Illumination, originally named Illumination Entertainment, is an American film and animation studio, founded by Chris Meledandri in 2007. It is owned by Meledandri and Universal Studios, a division of NBCUniversal, which is itself a division of Comcast. Meledandri produces the movies while Universal finances and distributes all the films. The studio is best known for the Despicable Me franchise, and has also produced the films The Secret Life of Pets and Sing. The Minions, characters from the Despicable Me films, are the studio's official mascots.
Illumination's highest-grossing films are Minions (2015), which has grossed $1.159 billion worldwide, Despicable Me 3 (2017), $1.033 billion, and Despicable Me 2 (2013), $970.8 million. All three are among the 50 highest-grossing films of all time, and six of the films are among the 50 highest-grossing animated films, with Minions being the second all-time highest.
Meledandri left his post as President of 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios in early 2007. While at those companies he supervised or executive produced movies including Ice Age (2002), its sequel Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006), Robots (2005), and Horton Hears a Who! (2008). After leaving, he founded Illumination Entertainment. By 2008, a deal was announced positioning Illumination as NBCUniversal’s family entertainment arm that would produce one to two films a year starting in 2010. As an independent production company, Illumination retains creative control and Universal exclusively distributes the films. During the summer 2011, Illumination acquired the animation department of the French animation and visual effects studio Mac Guff, which animated Despicable Me (2010) and The Lorax (2012), and formed Illumination Mac Guff.
Meledandri prefers to keep Illumination adhering to a low-cost model, recognizing that "strict cost controls and hit animated films are not mutually exclusive". In an industry where film expenses often exceed $100 million, Illumination's first two releases were completed with significantly lower budgets, considering Despicable Me's $69 million budget and Hop's $63 million budget. One way the company sustains a lean financial model is by employing cost-conscious animation techniques that lower the expenses and render times of its computer graphics.
Not unlike Pixar, in its early days Illumination depended on a core group of directors and writers to create its films. The directors of Despicable Me, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, also directed or co-directed Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, Despicable Me 2, Minions, The Secret Life of Pets, and Despicable Me 3. Screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (who had written Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who for Meledandri at Fox) wrote or co-wrote Despicable Me, Hop, Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, Despicable Me 2, The Secret Life of Pets, and Despicable Me 3, while screenwriter Brian Lynch wrote or co-wrote Hop, Minions, and The Secret Life of Pets.
In 2016, NBCUniversal acquired competing studio DreamWorks Animation, appointing Meledandri to oversee both studios.
Meledandri is determined to keep his company adhering to a low-cost model, recognizing that "strict cost controls and hit animated films are not mutually exclusive". In an industry where movie expenses often exceed $100 million, Illumination's first two releases were completed with significantly lower budgets, considering Despicable Me's $69 million budget and the $63 million budget of Hop. One way the company sustains a lean financial model is by employing cost-conscious animation techniques that lower the expenses and render times of its computer graphics.
The studio's first film, Despicable Me, was released on July 9, 2010, and was a smash hit, earning $56 million on its opening weekend, and going on to earn $251 million domestically and $543 million worldwide. Illumination's second film was the live action/CGI hybrid Hop (2011), which opened to a much bigger than expected $37 million opening, and ended up with $108 million domestically and $183 million worldwide. An adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, debuted on March 2, 2012, earning $70 million on its opening weekend, and eventually found its way to $214 million stateside and $348 million worldwide. The studio's first sequel, Despicable Me 2, opened in the United States on July 3, 2013, earning over $970 million worldwide, becoming the second highest-grossing 2013 animated film and breaking a record as the most profitable Universal Studios film in its 100-year history. The spin-off to Despicable Me, titled Minions, was released on July 10, 2015, and has grossed over $1 billion worldwide.
