The summer frame, defined this year as May 2 through Labor Day, is down 14.6% versus the same period in 2013, when the industry was headed to a record year. In 2013, Iron Man 3 was phenomenal on the domestic front, grossing $409M to be the summer’s top film. Compare that with this summer’s top performer, once again featuring Marvel comic book heroes, in this case, Guardians of the Galaxy: Despite the same content source and distributor, this summer’s No. 1 film grossed $281.2M through Labor Day.
The fact is that this year, no picture opened to $100M (no, Transformers did NOT open to $100M, only to around $97.4M), there were no $400M or $300M grossers, no massively successful animated films and two of the biggest tentpoles — Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — underperformed this year, compared to 2013’s films.
If you compare the Top 10 movies from 2013 with those from 2014 in the tables below, the difference is glaring, especially at the very top. One note: the 2014 numbers are still estimates, given that we still have another few hours of box office “summer” to go. Read on after the charts for much more analysis on this summer — which suffered for a variety of reasons.
Some of this isn’t a surprise. Early in the year, analysts were projecting a down 2014 for box office, for a number of reasons (though those same reasons also led them to project 2015 will be much better). For instance, a number of tentpole hopefuls were moved out of 2014 and into 2015 — Disney/Pixar’s Good Dinosaur, The Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending from Village Roadshow and Warner Bros. and, of course, Universal’s popular franchise Fast and Furious 7, which had to regroup following the death of star Paul Walker (production was put on hold for about four months). The World Cup also played a factor this year in determining which pictures should be moved out of the summer season.
Not having those in the mix this year definitely impacted final 2014 tallies. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which started out the summer on the same first weekend in May that Iron Man 3 launched from, grossed only $202M for the summer — less than half of IM3. Last summer, the industry saw several strong animated sequels — Despicable Me 2 with $351.6M and Monsters University with $261.9, whereas 2014’s top-grossing animated film is How to Train Your Dragon 2, which grossed considerably less. It is expected in at $174M after the four-day.
Some of the best analysis I’ve heard regarding this year’s challenges came from Chris Aronson, Fox’s head of distribution, who bemoaned the dearth of family product this summer.
“Last year we had three or four animated films and this year, we had two,” he said, referring, of course to the Fox/DreamWorks Animation offering Dragon 2 and Disney’s underperforming Planes: Fire & Rescue.
“But as far as major tentpole animated films there were three last year and this year there was one,” Aronson said. “And those ticket sales you can’t make up anywhere. The family audience is not going to go, for instance, to see Sex Tape.” Good point.
There were some obvious profit-makers — Paramount’s Transformers: The Age of Extinction (with over $1B worldwide gross), Fox’s The Fault in Our Stars (which grossed more than 10X its reported production costs), Universal’s The Purge: Anarchy, the modestly-budgeted Neighbors and Lucy (via EuropaCorp.). Sony welcomed the huge moneymaker 22 Jump Street (now at $314M worldwide).
But, there were some very big-budget misfires — The Millennium Entertainment/Lionsgate action franchise The Expendables 3 just fell to its knees (a $100M production that opened to an anemic $15.8M domestically and is still playing itself out overseas); it currently sits at $34.1M domestically; Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For ($65M to $75M budget that opened to a mere $6.3M and currently sits at $11.4M), and Edge of Tomorrow, the Tom Cruise sci-fi actioner (a $175M to $180M project that opened to a miserable $28.7M). Too bad, as I heard Edge of Tomorrow was actually a decent film. Lest we forget, Universal gave us the Seth McFarlane stinker A Million Ways to Die in the West. I think the reason they sold any tickets after the first weekend was because people were going just to see how bad it was. It has grossed $86.2M worldwide with a domestic take of $42.7M on a budget of $57M to $59M not counting marketing and distribution costs (Universal claimed a $40M budget).
Overall, it was Disney that had a three-out-of-four batting average with Maleficent, its newly-born franchise Guardians of the Galaxy and a respectable outing for The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is holding up well.
