Television was suppose to kill it. Then VHS. And, ultimately, streaming.
But this summer, moviegoing was very much alive and kicking, with a projected near-record domestic box office haul of $4.8 billion, nearly toppling 2013’s banner $4.87 billion, per ComScore and Deadline calculations. That’s when we started the clock on April 27, when Avengers: Infinity War blasted this summer off with the biggest stateside opening of all-time at $257.7M.
Last summer reached an 11-year low of $3.86 billion (for the same April 27-Labor Day period), and it was the stale franchises to blame, not Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. As AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron told Deadline before Infinity War opened, moviegoers aren’t making Sophie’s Choices between the cinema and streaming.
“Netflix was in business in February (when Black Panther opened), and they’ll do good business when Avengers: Infinity War opens. The American consumer and the global consumer can handle all this content. We can survive healthy side-by-side with all these other means of getting content.” Boy, was he right.
This summer was built on some of the backs of young franchises (Deadpool 2), cliffhangers (Infinity War), diversity (Crazy Rich Asians), beloved brands with a riveting veneer (Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), and age-old stars who continually renew the stakes for their franchises (Tom Cruise in the best-reviewed Mission: Impossible of all-time, Fallout).
Great movies at the box office drive business for other titles, thanks to the age-old marketing of in-theater trailers, and Black Panther (yes, that February release which hit $700M) set a fire at the box office that burned well past Infinity War. Says Greg Foster CEO of Imax Entertainment, “Thankfully, because of Avengers: Infinity War, summer started in April instead of May, which created the all-important momentum that our industry thrives on. Every month – From April to August – there was more than one blockbuster that audiences could wrap their arms around and be reminded of why they love going to the movies.“
Here are some of the takeaways from this summer at the box office:
Throw out the rule book Summer doesn’t start on the first weekend of May. Says who? Disney’s Marvel, that’s who, and exhibition is that much richer for it. AMC reported that, for the quarter ending June 30, their admission and concession revenue was at $1.4 billion, +17% from the same three-month period a year ago. Ditto for Cinemark, which saw $889M in such revenue, +17%. Avengers: Infinity War teed off and led all titles to their second-best week YTD (April 27-May 5) with $415.1M, following the Feb. 16-22 week when Black Panther propelled all theatrical business to $419M.
“This summer was all about not adhering to the status quo. When Hollywood rips up the playbook, it creates a new box office paradigm. It really worked. Distributors were more nimble, took some risks, and benefited from not following the safe or traditional release date strategy for movies,” says ComScore Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian. Warner Bros. pulled off the bold move in August by having two event pics follow each other by five days in release and score over $100M in business — we’re talking about The Meg and Crazy Rich Asians.
Despite their phenomenal B.O. success, Disney had an Achilles heel No disrespect to the summer (and the year’s) box office leader, who repped 38% of the season’s box office with $1.8 billion. But they owned one of two big budget bombs this season: Solo: A Star Wars Story. This is the studio which has propelled its success off the Walt Disney business philosophy of ‘plusing’, continually making scripts and marketing increasingly better and churning out branded product which greatly appeals to both critics and the masses in a do-or-die social media age. While there are myriad reasons why Solo failed, there was a prompt jaded reaction for the film coming off its Super Bowl trailer, and a lot of that has to do with the studio’s public divorce from the pic’s original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller: Fans smelled blood. With Solo‘s bombing, suddenly Disney’s whole Marvel-like studio plan of churning out spin-off Star Wars character movies became dead in the water. It’s possible that if Solo‘s production was handled controversy-free, we might be looking at a higher gross for the prequel rather than being the lowest-grossing Star Wars movie of all-time at $392.6M WW.
“Just because you get lucky and can fix a problem on one film by replacing a director in the middle of production doesn’t mean you should do it again,” criticizes one rival executive producer in town about Disney’s handling of Rogue One and Solo. “Rogue One was a warning sign,” the source continues. “You wait for the right director to come along and the right script, and you don’t force important films like Star Wars through the pipeline.”