The Secret Life of Pets was released on July 8, 2016. Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, the film would earn $104 million in its opening weekend, $368 million stateside, and $875 million worldwide. Sing, a comedy written and directed by Garth Jennings, was released on December 21, 2016. It was the first movie for the studio to have a Christmas release. The film would earn $56 million in its first 5 days, grossing $270 million stateside and $634 million worldwide. It also holds the record for the highest grossing film not to ever be at #1 in its run. Despicable Me 3 was released on June 30, 2017, and became the 2nd film to earn $1 billion for the studio, and set a record for the highest theater count ever with 4,536 theaters in its 2nd week. The second film from Illumination based on a Dr. Seuss book, The Grinch, is scheduled for release on November 9, 2018, and is directed by Peter Candeland and Yarrow Cheney from an adaptation by Michael LeSieur. Other future projects are The Secret Life of Pets 2, Sing 2, Minions: The Rise of Gru, the Untitled Mario film, Migration and Despicable Me 4. It will be followed by two more untitled films; the release dates are: July 21, 2025; and July 20, 2026.
Other films in development include feature adaptations of books such as Ricky Gervais' Flanimals, Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat and Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase; a film adaptation based on the short Johnny Express.
In May 19, 2011, Illumination announced that it would be working with Universal Studios to create Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, a 3-D ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Hollywood, and Osaka. The ride officially opened on July 2, 2012 in Orlando, Hollywood on April 12, 2014, and Osaka on April 21, 2017.
On November 14, 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that Illumination is teaming up with Nintendo to make an animated Mario film. In January 2018, Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima stated that, if plans go smoothly, a Mario movie could happen by 2020. On January 31, 2018, Nintendo of America announced on Twitter that they are partnering with Illumination on a movie starring Mario, it will be co-produced by Shigeru Miyamoto and Chris Meledandri.
|#||Title||Release date||Distributor/Co-production with||Animation service|
|1||Despicable Me||July 9, 2010||Universal Pictures||Mac Guff|
|2||Hop||April 1, 2011||Universal Pictures
|Rhythm and Hues|
Mac Guff (Illumination opening logo variant only)
|3||Dr. Seuss' The Lorax||March 2, 2012||Universal Pictures
Dr. Seuss Enterprises
|Illumination Mac Guff|
|4||Despicable Me 2||July 3, 2013||Universal Pictures|
|5||Minions||July 10, 2015|
|6||The Secret Life of Pets||July 8, 2016|
|7||Sing||December 21, 2016|
|8||Despicable Me 3||June 30, 2017|
|9||Dr. Seuss' The Grinch||November 9, 2018||Universal Pictures|
Dr Seuss. Enterprises
|10||The Secret Life of Pets 2||June 7, 2019||Universal Pictures|
|11||Sing 2||December 22, 2021|
|#||Title||Release date||Distributor/Co-production with||Animation service|
|12||Minions: The Rise of Gru||July 1, 2022||Universal Pictures||Illumination Mac Guff|
|13||Untitled Mario film||December 21, 2022||Universal Pictures|
|14||Migration||June 30, 2023||Universal Pictures|
|15||Despicable Me 4||July 3, 2024|
Films in development
|Untitled Pharrell Williams film|
|Blondie: The Movie"|
|Lockwood and Company: The Screaming Staircase|
|#||Title||Release date||Co-production with||Animation service||Release with||Notes|
|30||Chloe's Love Life||July 1, 2022||Universal Pictures||Illumination Mac Guff||Minions: The Rise of Gru||Theatrical release|
|31||Minion's Spaced Out||November 29, 2022||Universal Pictures Home Entertainment||Home media release|
|#||Title||Release date||Co-production with||Animation service||Network|
|1||Minions Holiday Special||November 27, 2020||NBCUniversal||Illumination Mac Guff||NBC|
|1||Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem||July 2, 2012||Theme park ride|
|2||The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!||April 16, 2021|
|The Secret Life of Pets||2016-2019|
|Despicable Me: The Game||2010||Nintendo Wii
|D3 Publisher||Monkey Bar Games|
- The Minions are Illumination's mascot.
- Despicable Me is popular for using the theme song for the 1968 MGM movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and the opening theme for the original 1967 Columbia Pictures version of Casino Royale.
- This company has not yet made a G-rated production, as every one of its feature-length films so far has been rated PG by the MPAA (as of the short film Mower Minions, Yellow is the New Black and Minion Scouts), due to stricter reasons.