Universal Pictures: Studio promotes female talent over superhero films to top box office

Universal’s 2015 global box-office takings now stand at more than $5.77bn

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The Independent Culture

While most in Hollywood are happy to pump out comic-book adaptations, one studio has proved you don’t need superheroes to have a hit. Universal Pictures is enjoying the biggest box-office year for any studio, ever ... and there’s not a cape or mask in sight.

Why? Well, Donna Langley, Universal’s British chief, credits its success in part to promoting female talent, nurturing content aimed primarily at women, and backing offbeat films  as well as the big action flicks. Thanks in large part to the popularity of blockbuster sequels Fast and Furious 7, Jurassic World and the animation Minions, and to the commercial (if not critical) success of 50 Shades of Grey, Universal’s 2015 global box-office takings now stand at more than $5.77bn (£3.7bn), which is significantly more than any studio has ever achieved in an entire year.

It also claimed a 28.2 per cent share of Hollywood’s domestic US market in the year to August. No studio has ended a year with more than 20 per cent market share since 1997. “Universal have been extremely fortunate,” said film industry expert Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak. “Even if the calendar stopped on 20 August, they would already have had an astounding year.”

Among Universal’s major rivals, only Paramount also lacks a superhero franchise. Disney, Fox and Sony all boast Marvel properties, while Warner Bros owns the DC Comics stable.

According to Phil Contrino, of Boxoffice.com, said: “Universal has proved that superheroes aren’t an essential component to a successful year. What matters is building brands that people care about.”

“For Universal, being left out of the superhero club has actually served them well,” said Dergarabedian. “They had to do things the old-fashioned way: building a diverse slate with lots of types of movies.”

Originally from the Isle of Wight, Ms Langley, 47, is currently Hollywood’s only female studio head.  She says past success with the Bourne and Fast and Furious franchises gave Universal the confidence to see things like Pitch Perfect or The Purge – as “franch-isable ideas that we could grow”.

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