Despite Disney’s continuing battles with Amazon over sales of some of its biggest home videos, we expect all three titles to pull in strong numbers in home entertainment. Million Dollar Arm was the disappointment among Disney’s summer slate. The company has three films in the Top Ten domestic grossers of 2014, and two — Maleficent with $238.7M and Guardians with $281.2M — were summer releases.
Guardians sailed past Disney/Marvel’s other big title — Captain America: The Winter Soldier — during Labor Day weekend to gross $281.2M (actual numbers will come tomorrow). Guardians will end up easily passing $300M before it’s finished with its run, and is the crowning box office champ of the summer and year so far to date. Guardians also surpassed $500M overseas.
Maleficent, the family film that skewed a bit older (thanks, Angelina Jolie) was a picture that opened to $69.4M and had strong legs that carried it to excellent business abroad, where it passed $500M.
“We are really happy with the results with Captain America leading into the summer, Maleficent coming right in the middle to become a great option for families when they didn’t have an option for summer, and then to end with Guardians, which showed the extraordinary momentum of Marvel Studios,” said Disney distribution head Dave Hollis. “And Hundred-Foot Journey has been a great surprise as a smarter, adult alternative at the end of a rock-’em, sock-’em summer.” The adult drama, which received an excellent A rating on CinemaScore, steadily found an audience through positive word-of-mouth.
The biggest grosser of the summer worldwide was Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, the Paramount Pictures sequel that joined the elite Billion Dollar Club.
“It was exciting to get the movie repositioned with a new cast, which worked really well for it, not only domestically but also internationally,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of domestic marketing and distribution. “With Turtles and Guardians, they were both very different than other tentpoles … a lot of fun, but not obvious on paper and a bit of a risk, but it hit with audiences.” Together, those two films raised the summer out of its blues and gave August a much-needed bump. Turtles opened well and is continuing to play and ended the summer season with $166.3M, surpassing 22 Jump Street to jump into the Top Ten of the summer chart.
Fox’s Aronson said, “For us, it was a great summer. Through Sunday of last weekend, we were up over 48% over last year. Sure there were some hits and misses to go around (at each studio). Some have wanted to take the Chicken Little approach, but I never saw it that way. If you look at the one common theme of our movies, they were all well-received critically and well-received by audiences. Our sequels X-Men and Apes were very high-quality productions.”
Yep, they certainly were, and not all studios can claim that. There were a number of poor-quality films in the marketplace this year vs. 2013. Fox was also able to enjoy the fruits of The Fault In Our Stars both here and abroad (as the little picture performed incredibly strongly in Brazil and Korea). Both of Fox’s big-budget tentpoles easily passed the $200M mark in the States; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with $205.5M under its belt domestically is over $400M overseas and X-Men grossed over $500M internationally and rounds out the Labor Day weekend with a cume of $233.4M.
While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t perform as expected, it did just enough to help perceptions and Sony’s stock price for the first quarter. It grossed $202.8M domestically. Sony proudly took the No. 1 comedy this summer with 22 Jump Street logging in $190.6M.
“We had some great highs and some lows, but overall we had a very good summer, particularly on the world stage,” said distribution head Rory Bruer. “I think certainly having Spider-Man do over $700M kicked off our summer well and Sex Tape over-performed internationally.” Yeah, well, at least it performed somewhere as U.S. audiences didn’t warm to the raunchy comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel.
Warner Bros. didn’t have a great summer domestically with such titles as Godzilla, which it eventually dragged over the $200M mark in the U.S.; the comedy Blended, which performed well overseas but didn’t blend well with U.S. audiences, who seem to have become bored with the Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore combo.
