Minions: The Rise of Gru isn’t the first hit for Illumination, nor will it be the animation studio’s last. Founded in 2007 under the name Illumination Entertainment, the Universal Pictures division met success right out of the gate with Despicable Me. However, it would be six years before another of their franchises was born: The Secret Life of Pets.
With that being said, even Illumination’s least successful film is far from a flop, regardless of whether or not a sequel was produced. In contrast, some of the animation house’s films transcended success to become absolute box office juggernauts.
Hop (2011) — $108.5 Million
Pixar gets a lot of credit for its track record, both critical and commercial, but Illumination’s is just as impressive if not more so. The only time the studio has missed the mark, arguably, was the Easter-themed movie Hop. The film stars Russell Brand (at the peak of his fame) as the Easter Bunny’s son, E.B., who decides to head to Hollywood in hopes of success in the music industry. Illumination’s sole live-action CGI hybrid also features James Marsden, who practiced putting up with E.B. before he opened his heart to Sonic the Hedgehog.
However, unlike those two surprise smash hits, Hop didn’t come close to quadrupling its production budget. But Box Office Mojo reports that the Easter comedy carried a budget of only $63 million, so while its disappointing worldwide gross of $184 million was far from enough to get a sequel greenlit, Hop still falls more under the banner of “disappointment” than “failure.”
The Secret Life Of Pets 2 (2019) — $158.9 Million
Even with a casting changeup after the ousting of Louis C.K., The Secret Life of Pets 2 was still a box office hit. With that being said, its success was minor compared to that of the original, which has proven to be a pattern in Illumination’s filmography outside of Despicable Me.
The sequel’s Box Office Mojo page puts the budget at $80 million, which was low enough to make profitability practically guaranteed, but there’s little doubt that the film’s ($159 million) domestic tally was nothing short of a disappointment, especially considering the fact that it’s less than half the domestic gross of the original.
Sing 2 (2021) — $162.8 Million
Sing 2 didn’t quite meet the bar of quality set by the original, nor did it reach the same highs at the box office, but it did well for itself in its own right. It also brought on Pharrell, Letitia Wright, Bono, and Halsey as new angel-voiced animals.
The musical sequel tacked $10 million onto the original’s budget of $75 mil according to Box Office Mojo, which is impressively frugal, but it still followed in The Secret Life of Pets 2‘s footsteps and earned far less than the original in both the domestic market and international territories. Specifically, the film earned only $406 million worldwide, which is fairly low considering it was an established property released in the middle of the holiday season.
The Lorax (2012) — $214.3 Million
The first time Illumination touched a Dr. Seuss property it was fairly early in their run. Yet even with its lesser-known status (compared to The Grinch or The Cat in the Hat), The Lorax made for a rebound after the studio’s weakly-received Hop.
March and April started to become the month for big-but-not-super-big movies around 2010. Films based on name-brand properties or had a particular commercial appeal that still didn’t put it at the level worthy of summer movie season theatrical distribution found success in this sweet spot. The Lorax was a surprise success, per Box Office Mojo, as it opened to a box office-livening $70 million on its way to a final domestic tally of $214 million.
Despicable Me (2010) — $251.5 Million
Despicable Me‘s trailer effectively sold it as a fun family film that could appeal to multiple demos, especially considering the fact that it was dealing with supervillainy just as superhero movies were blowing up. Even with a talented, audience-drawing cast including Steve Carell and Miranda Cosgrove, the film’s real appeal right off the bat was obvious: the Minions.
Illumination’s premier film carried a budget of just $69 million, and it just about made that from its U.S. opening of $56.4 mil, according to Box Office Mojo. But then the movie kept going, earning five times its production from domestic theaters alone and an even greater figure from international territories.
Despicable Me 3 (2017) — $264.6 Million
Despicable Me 3 gave audiences twice the Gru for the price of admission, and while it didn’t reach the financial peak of the second installment, it earned an impressive amount of money for a third entry. 2017’s chapter of the long-running animated franchise also introduced a great villain in Balthazar Bratt, played with perfect outlandish arrogance by South Park‘s co-creator Trey Parker.
Impressively enough, Despicable Me 3 had a budget only $11 million higher than that of the original film, per Box Office Mojo. The same could be said of its domestic tally, which outgrossed the original film’s, but it’s the third film’s $770 million international accruals that guaranteed Gru and his little chattering pals would be around for the long haul.
Sing (2016) — $270.6 Million
Despicable Me earned a franchise via the Minions, The Secret Life of Pets via the cuteness of animals (and the gargantuan celebrity of Kevin Hart), and Sing earned one via taking some of the most likable movie stars on the planet and having them sing beloved hits.
Box Office Mojo‘s reported budget for Sing ($75 mil) was so low that it was able to octuple it, guaranteeing that Illumination’s second movie of the year would also be the second to start a lucrative franchise.
The Grinch (2018) — $271.4 Million
Benedict Cumberbatch took on the role of the Grinch for the animation studio’s second dip into Seussworld, and it proved to be a different enough take to garner a substantial amount of audience interest.
Ron Howard’s live-action Jim Carrey extravaganza How the Grinch Stole Christmas may have sold more tickets 18 years before, but Illumination’s The Grinch astonishingly enough held a much smaller budget of just $75 million (per Box Office Mojo). Again the production company soared by keeping costs low, and their second Seuss adaptation beat their already-impressive Lorax.
Minions (2015) — $336 Million
The Minions became a sensation from the moment Despicable Me‘s first trailer dropped, and there’s little doubt they’ve been the key appeal to the franchise even over Gru and his heart-melting adopted kids. In hindsight, Minions was as inevitable as Despicable Me 2, and with a strong plot and a game performance by Sandra Bullock as the film’s villain (Scarlet Overkill), it didn’t disappoint fans in the slightest.
While Minions wasn’t as beloved by critics as it was by fans, it’s still one of the highest-grossing movies ever rated “Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes. Without Gru, it was the Minions’ show through and through, which can become tedious when it comes to characters most effective in small doses. Fortunately, Bullock’s Overkill is a more than suitable replacement.
Despicable Me 2 (2013) — $368 Million
Despicable Me‘s week-over-week success guaranteed at least one sequel, and where that first film walked, Despicable Me 2 ran (particularly in international territories). It was a smash, even if it isn’t one of Steve Carell’s best movies, like the original.
Despicable Me 2‘s domestic tally beat the original by over $110 million, but the most interesting figure comes from outside the U.S. and Canada. From Despicable Me 2 on, the franchise’s films have been gargantuan overseas, with the first sequel more than doubling the original’s $291.6 million, per Box Office Mojo.
The Secret Life Of Pets (2016) — $368.3 Million
The Secret Life of Pets is Illumination’s biggest movie by a razor’s edge and, like the first installment of the studio’s Minions-fueled flagship series, it opened high and held on well. This indicates positive word of mouth, which is unsurprising considering both the cute sense of humor and even more precious fur babies.
The first film opened above expectations at $104.3 million and even did so on a fairly slight budget of $75 mil, per Box Office Mojo. If that didn’t make Universal studio heads’ tails wag, Pets‘ legs did. The film ended up grossing over three times its production budget from the domestic market alone; Tack on half a billion from international markets and the film earned nearly 12 times the amount it cost to make it.
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