Updated with figures through the Labor Day holiday: Despite all the great news about how this summer’s $4.48 billion box office is a 10% boom over last year’s dumpy ticket sales and the second best of all-time behind 2013’s $4.7B, several studios aren’t sharing the wealth in a season where Universal and Disney ruled close to 60% of stateside ticket sales.
It’s a bit of a surprise that this summer didn’t see a record high. After all, the season gave us the best domestic opening of all-time and the third highest grossing film stateside ever with Universal/Legendary’s Jurassic World ($208.8M FSS and $647.4M total cume). Its success further fueled talk that the $11B box office year (now at $7.7B), topped off by Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is definitely within reach. Admissions for the May 1-Sept. 7 frame wound up +5% at 520.6 million versus last summer’s 495.5 million.
“If certain films lived up to the promise of their marketing or pedigrees, we could be looking at that record $5 billion summer we were praying for,” observes Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian about those three or four extra $100M-grossing films that could have taken the season over the top.
And there was promise on paper: Disney’s Tomorrowland ($93.4M) from Brad Bird and star George Clooney could have been a tentpole, but the director kept the pitch wrapped in a fortune cookie (read Bird’s fumbling D23 2013 presentation through a dusty box of Disney memorabilia). A Bradley Cooper-Emma Stone romantic drama? That made sense. Why couldn’t Aloha ($21M) emulate the success of Silver Linings Playbook? Pixels was built to be the evolution of Adam Sandler’s frat boy humor, but wound up alienating his fans and young audiences with only $74M. And Josh Trank’s soap opera that eroded Fantastic Four ($54.8M)…the list goes on. The collateral damage from this summer is that some brands and sub-genres — i.e. Terminator, Fantastic Four, Disney theme park cinematic spinoffs, and raunchy comedy sequels — are in need of serious surgery.
Further evidence that summer’s ducats were hoarded by a few: eight films out of the top 12 that cleared $100M+ were either Universal or Disney releases. Compare this to 2013, when 19 $100M-grossing titles were spread among the majors.
While three studios saw upticks in their summer ticket sales compared to the same period a year ago — Universal with a huge +259% thanks to Jurassic World and a string of other hits, Disney with 57% spurred by Marvel and Pixar, and Warner Bros with +9% — for Fox, Paramount and Sony, summer yielded double-digit declines. Essentially, if you didn’t have the goods this summer — and some of the studios did release fewer titles — you were bound to sit on the porch and watch the big kids play.
Also, if there’s a demographic that makes any distribution executive drip sweat, it’s the under-25ers and millennials, a crowd that plays hard to get at the B.O. worse than a girl at a high school dance. Years ago, summer box office was built on the backs of males 18-24. However, they’re more distracted by YouTube vids and video games.
“Millennials are a very cohesive group. Given how wired they are, they’re a particularly impactful force. They make their decisions as a group, and they don’t let you know when they’re taking their vote,” says Imax president Greg Foster about the demo’s social media sway with word of mouth. The RelishMix chart to the right shows which YouTube videos generated the most viral activity this summer heading into their opening weekends at the B.O.
“They’re more selective than they’ve ever been and you can’t count on them. But for big summer movies you need them and it’s difficult to be successful without them,” adds a studio chief about the young ones.
But damn, according to CinemaScore opening polls, it didn’t looked like the under 25ers were showing up as adults herded at such films as Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (62%), Terminator Genisys (65%) and Ant-Man (58%). Those titles luring in a heavier under 25 crowd proportionally included Avengers: Age Of Ultron (55%), Pitch Perfect 2 (62%), Pixels (62%) and Insidious Chapter 3 (69%). Per Rentrak’s PostTrak, the summer’s highest-grossing movie Jurassic World was straight down the middle with a 50/50 under-over 25 draw.
Despite these lopsided stats, most studio distrib chiefs claim that the under 25ers and the millennials weren’t entirely lost this summer, and the CinemaScore stats back this up, showing that an average of 56% of all under 25ers showed up at wide releases this summer, which is the same share from five years ago. The under 18 crowd at 38% has dipped slightly from 40% in 2010. Rentrak PostTrak saw that 58% of all moviegoers this summer were made up of under 25ers.
“If you build the right movie, like Hunger Games, they’ll line up around the block,” says Dergarabedian about how the demo doesn’t stick its nose up at the movies. In many cases, when the demo makes a hit that’s all their own, it’s usually with one gender, i.e. Pitch Perfect 2, which drew 75% females on its opening weekend ($69.2M).