Melissa McCarthy‘s passion project Tammy became the picture that everyone loved to hate, but actually will end up making some money and should be a strong performer on home-entertainment platforms. With IMAX smartly attaching itself at the hip with Guardians, Warner Bros. distribution team led by Dan Fellman wisely locked down most all of the PLF formats on Into the Storm to get the higher ticket prices to help its gross. This was done on the same weekend that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bowed. Great strategy. After four weeks in release, WB’s tactics helped this pic get to its current $42.6M. Unfortunately, Jersey Boys from filmmaker Clint Eastwood didn’t have the legs that the studio had hoped it would. Blended made a bundle for Warner Bros. overseas … about $80M compared to its $46.2M domestic take.
Universal, as we mentioned earlier, had a handful of nicely produced, marketed and distributed profit makers. Its last film of the summer was the Legendary horror picture, As Above/So Below which — despite the horrible quality — may also end up turning a profit at the end off its run. It turned out $10.2M over its Labor Day weekend four-day debut on a budget of around $5M (according to sources, not counting marketing and distribution costs).
“We did not have any mega-budget films this summer,” said Universal distribution head Nikki Rocco. “When we look at what we released this year even, 5 out of 9 of them were No. 1. Neighbors and Lucy were studio home runs this summer.” Neighbors ended its domestic run at $150M while Lucy has made over $100M both here and abroad to date. It’s a shame that the actor Paul Walker died in the car crash and that had ramifications not for the business as well. Universal, respectfully, delayed the picture and allowed those grieving to wrap their heads around the loss and also figure out how to move forward without its star. From a business standpoint, Universal’s big 2014 tentpole was pushed to 2015, thereby impacting its bottom line for the year … that picture, the studio, had potential of being a $1B worldwide player.
Rocco mentioned how nice it was to be in the Jason Blum business — this guy is a hugely profitable filmmaker in his well-defined niche — with The Purge: Anarchy and the upcoming title Jem and the Holograms, which the studio has big hopes for.
Of course, the studio can’t get around the tale of the two Seths — Rogen, the money maker and McFarlane, the money-eater. Get On Up, the James Brown biopic which had those fantastic musical numbers in it, just didn’t hit with anyone but the older crowd who were familiar with Brown. In five weeks, Get On Up has made roughly $29.8M through Labor Day. Rocco called them “acceptable misses because of the modest budgets.”
Relativity had the animated Disney turnaround acquisition Earth to Echo which was made for roughly $13M and The November Man with the aging Pierce Brosnan in an action film about spies. It picked up that one for about $3M, it said. Yawn. Next. The Weinstein Co. distributed Begin Again, the sweet music-oriented film written and directed by John Carney and starring Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightly. You can blame bland title change (from a Can A Song Save Your Life) directly on executives listening to the musings of test audiences. Dumb move.
Director Robert Rodriguez’ Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, had so many producers — and exec producers — that you couldn’t keep count. The Aldamisa Entertainment production — and they pre-sold like crazy — just bombed at the box office with only $11.4M after two weeks in release. It dropped 65% in its second weekend (Labor Day). Rodriguez should have gone for the tax breaks in Louisiana, though it did cut a unique deal with VFX and 3D company Prime Focus World to do the extremely striking green-screen and 3D work on every frame in exchange for a stake in the film. The Giver, based on the hugely popular and pioneering YA novel by Lois Lowry, was made for about $27M (not accounting for marketing and distribution costs) and is still playing out and has made $33.2M in two weekends of release which is nothing to write home about. But, held strongly, dropping only 18% in its second week of release.
Lionsgate, dogged by more than 5 million illegal downloads mostly from overseas, released The Expendables 3 to a disastrous $15.8M opening. Despite an A- CinemaScore, these aging action stars are part of a tired Millennium Entertainment franchise now. It’s cume after three weekends in release is only $34.1M on a budget of about $100M. No good for anyone.
Lionsgate also released Dinesh D’Souza‘s controversial documentary America: Imagine A World Without Her, which did solid business and is still in a few theaters for what its distributors said would be its last weekend. The end run is $14.4M after Labor Day. And also, the international dance franchise Step Up, All In, which domestic audiences failed to pay for with $14.2M through the holiday, is doing better overseas with a $59.9M take. In all, that means that 81 percent of its box office receipts are coming from outside North America.