[Images courtesy Despicable Me official Facebook page]
Last week Universal and Illumination Entertainment let the world know Despicable Me 3 had crossed the magic $1 Billion-with-a-B line in box office receipts since its June 30th release. With a cumulative $3,681.90 billion in worldwide gross box office, the four movie series (three Despicable Me movies plus 2015’s Minions) leaps ahead of both the Shrek series from Dreamworks and Fox/Blue Sky’s Ice Age franchise (both at five films and counting).
The secrets behind the success?
A few are obvious.
Universal Appeal (pun intended) – All of the DM movies are both appealing to kids and (mostly) enjoyable for adults. Personally, I’m very glad I had to take my niece to see DM3, and her dad got stuck taking her to The Emoji Movie. The “house style” of Illumination studios – bright, airy, full of tactile detail without bombarding your eyeballs with CGI-pollution – is a flat-out delight.
Breakout Characters – The main character of the series, failed Bond Villain wannabe Gru anchors the storylines while allowing a cast of supporting characters to steal the spotlight. Do I refer to the lovable sister trio of Margo, Edith, and the oh-so-adorable Agnes? Nope. The true breakout stars of Despicable Me are, of course, the Minions. Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and their many, Many, MANY brothers broke out of second banana status and into stardom with 2015’s Minions.
Not as obvious, but perhaps most important in the long term, is the basic business model followed by Illumination founder Christopher Meledandri. As a 2011 New York Times profile succinctly stated, Meledandri “wants to prove that strict cost controls and hit animated movies are not mutually exclusive.” So far, he’s been proven right.
In 2010 Despicable Me grossed $543 million world wide with a production budget of $69 million. The budget for Despicable Me 3 did go up to $80 million, but also doubled the first installment’s take. Contrast that with 2016’s Ice Age: Collision Course, which grossed $400 million worldwide against a production budget of $105 million.
Part of this economizing comes from using a French subsidiary (Illumination Mac Guff) as the main animation hub, in contrast to US-based studios Pixar and Dreamworks.
With Meledandri at the helm and his philosophy of “Very few management layers, clear decision-making, shortening the length of time you spend developing a movie – it can be done,” as a guiding principle, Universal/Illumination looks to continue animating all the way to the bank.