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Can You Guess Which Movie Studio Recently Broke the All-Time Box Office Record? (Hint: It's Not Disney)

By Eric Volkman – Aug 14, 2015 at 11:40AM

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With 2015 not even three-quarters over, one Hollywood studio has already notched the highest annual gross ticket sales in the history of the film business.

There's a new box office champion strutting around Hollywood -- earlier this month, one of the major film studios grabbed the all-time record for annual gross worldwide ticket sales.

It's an organization that's been around for many years but has really found its stride lately, kicking out a string of money-making hits. No, it's not the entertainment sector's recent stock-market darling Walt Disney (DIS -1.49%).

So which famous film-land name could it be? The envelope, please!

Dinosaurs rule the universe!
Appropriately enough, the winner is the only remaining major studio still headquartered within the actual geographic confines of Hollywood -- Universal Studios, owned these days by Comcast (CMCSA -0.62%).

The fact that Universal has already taken the crown is impressive in itself -- 2015 is not even two-thirds of the way over. At the end of the first week of August, the division had reached $5.53 billion in ticket sales for the year.

This beat the previous champion, Twenty-First Century Fox's (FOX) (FOXA) 20th Century Fox, with a worldwide gross of $5.52 billion for the entirety of 2014.

This being the movie business, Universal's monster summer blockbuster was the release that put it over the top. I'm not kidding about the "monster" part -- the movie, of course, is Jurassic World.

The latest installment of the dinosaurs-run-amok series -- still in theaters after debuting back in June, by the way -- has done T-Rex-sized box office sales. It was not only the first movie in history to gross at least $500 million in its first weekend in theaters, it also reached $1 billion within a mere two weeks of its debut.

Even without those dinosaurs working hard to earn Universal money, the studio is having a great 2015. Exactly half of the top 10 grossing films so far this year are its releases. Outside of Jurassic World, this lineup is Furious 7, Pitch Perfect 2, the animated offering Minions, and Fifty Shades of Grey.

As per current trends in the film business, much of Universal's record-busting revenue has come from the international market. Of its $5.5 billion-plus total, nearly $3.6 billion was derived from foreign ticket sales.

This is because the studio has put its development money into already-established properties with global appeal. Jurassic World -- rampaging dinosaurs! -- is a movie with a strong brand that anyone on the planet can absorb, understand, and enjoy. No wonder why 60% of the film's box office has come from outside the U.S.

In fact, of those five movies in the top ten, only one (Pitch Perfect 2) did more business in the U.S. than abroad.

Back to the box office
We can expect the studio to widen its lead substantially before the year is over. The summer season has a little time left on the clock, and Universal still has a juicy release to unspool: Straight Outta Compton. This is the long-awaited biopic of classic Los Angeles hip-hop group N.W.A., a story that's likely to attract a big audience. Again, brand name with wide recognition, and again, a story with visceral, potentially global appeal (poor young underdogs make it big in the music business).

The studio's release slate also looks strong later in the year. October will see the release of another celebrity biopic, Steve Jobs, plus the latest from popular horror master Guillermo del Toro, Crimson Peak. Rounding out the year will be a new comedy co-starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Sisters, to hit screens in December.

By then, Universal will be nailing down its release strategy for next year. We can bet, though, that it'll have a hard time saying goodbye to 2015.

Eric Volkman owns shares of Walt Disney and lives in Hollywood, believe it or not. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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