However, if you want to continue keeping this demo entertained, many distrib chiefs call for the buildup of premium large-format screens, which are nearing a $400M year-end cume from 480 auditoriums, +60% from 2013. In anticipation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Imax is planning for that demand by upping its global hub count from 800 to 920. Imax, which typically has a title play three weeks on average, accounted for close to 9% of Jurassic World’s $647.4M domestic B.O. (or $56M) and 10% of Inside Out‘s $349.5M (or $36M).
“We need to provide the public with the ultimate movie experience; that’s what they’re buying when they come to the theater and no one is above paying $3 or $4 more a ticket,” says Warner Bros.’ distribution chief Dan Fellman about the need for more PLF and Imax screens as well as 4DX.
One riveting case in point about the PLF revolution can be found in AMC’s 84th Street 6 in Manhattan. Once a substandard venue, it was gutted, had its screen count reduced and then replaced with PLF and leather recliners. The venue rivals NYC’s kingpin AMC Loews 13 in terms of B.O. In regards to 4DX, AEG’s 104-seat theater at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live made close to $2M in its first year. Advance ticket sales for Age Of Ultron there were in the 85% occupancy rate. The venue’s success has triggered New York to add two 4DX auditoriums at Regal E-Walk 13 and Regal Union Square Stadium 14 as well as Chicago’s Marcus Gurnee Cinema.
RealD was also a big winner this summer with 3D fueling a number of openings. Those films where 3D repped more than 40% of their opening B.O. included Jurassic World at 48%, Ant-Man with 42%, Mad Max: Fury Road (41%), San Andreas (44%), Terminator Genisys (47%), and Avengers: Age of Ultron (42%).
Here’s how the studios wound up for the summer period of May 1 through September 7:
Universal with $1.53B became the fastest studio to speed past the year’s $2B mark at the domestic B.O., beating Warner Bros.’ previous 2009 record. Summer on summer, they’re up close to three-fold. A studio that was considered hit-starved before Fast Five jumpstarted summer four years ago, is now the maestro when it comes to rebooting dormant franchises into Jurassic World and hooking the masses with groundbreaking films like Straight Outta Compton. How did they get here? Are all of the studio’s departments from development to social media marketing drinking virgins’ blood? Peg their summer (heck, their year) to putting all the films, in all the right places in 2015. Jurassic World was originally dated June 2014, then moved to this year. Furious 7 was moved into this year following Paul Walker’s death. Minions at $329.8M was originally slotted to go in December before moving to the summer as it was a better time to capitalize on its promo partners – the biggest in the studio’s history. Uni’s one misstep: Ted 2. Though arguably profitable with a reported $68M budget and co-financing from Media Rights Capital, it cast an omen over raunchy comedy sequels and reboots this summer after underperforming stateside with $81.3M to the first chapter’s $218.8M. Says one rival distrib chief about the challenges with R-rated comedy sequels, “Just because the film worked the first time, doesn’t mean it will work during the second go-round. The conceit of the first Ted was that he was a talking bear that was one of us, however, the sequel questioned that conceit.” Not included in Uni’s take is the $89M that its Focus labeled made from genre pics such as Insidous: Chapter 3 ($52.2M), Sinister 2 ($24.5M) and Self/Less ($12.3M).
Disney was always destined to post a great summer constructed from its Marvel and Pixar labels, in this case $1.09B up 57.3% from last year’s heat wave off of eight titles. Many predicted that Avengers: Age of Ultron would outstrip its first installment’s then-record opening weekend (before JW) of $207.4M. It didn’t, but you can’t cry when you’re not to far behind that with $191.3M FSS, a stateside cume of $458.3M and a global haul of $1.4B. Young girls, the most faithful demo out there, flocked to Inside Out making it the second-highest Pixar film of all-time at $349.5M in original release behind Toy Story 3 ($415M). Even Marvel’s oddball superhero Ant-Man rebounded after posting an OK-but-not-marvelous-by-superhero-standards $57.2M opening. The Paul Rudd film drew more women in future weeks as well as families. We thought for a minute that it was another so-so Marvel adaptation like The Incredible Hulk ($55.4M opening, $134.8M), but Ant-Man has turned in a super $174M, just $2M shy of the first Captain America stateside. However, worldwide with $384.6M, Ant-Man has kicked Captain‘s ass ($370M worldwide) and could even takeover Thor‘s mojo ($449M global cume). Disney’s only peccadillo is the $190M lofty budgeted Tomorrowland ($93.4M domestic, $208.6M worldwide) further proof that not every theme park ride (Hey! Anyone remember Haunted Mansion?) can be turned into a movie.
