Universal Has Best Year with Mummy, Wanted, Hulk

The vfx-driven fantasy The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and the comic-book adaptations Wanted and The Incredible Hulk contributed greatly to giving Universal Pictures its biggest year ever at the worldwide box office. The studio’s domestic take of roughly $1.12 billion combined with an estimated $1.714 billion earned overseas to bring global theatrical grosses to approximately $2.834 billion in 2008. This is the second year in a row that Universal has broken its own record for box-office returns.

Despite getting little love from critics, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor turned out to be the highest-grossing entry in the trilogy starring Brendan Fraser. A worldwide gross of more than $393 million all but assures a fourth chapter in the saga, which many had written off. The third film opened at No. 1 in 38 territories and scored Universal’s biggest opening ever in Russia, Spain, Ukraine, Korea, Latin America and Thailand, among others. Stateside, the film opened to $40 million on its way to $102 million.

Based on a cult-favorite Top Cow comic, Wanted opened over the summer and eventually hit moviegoers for more than $350 million worldwide. The film delivered the biggest opening ever for star Angelina Jolie, and the biggest R-rated opening ever for the month of June. Universal sees the film as the start of a new action franchise.

Marvel Ent.’s The Incredible Hulk also opened in June and went on to gross roughly $262 million worldwide. This second attempt by Universal to capitalize on Stan Lee’s classic comic-book property outperformed director Ang Lee’s 2003 effort starring Eric Bana, successfully rebooting the property as a big-screen franchise. While it’s numbers pale in comparison to those of fellow Marvel Ent. production Iron Man and Warner Bro.’s Batman thriller The Dark Knight, it did well enough to get Marvel and Universal talking about sequels.

It wasn’t all testosterone driving Universal’s best year. The musical Mamma Mia! was actually the studio’s biggest earner of 2008, raking in about $144 million domestically and a whopping $428.5 million internationally. In addition, the hit comedies Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Baby Mama and Role Models were all produced with modest budgets and grossed more than $60 million apiece domestically.