In 2009, it was the 7 billion dollar question. Dropping to a value of $5,314,375,011 in 2010, it was still a ten-figured reason to answer what makes Hollywood's top (and by "top" I mean profitable) movies?
Granted, producers will need more than a good answer to get onto the list of Hollywood's 50 highest-grossing films. But if you consult this list, which is what my numbers are based on, you'll find that all of Hollywood’s top movies have one quality in common: they avoid real life. For viewers, this means escape. And as much as I don't want to upset the fans of Star Wars by comparing their "epic space opera" to the science fiction megahit The Matrix Reloaded, most people who saw these movies were looking for the same thing: a fantasy, a space opera, a work of science fiction that was a vacation from real life. All of the Harry Potter movies, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the comic book megahits Spiderman and Batman, the last three instalments of Shrek, all of these rank with the top 50 Hollywood movies because they have that x-factor that helps us get away from the everyday.
Now, when I say that Hollywood's top movies avoid reality, I don’t mean entirely. The Ice Age and Titanic are loosely based on a time and events that actually occurred. And Forrest Gump, Hollywood’s 44th top-grossing movie, is a remarkable story that does not rely on magic or make-believe worlds to get us out of our lives. That said, none of these films deals with everyday experience. In a similar way, Jurassic Park, at number 16, and Inception, at number 25, both bring us into a scenario where we find technology that our world has yet to create. In other words, even the most realistic of Hollywood's top movies are about life as we do not know it.
Viewers would rather dream. Which is why Alice in Wonderland is the world's sixth highest grossing film. Within the opening three minutes Alice has wandered into a strange realm that no Earth-bound human can get used to. And we knew this would happen before we bought our tickets. So we bought them. Likewise, there's no mystery as to why the most topping of Hollywood's top movies is Avatar. This movie has the make-believe exit from our real-world built into the story. In fact, we could call that x-factor of Hollywood appeal the avatar-experience.
Who wouldn't want to trade a day in our lives for a day on the 3-dimensional Pandora? It's a better-than-Earth but still Earthling enough planet that, as Jake Sully says, "You grow up hearing about it, but you never think you're gonna get there." This primes us to appreciate our own good luck: we just found out about this place, and now we’re on our way. In fact, luck and escape make a powerful combination for Hollywood's top movies. You want to feel lucky in the theatre. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to be watching.