Summer Box Office Cooled In 2016 And Could Be Colder In 2017, Analyst Warns


Bad business fundamentals, not bad movies, account for this summer’s lackluster domestic box office sales, Cowen & Co.’s Doug Creutz says this morning in latest of his periodic — and widely read — industry analyses.

Sales came in at $3.54 billion over the 13 weekends beginning with the first one in May. When you adjust previous year totals to 2016 dollars, this summer was down 2.5% vs summer 2015 — and was the second lowest total since 2001, he figures. (The lowest was 2014 with $3.17 billion in inflation- adjusted box office sales.)

But don’t blame studios and the creative community for misreading audience tastes. This summer had the highest number of films that scored 60 or higher on Rotten Tomatoes.

The real problem, Creutz says, is that audiences are losing interest in moviegoing, resulting in what he calls “a secular decline in theatrical demand.”

Since 2011 “better than average film quality…did not translate into better box office, as it had reliably done during the 2001-2010 period.”

That hurts because studios are flooding the market with big films. Some 29 releases opened in 2,500 or more theaters this summer. That’s the most Creutz has seen since 2001 when his count begins, and is up from 24 in 2015.

Supply and demand likely will remain out of whack in summer 2017, he warns. Studios already plan 26 major releases — down from this year but still above historical averages.

“We expect to see several money-losing blockbusters given that the number of action/animation films at 17 is significantly higher than our guideline rule of no more than nine being successful,” he says.

Studios play with other people’s money, and investors have to make their bets long before they’re able to see the actual movies. So Creutz offers this guidance to clients wondering what this year’s results suggest for summer 2017.

Disney faces “medium” risk, grappling with “extremely difficult” comparisons to this year’s successes including Finding Dory, he says. Guardians Of the Galaxy 2 likely will be a big seller. But Cars 3 may continue the decline the franchise saw with Cars 2. And Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales follows “a number of box office flops” for Johnny Depp including Alice Through The Looking Glass, Lone Ranger, Transcendence, and Mortdecai.

Fox has a “medium-high” risk. It will release DreamWorks Animation’s Captain Underpants which “faces brutal competition from the Cars and Despicable Me threequels.” The analyst also warns that Kingsman: The Golden Circle “will be wedged between tough action and animated competition that could keep a lid on its performance.”

Paramount has “low-medium” risk with World War Z 2 and Transformers: The Last Knight expected to do “reasonably well.” But Baywatch, with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, could do surprisingly well as “action-comedy counterprogramming.”

And Warner Bros is a “medium” risk with four major films teed up: Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Annabelle 2, and The House. Given the difficult competition, none is guaranteed to rank among the summer’s top 12 , Creutz says. But Wonder Woman could break through. Audiences “gave the DC [comic book universe] passes” on Batman Vs. Superman and Suicide Squad “but that trend is unlikely to persist indefinitely.”

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