Solo‘s sinking is a glaring lesson for Disney in the wake of firing James Gunn off Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. While the family-friendly studio distanced itself from the director after learning about his salacious humor tweets from earlier in his career, they’re apt to face a huge backlash from fans should the threequel come to realization, especially given the cast’s rallying support around the filmmaker. History may be repeating itself here down the road.
Work Overtime On the Weekend…Like, When Your Film Is Opening Post the AT&T merger, Warner Bros. refused to settle for their lackluster opening tracking on The Meg and Crazy Rich Asians. Distribution and marketing did something that they never did before, not even during the surprise $123M opening weekend of It, and banded together to create a “halo effect” digital campaign, pushing ticket sales to potential moviegoers in locations where each film was succeeding. Meg wound up opening to $45.4M, Crazy Rich Asians did $35.2M, and, in turn, led all titles at the August box office with $854.8M, +29% over last year’s $661.2M rot.
Traditional Comedy Has Died, But It May Have Evolved Concept-driven comedy (Tag) and raunchy (Happytime Murders) continue to flail. Agents and distribution heads blame the dearth on the lack of a new, hip generation of comedy stars. But at the same time, you have Deadpool 2, which is arguably the highest-grossing R-rated raunchy comedy of the year and summer ($318.4M). It’s just dressed up like a superhero movie. Perhaps this is how comedy survives on the big screen, by wearing genre disguises; read: last year’s horror/comedy Get Out ($176M) and adventure family comedy Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ($404.5M).
MoviePass is On Life Support, But There’s a Business In Movie Subscriptions We wrote during CinemaCon that exhibitors were bound to introduce their own monthly movie ticket subscription packages at a rate that wouldn’t burn down their multiplexes, and that’s exactly what happened, with AMC’s creation of Stubs A-list, now counting north of 300K subscribers. For $19.95/a month, a member gets three movie tickets a week (use or lose it), and can reserve in any format, well in advance.
MoviePass couldn’t get, nor can it still get, its health-club financial model to work and that’s because they’re less of a disruptor and more of a third-party outsider, which meant exhibition and distribution would never cede any share of their box office income. Rumors swirled during CinemaCon that MoviePass would run out of cash, and that’s what happened on the night before Mission: Impossible – Fallout bowed, forcing the company to take a $6M loan. Their parent company’s stock is in the toilet at less than $0.25; they’re being sued by shareholders; board members are quitting; and their indie film investment experiment in attempting to drive traffic to Gotti ($4.3M) and American Animals ($2.9M) didn’t win. We head into the fall waiting for the next shoe to drop with these guys.
Domestic Is Only 36% Of The Story And Summer But A Speck Global summer box office was $13.3 billion, with foreign driving $8.5B of that, per ComScore (even with last year). The bigger play is around the world, with domestic increasingly becoming an afterthought. Three movies crossed the billion mark this summer: Infinity War ($2B), Incredibles 2 ($1.1B), and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($1.29B), versus one last summer, Illumination/Universal’s Despicable Me 3 ($1 billion). Part of this has to do with better product, but some studios, like Disney with Black Panther and Warner Bros. and Sony respectively with Aquaman and Venom, chose to leave their most prized titles outside the summer so as to maximize their global haul –even if school is in session.
Low Attendance? Phooey! There is no national measure of movie admissions, but it’s click bait when the media and trades insert such faulty stats in their headlines. National Association of Theater Owners calculates an average movie ticket price from all showtimes, price tiers, and markets, and then that number is divided into the season’s total B.O. to come up with a total admissions number. The sum isn’t a real number, and there’s no national apparatus intact to count admissions in the U.S. We think that AMC’s Aron said it best, and speaks for the entire motion picture industry’s success, when he told us, “We don’t bank bodies. We bank dollars.”
Below are the top films that crossed $100M for the period of April 27-Sept. 3. Our finance sources estimates that these movies are fueling an estimated $2.95B in profit to the majors after all downstream revenues:
TOP GROSSING FILMS OF SUMMER 2018
And below, how the studios stacked up for the period of April 27-Sept. 3 (projected):
sUMMER 2018 BOX OFFICE MARKETSHARE