Warner Bros. lived mostly on a diet of lackluster low-budget films versus the titan tentpoles we’ve come to expect from them. Their summer take of $617.1M puts them 9% ahead of last summer when they had Godzilla and Edge of Tomorrow. Cry all you want about where the shield went wrong this summer, however, they’ve made more than Fox and Paramount put together. The excuse over in Burbank is that they’re still suffering from a post-Jeff Robinov slate in a Kevin Tsujihara era. Burly man action reboot Mad Max: Fury Road had No. 1 pulled out from under it by a girls’ movie — a girls movie! (Pitch Perfect 2) Critics loved it at 97% fresh. However, schedule overruns put the George Miller-directed feature at the tip of its cost with an estimated $200M including P&A, thus splattering some blood on its $374.2M global gross. Don’t count a sequel out just yet; the jury is still out on home entertainment. San Andreas provided a much needed boost to the B.O. before the dinos ruled with the Dwayne Johnson disaster film counting $154.6M stateside. Out of all the majors, Warner spent the most during the summer season with $315.7M in TV ads per iSpot.TV. Yeah, the low budget films, even when opening on a Wednesday prior to a tentpole underperformed greatly, but keep this mind: Warner Bros.’ total estimated production budget for their entire summer slate was an estimated $530.9M before P&A yielding $1.29B at the global B.O.
20th Century Fox with $318.3M fell sharply with 65% from its No. 1 perch last summer when it had $906.9M. They had four new films this year — the same count as last summer — but those titles had more meat on their bones: X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, How to Train Your Dragon 2, the overperformer Let’s Be Cops and the femme darling The Fault in Our Stars. Melissa McCarthy R-rated comedy Spy at $110.6M was the only title that worked for the studio this summer. Paper Towns was no Fault at $31.7M and despite staking out the Guardians of the Galaxy first weekend in August spot, Fantastic Four was one catalyst for the last summer month dumping from its $1B high a year ago. They’ll be OK over there in Century City as this fall brings such harvest as Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, The Peanuts Movie, The Martian and The Revenant.
Paramount had somewhat-of-a-summer with $273.1M thanks to Tom Cruise’s resurgence with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which wisely capitalized on Imax screens by moving away from Force Awakens in December to July 31. Par is down largely 44% because M:I5 was the only film that worked versus three releases last year which largely clicked: Transformers 4, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Hercules. Terminator: Genisys was a blunder stateside for the franchise at $89.6M, alienating fans and tarnishing the brand. The fourth title counts $435.9M at the global B.O. making it the second highest Terminator film behind Judgement Day ($519.8M). However, the franchise’s continuation under co-financer Skydance hinges on China minting $150M and thru Sunday Genisys has grossed $108.8M in the Middle Kingdom. One rivial distrib chief believes there’s more hope in rebooting Fantastic Four than Terminator:”The Terminator franchise is property-challenged because it is based on an original IP whereas with Fantastic Four there’s an immense amount of stories in its Marvel universe to pull from.”
It’s not the hack, stupid, it was just bad movies. Sony’s $174.8M, from four films — three of which did not even crack $30M — is being attributed to a previous chief’s reign, much like Warner Bros. Pixels was their top grosser at $74M. They had more output last year, buoyed by big pics :The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($202.9M) and 22 Jump Street ($190.5M), an anomaly among R-rated raunchy sequels. War Room at a small cost of $3.5M is giving them some profit after making $28.7M through Labor Day. Versus last summer, Sony is down an astounding 71%. “How do they keep the lights on over there?” snarked one rival studio executive. Autumn is Sony’s to lose with James Bond pic Spectre, Hotel Transylvania 2, Seth Rogen’s The Night Before and Will Smith Christmas NFL drama Concussion.
Rounding out the bottom part of the summer marketshare are Weinstein Co. with $82.4M, up 24%, and Lionsgate with $67.9M, down 20%. Also, STX Entertainment got its start this summer with horror-thriller The Gift making $40.39M. These distribs basically kept it limited to singles and doubles they could potentially profit from. For TWC, Southpaw at a near $52M stateside and $69.75M worldwide was a boom off a net production cost of $25M after Pennsylvania tax credits. There was also their $5M acquisition No Escape which made $20M through Labor Day. Lionsgate had an opportunity with its hipster title American Ultra starring Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg last month, but it bombed with close to $13.4M, unable to pull those stoners out of school. In all fairness, the studio opted not to play summer, rather propped 2015 on Insurgent in the spring ($130.2M) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 this November.