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The Turbulent Journey of DreamWorks in the 2010s

Following the studio’s successful run in the 2000s, here is the story of the rollercoaster journey DreamWorks went on in the 2010s.

In the early-to-late 2000s, DreamWorks Animation was on top of the world. In the late ’90s, DreamWorks spent its first few films trying to outdo Disney as a result of studio co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg’s feud with the company. However, the studio finally found the success it was looking for with the release of Shrek and its sequel, Shrek 2. After that, DreamWorks films were rarely critically loved, especially compared to its main rival, but they were consistent box office smashes.

However, 2010 marked the beginning of a volatile era in DreamWorks’ legacy. The studio released three films, the most it had ever done in a single year. It started well with the release of How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After. How to Train Your Dragon opened small, but with excellent critical reception and positive word of mouth, it managed to reach almost $500 million worldwide and over $200 million in North America alone. Meanwhile, Shrek Forever After managed to make over $750 million worldwide, which was the lowest of the Shrek sequels, but it was still a huge success. But it was with its third and final film that year, Megamind, that the tide began to turn.

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Megamind was a well-received film and, especially in recent years, has seen a new level of appreciation. However, its release, while profitable, was considered a box-office disappointment, with only $321 million worldwide. It was around this time that DreamWorks’ distribution deal with Paramount Pictures was nearing its end. Paramount offered to extend the deal in exchange for more favorable terms on its part, but Katzenberg opted to open communications with other studios.

DreamWorks’ last film with Paramount was the ill-fated Rise of the Guardians, which was well-received but bombed at the box office, losing DreamWorks an estimated $87 million. By the following year, the studio had struck a new deal with 20th Century Fox, but the studio’s fortunes would not stabilize. For every decent box-office success, there would be a flop, losing the studio millions. This resulted in major restructuring at the studio, its film slate changing regularly, and budgets for future projects getting lower and lower. This was all done to help the lower grosses by DreamWorks movies to be more palatable. Ultimately, the deal with 20th Century Fox ran dry, and DreamWorks was subsequently snapped up by Universal.

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The easiest way to track this turbulent era of DreamWorks Animation is through the How to Train Your Dragon film series, considered by many to be DreamWorks’ only truly successful franchise during this period. With each film, the budget got lower as a result of the studio’s fortunes, going from $165 million to $145 million to $129 million. Also, each installment was distributed by a different studio, with Paramount releasing the original, Fox releasing the sequel, and Universal Pictures releasing the final installment of the trilogy. While the creative team behind each film was largely consistent, the studio’s larger problems definitively affected production for each installment.

Under Universal, DreamWorks seems to be back on track for the 2020s. The budgets are now lower than ever, but this takes the pressure off for each new film to be a box office hit and allows the creative teams to take more risks. With the release of The Bad Guys, the studio has been experimenting with new animation styles and incorporating more 2D influences in their work, a trend that looks like it’s going to continue with Puss In Boots: The Last Wish later this year. Despite a turbulent time during the 2010s, the future is looking bright for DreamWorks Animation.

A graduate who has recently completed an English and Creative Writing degree – and a lover of all things nerdy. Has written for publications such as New Welsh Review, and Aberystwyth Student Media; having regularly covered film & TV for the latter. Also enjoys acting and performance in their spare time. They/He

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