Warner Bros. gets bragging rights for leading all major studios at the summer box office with $790M, fueled by DC’s Wonder Woman, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and New Line horror film Annabelle: Creation.
After getting beaten up by film reviewers last year for its DC titles Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, WB proved that it could deliver a product that was equally a commercial success and critically acclaimed. We always knew that women went to the box office, watching movies like The Hunger Games, Twilight, Magic Mike, and Bridesmaids, but finally with Wonder Woman they got their own superhero to celebrate. They made the Gal Gadot pic the highest grossing title of the summer and second-highest grossing of the year with $409.4M.
But the success of the Patty Jenkins-helmed pic also broke ceilings for female directors at the box office. The DC pic holds the record for the best opening ever for a title directed by a female ($103.3M) and the top-grossing female-directed live action title overall ($409.5M, domestic, $809.2M). In a summer that was off an estimated 15% per ComScore with total domestic tickets sales of $3.83 billion, Wonder Woman clearly proved, along with Disney/Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($389.7M) and Spider-Man: Homecoming ($324M) that moviegoing wasn’t broken. The fact that it’s the worst summer since 2006 is because the season was burdened with too many older franchise titles (Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alien) versus younger ones.
We knew Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was going to be good, but a British World War II movie in the heart of summer? Surely that meant death: Business logic would have that the safe play would be a release timed to the onset of the fall festival season, but the director didn’t want it that way. Audiences know that Nolan isn’t just about Batman, but is a jawdropper storyteller in other genres as well, hence Dunkirk‘s $180.3M, a success no distribution chief in town saw coming. Dunkirk beating Transformers, Pirates 5 and War for the Planet of the Apes? Yes, that happened. In addition, New Line owns the top grossing film of the summer with Annabelle: Creation ($90.5M). Next to Blumhouse, New Line is the only studio label that knows how to make the genre win at a low cost. Others attempted and fell greatly short (Broad Green’s Wish Upon at $14.1M and A24’s It Comes at Night at $13.9M).
On the down side, Warner Bros. was -9% from last summer when it had a second place notch for the season at $872.6M. Other majors bled over the last four months including Disney (-39%), Universal (-34%) and Paramount (-33%). Disney had its one-two-three punch of Marvel, Pixar and its theme park branded IP which made them slide summer-to-summer from $1.2 billion to $739M (they still lead all studios for 2017 to date with more than $1.4B). While it’s expected for a fifthquel like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales to come in lower, Pixar was the loser here as audiences showed waning interest in Cars 3, which is looking at a domestic B.O. of $151.4M, -21% stateside from the previous installment and easily the lowest of the three. Disney’s defense has always been that the Cars films are for merchandise sales, but many rivals say that the threequel’s toy sales were off.
Sony is the only major studio to see a lift in its summer-to-summer grosses with $595.3M, +25%. Its successes this summer are lessons learned for the entire industry: Sony knew that the prized franchise Spider-Man was in desperate need of a reboot even though the last title Amazing Spider-Man 2 (a second reboot) drew a $70M-plus profit off a global haul of $70M. The studio launched original, edgy fare at a low cost without throwing its cash out the window with Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver ($105.5M, $207.7M global off a $34M pricetag).
The obvious solution with Spider-Man: Homecoming as realized by producer and former Sony boss Amy Pascal was having Kevin Feige finally give the superhero the proper Marvel Cinematic Universe treatment and bring the webslinger into the greater Avengers family (the way it was always meant to be on screen, just like in the comic books). Even though Dark Tower wasn’t the hit they intended, they kept it low with a $60M production cost; their global B.O. now going over $100M. Sony has Media Rights Capital to thank as a co-finance partner in spreading the risk around with Baby Driver and Dark Tower.
The lack of a powerhouse Pixar title and the third Despicable Me in the marketplace slowed animation greatly this summer. Toons too had their own franchise fatigue, despite the fact that DM3 will be the only summer title to crack past $1B. It’s why Universal is down 34% with $480.3M, having spread its best films to other seasons, like Fifty Shades Darker in the winter and Get Out and Fate of the Furious in the spring. Uni can also boast that it’s the only studio that could get comedy to work, with Malcolm D. Lee’s highest grossing film Girls Trip at $112M. As far as other studios go, it’s time to retire R-rated raunch in the wake of New Line’s The House, Sony’s Rough Night and Paramount’s Baywatch falling apart. Time to reinvent the comedy wheel.
20th Century Fox is +4.8% with $397.4M comprised largely of War for the Planet of the Apes ($144.6M), Alien: Covenant ($74.3M), DreamWorks Animation’s Captain Underpants ($73.4M) and Fox Searchlight fare. It could have been bigger for the Pico Blvd. studio. War was more Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. A title switch might have helped, but audiences weren’t as wowed as critics by the final installment in the trilogy, which was inspired by Apocalypse Now and Sergio Leone westerns. Fox did what it could to stoke the press with media reels months in advance for its summers titles, but arguably it was finally the movies, not the marketing, that did them in. Case in point: The CinemaCon clips of Alien: Covenant looked just as amazing as Prometheus with Michael Fassbender’s android taking out what looked to be an Egyptian-Roman futuristic city. But the movie seemed more a chase film than the greater mythology Prometheus served up. And the team-up of Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer in Snatched ($45.8M) did not equal Trainwreck ($110.2M). The difference? The lack of Judd Apatow’s fingerprints on Snatched; the filmmaker certainly has a gift when it comes to mentoring young comedians in TV and film, and his record speaks for itself.
Paramount tried and failed with a $192M summer take, -33% from the same May-August period last year. They really wanted Baywatch to win, and it looked fun and fresh with beefcakes Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron buzzing around on the beach. But the brand proved to be a marketing nightmare: The brand was always meant for men, yet couldn’t be sold on T&A alone for fear of being offensive and putting off greater crowds. So the studio went out on a limb and sold to the non-Baywatch fans, the ladies, but the Magic Mike fans never showed up.
Transformers: The Last Knight — it’s obvious the time has come to finally shake up the franchise like a seltzer bottle with the fifth movie being the lowest of the crop at $604M worldwide, down greatly from its 2014 $1.1 billion-grossing sequel. The Melrose lot has four films left for the year, three being awards season fodder – mother!, Suburbicon, Downsizing – and Daddy’s Home 2.
The frugal, public-traded Lionsgate is +18% with just under $180M thanks to a slew of singles and doubles including Hitman’s Bodyguard ($60M), the Tupac Shakur pic All Eyez on Me ($44.9M) timed to the late hip hop artist’s birthday, and Amazon’s Judd Apatow produced romantic comedy The Big Sick ($40.9M) which crossed over from arthouses with an eye on Oscar season.
Below are the top ranking studios at the summer 2017 box office for the period of May 5-Sept. 4 according to ComScore and Deadline calculations. Numbers subject to change: