Image (1) box_office_weekend_3202008-12-22-1229966765_20110417092737.jpg for post 123287This weekend’s domestic box office was off a whopping 28 percent, which has people wondering why. Could it be the quality is just not there? “Yeah, what the hell is going on, right?” said one distributor when I asked. “It’s content driven. We’re in a slump at the moment, but next year will be better. This year, I don’t think it’s any indication that problems are anything but the  content.” As in quality, or lack thereof, and I think that most Deadline readers would concur that though this summer has seen some gems (like The Fault in Our Stars, Apes, Heaven is For Real), they’ve wrapped around some real stinkers (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Moms Night Out).

By the way, Paramount’s Transformers:Age of Extinction has made $659.1M internationally and around $228M to date domestically, is on track to become the 19th picture ever to move past the $1B mark and could end up in the Top Ten all-time worldwide grossers. But others have fallen flat. As we’ve noted in the past, it’s a cyclical business. Some of the pictures from 2014 moved to 2015 to avoid having to deal with the World Cup. Next summer looks more promising: the April 3rd release of Fast and Furious 7, followed in May by the highly-anticipated The Avengers: Age of Ultron and then The Fantastic Four, Jurassic World, Ted 2, Minions and Terminator.

But here’s the question: When will the industry see a movie that will go four consecutive weekends in a row at No. 1? (see chart below, courtesy of Rentrak). And could Disney/Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy do it? 

mza_7113814647211505108There was a time when a four-weekend champ was more commonplace, enough that you could see it happen two to three times a year, but now they are much less common. With one remake or sequel after another rolled out weekend after weekend, there’s little time for a picture (or the studio marketing/distribution team behind it) to breathe anymore.

The last time a movie stayed No. 1 for four weeks, according to Rentrak, was in 2012 when Hunger Games bowed from Lionsgate. Before that it was in 2009 with Avatar (it stayed seven weeks at No. 1) and then 2008 when Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight swooped into theaters. Prior to that, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King achieved that crown in 2003. By comparison, it happened four times in 1986 alone. The Lego Movie, which came out in February, almost did it, but the animated favorite was knocked from its perch after three weeks when Non-Stop and Son of God rose past it. So when will the next four-bagger come? Will it be Star Wars VII next year? Or maybe, could it still happen this summer? It’s not really over until the fat lady … er, gnarly raccoon … sings, you know.

Guardians of the GalaxyAll eyes are on Disney/Marvel’s Guardians, which opens on Aug. 1., the start of a traditionally slow month when the summer box-office season winds down. “Disney and Marvel are unleashing a beast where it is normally a softer time frame. August is called the dog days for a reason. And it is bold and it may be the shot in the arm the summer needs,” noted Paul Dergardibian, Rentrak’s senior media analyst.

Right now, Guardians (which is oddly different from any other Marvel franchise pic) is tracking around $68M to $70M. It may even go higher. Some think that $70M to $80M is not out of the question. If Guardians can open that big and then get around Expendables 3 (Expendables 2 opened to $28.5M) in its third weekend out, it could actually pull it off. Might be tough, but it is possible. And it has the IMAX screens for three weeks in a row with a fourth week a possibility.

Regardless, if Guardians opens higher than Bourne Ultimatum‘s $69.2M in 2007, Disney will have opened and closed the box office summer (yes, it came early this year on April 4) with the highest April opener in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the highest August opener of all time in Guardians.

While the domestic box office has been flailing this summer, pictures have actually fared very well internationally. In fact, the international box office for studio films has been on fire. Neighbors-BannerIt’s been a shape-shifting business model that has emerged over the past many years. But to look at a few that have played out or are still in play: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($103M and just at its start) X-Men: Days of Future Past ($508M), Neighbors ($105.4M), The Other Woman ($111.15), Maleficent ($468.8M) and, of course, Transformers ($659.1M), to name but a few. Even films that haven’t had a strong run in the U.S. market are doing well overseas. Edge of Tomorrow, for instance, is nearing $100M in the U.S. at $96.6M, but has already made $261.3M abroad. 22 Jump Street is at $88.3M gross so far with lots of potential for more coin. Sony’s been smart about its release overseas and the film did well despite the World Cup competition for audience attention.

How To train Your DragonIn fact, kudos to Fox for being so prudent, as my colleague Nancy Tartaglione has pointed out in her reporting, for slotting its films so smartly around the World Cup this year to reap the maximum gross on its pictures. They did well with both tentpoles and counter-programmers. For instance, an unlikely picture about two kids in love fighting cancer — Fox’s The Fault in Our Stars — has grossed $127.9M. And How to Train Your Dragon 2 ,which has grossed $225.5M already even though it has yet to open in China. Well done.