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Shrek the $2.5bn Ogre Rules the Box Office

Contributor:
Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

For an ogre who started off in self pitying isolation Shrek has sure come a long way from his swampy bachelor beginnings.

This week Shrek Forever After stayed on top the US box office charts fending off some new releases to move its domestic take up to $183.2M. With only limited overseas release so far it looks set to push the franchise through the $4bn mark for worldwide box office.

Shrek at $2.5bn is already the highest earning animated movie franchise of all time and is set to move up into 4th spot on the overall rankings behind 1. Harry Potter (6 movies, $5.42bn), 2. James Bond (23 movies, $5.07bn) and 3. Star Wars (8 movies, $4.41bn).

When Shrek Ever After goes into full international release over the next few weeks it should push past such heavy weight human franchises as Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, Batman and Pirates of the Caribbean. Not bad for a big green ogre and a talking donkey.   

So what is the magic behind Shrek? Advances in animation, producing crisp, seamless, life like action has been a factor, but any classic film cannot survive on special effects alone. The story and the characters will always determine the ultimate success of any film.

Take away Austin Powers from Mike Myers and Beverly Hills Cop from Eddie Murphy and both actors have a very limited body of work to be proud of. Yet in voicing Shrek and Donkey they have had far more box office success than all their other work put together. Even Cameron Diaz minus There's Something About Mary hasn't got too much to sing about. But the magic of Far Far Away has cast its spell on their careers. 

Shrek, Donkey and Fiona were not alone though. By making a supporting cast of characters from fairy tales that most of the movie going public are familiar with Shrek became one big 'in joke' that people of all ages could be in on.

The original story full of twists and peppered with great one liners was ground breaking and we all came along for the ride. With no worries about aging actors the franchise has been able to be evenly spread out over the 9 years of its existence allowing for some degree of anticipation for each new release. Over blown wage demands from core cast members have been limited too, with so many of them needing Shrek more than Shrek needs them. It is much easier to replace a voice than a face.

It is in the production costs that Shrek has really made its mark. Many of the top grossing franchises rely on bigger and better set piece action to keep ramping up interest in an often paper thin story. This can often seriously dent the bottom line profit.

While the original Shrek was produced on a comparative shoestring of $60m its three sequels have been consistent with Shrek 2 $150m, Shrek The Third $160m and Shrek Ever After costing $165m. Compare this to similar grossing franchises like Spider Man which has stepped up from $139m for the original through to $200m and $258m for the sequels. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl cost $140m then shifted into high gear for Dead Mans Chest $225m and At Worlds End $300m.

Shrek is one of those rare cinematic perfect storms of original theme, loveable characters and classic humour. Thankfully though this instalment is scheduled to be the last. There is a limit to how many times a studio can go to the franchise well and still retain the magic. For Shrek, four is a good number. Shrek summed it up best in his Babe parodying classic line "That'll do, Donkey. That'll do".

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