quality. Disney and Paramount had our highest performance grades -- a lackluster C -- out of the six majors, thanks to lineups heavy on mediocre films in spite of a couple of great titles apiece. 20th Century Fox easily placed last among the major studios, with a terrible average score of 43.1.

Below, we examine the overall quality of films released by studios issuing at least 7 titles in 2009, ranked in order from best to worst. As we did with the box office performance, we have assigned letter grades to the studios to represent the quality of their films in comparison with their peers.

2009 Film Quality Performance for Studios with 7 or More Releases
Studio # Releases # Great % Good % So-So % Bad Average Metascore Quality Grade
Zeitgeist 9 1 100% 0% 0% 71.9 A
Sony Pictures Classics 20 5 85% 15% 0% 70.6 A
Regent Releasing 11 1 70% 20% 10% 64.6 B+
Focus Features 9 0 44% 56% 0% 64.6 B
IFC Films 27 5 58% 31% 12% 61.0 B
Magnolia 25 0 52% 40% 8% 59.3 B–
Strand Releasing 12 2 56% 33% 11% 59.2 B–
Roadside Attractions 11 2 40% 40% 20% 57.6 C+
Disney 18 2 31% 56% 13% 55.3 C
Paramount 13 2 38% 46% 15% 55.2 C
Weinstein Company 8 0 38% 50% 13% 53.5 C
Warner Bros. 28 0 23% 58% 19% 52.1 C–
Summit Entertainment 9 1 22% 56% 22% 51.0 C–
Samuel Goldwyn 8 0 13% 63% 25% 50.5 C–
Fox Searchlight 9 1 33% 22% 44% 49.9 C–
Universal 16 1 27% 40% 33% 49.3 D+
Lionsgate 12 0 8% 58% 33% 47.2 D+
Sony/Columbia 21 1 24% 33% 43% 47.0 D+
Anchor Bay Ent. 8 0 0% 88% 13% 46.5 D+
20th Century Fox 16 2 13% 50% 38% 43.1 D
Screen Media 7 0 14% 43% 43% 41.3 D–

Only studios with 7 or more releases during 2009 are included. Four studios (First Run, Monterey Media, UTV Communications, and AdLabs) did have at least 7 releases but are NOT included in the table above because at least half of their films did not obtain the minimum number of reviews from Metacritic's standard critics to enable a Metascore to be calculated. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). The Average Metascore is a simple mean of all Metascores for the studio's 2009 releases. # Great indicates the total number of 2009 films with Metascores of 81 or higher. % Good represents positively-reviewed films (Metascore of 61 or higher). % So-So represents films receiving mixed or average reviews (40-60). % Bad represents negatively-reviewed films (0-39). Note that percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding. The Quality Grade is an overall quality assessment assigned by Metacritic to represent the studio's output for the year in comparison to its peers.

Details by individual studio

Let's look more closely at how each studio fared during 2009. Over the next pages, we'll take a detailed look at the quality and performance of each major studio, followed by a briefer look at the biggest independent distributors.

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Comments (14)

  • Dorothy Ivan  

    Wow! I'm blown away by this amazing report. Keep them coming.

  • Nick  

    This is fascinating. The color-coded numbers, the great stats--I'm thoroughly enjoying the new MetaCritic. As for the actual stats, I was surprised by Weinstein and Fox Searchlight. I thought they both put out mostly better than average movies. Guess not.

  • Marc Doyle  

    Congrats to Warner. It's great to see some high Metascoring films (esp. The Hangover) do well at the box office. It's great to see the quality breakdown juxtaposed with the box office results.

  • Pearl  

    This is an excellent report- well researched and written, AND VERY INTERESTING TOO.

  • IV  

    Yes, Metacritic's report LOOKS nice. However, it's FLAWED. Why? Check out the critics' scores under films, The Blind Side, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, etc. Moviegoers are the BEST CRITICS, not film critics. Until Metacritic develops a model that incorporates general audience reviews, their annual Studio Report Card will not mean much. Furthermore, how can non-major studios like Zeitgeist, Sony Classics get such high remarks and be taken seriously when their films DID NOT attract a wider audience. Previews and word-of-mouth are the top factors that draw moviegoers to the box office. So, it stands to reason that if a film released by non-majors are marketed to a niche "art house" audience. An audience that film critics tend to favor and identify with. Most film critics DO NOT identify with frequent moviegoers and vice versa. There are too many movies to count that critics panned but moviegoers LOVED repeatedly (and rewarded those films at the Box Office). And not talking about Transformers 2

  • christi  

    Fantastic stuff! Well done!

  • Collin  

    Regarding your assessment of Dr. Parnassus, I don't necessarily think it's the audiences fault that the film has failed to garner a substantial amount of money. It's the studio's promotion of the film. I haven't seen one advertisement on television, nor have I barely heard anything at all about it's release in the last few months. I know it's definitely an independent film, but the studio still could have (somewhat shamelessly) promoted more widely the fact that this was Ledger's last film, given it a wider release (it's had very limited showings in Sacramento), and then most certainly recoup the movie's budget domestically.

  • nathan  

    this is great! thank you for doing this..I've often thought this was an interesting topic to cover, just never thought anyone actually covered it this well. Great Job!

  • John Busey  

    Go Zeitgeist! IV: I don't understand what your problem is. If the general public is rewarding the box office why can't critics, whose job it is to watch films all day long, reward what they like? Isn't that fair? I mean, if everyone liked the same thing you would be bored with that too. I think it's nice that critics and moviegoers are at odds. Keeps things interesting.

  • Evan B.  

    Metacritic keeps getting better every day I come back to this website! Keep up the great articles, Metacritic!

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