Animated Video Production

$30 Billion in 30 Years: CalArts Animation Storms the Box Office

Shawn 05.01.2014

CalArts just released an infographic illustrating the total gross earnings of films directed by their animation alums since 1985. The total is over $30 billion dollars.

CalArts Animation Gross Earnings GraphThis staggering figure is obviously meant to bolster the school’s already impressive reputation, but the data suggests something larger than just the commercial success of a dozen talented directors. If you visit the CalArts interactive graphs and scroll over any point you’ll see the gross earned, release date, and director (the graph only measures films directed by alums, not written, acted in, or produced).

As you scroll, the list of animation successes is a who’s who of modern animation: Shrek, Toy Story, The Little Mermaid, Up, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Wall-e, Pocahontas, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, Antz, Hercules, Ratatouille, Kung Fu Panda, Wreck-it Ralph, Brave, Madagascar, The Croods – the hits keep coming…

Frozen castThese movies are all successful (even the low grossing titles still earned well into the millions). What’s interesting about the data is that box office grosses – particularly for animated features (the list also includes live-action) – naturally rise over time, but it isn’t until the 2000s that we see “home run” box-office successes (films grossing over $500 million).

The only two films that broke the $500 million barrier in the 90s were Aladdin (1992) and the phenomenally successful The Lion King (1994) – which grossed over $950 million. After 2000, twenty-two films, from an array of CalArts animation directors, grossed over $500 million, including Frozen – the first animated feature to top $1 billion.

For more info on the original CalArts Animation class in the 1970s that changed the face of animation, read Vanity Fair’s “The Class that Roared.”

Tim Burton TweetThe graph also shows that sequels consistently outperform the originals that spawned them. Toy Story trails Toy Story 2 by over $100 million, and Madagascar 2 and Madagascar 3 both earned more than the $532 million brought in by the titular film in 2005. Perhaps the most glaring example of sequel success is Shrek 2 which grossed $919 million – making it the fifth highest grossing movie directed by a CalArts alumni. This dwarves its predecessor Shrek ($491 million). The sixth highest grossing film on the list? Shrek the Third ($800 million). The seventh highest grossing film? Shrek Forever After ($752 million).

Animation has grown into a massive industry over the past thirty years – due largely to CalArts’ talented alumni. These director’s continued box-office successes – like Frozen – guarantee that top-quality animation will reign for another thirty years and beyond.

$30 billion is an impressive figure, but the takeaway from this graph isn’t the commercial success of animation. The data shows not just a few success stories, but a growing animation industry filled with diverse, intelligent narratives that captivate audiences worldwide. As animators, we couldn’t be happier about it.

I just wish CalArts made a third graphic that broke down total gross by individual directors, but I guess that would breed a little too much competition. Good thing I don’t care about competition…

I leave you with this: Tim Burton’s sole contribution, with 16 films (including #2 grossing Alice in Wonderland = $3,697,035,996. Not too shabby for the guy that directed Ed Wood.


Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at

Similar Stories