The great Summer Box Office Slump of 2014

John Cairns

Now that we are into the month of August, it's a good time to look at the state of the summer box office race.

The first conclusion we can come to is that I am no good as a prognosticator. I had predicted How to Train Your Dragon 2 to win the summer box office, mainly due to a lack of competition in the CGI animation category. But at the rate it is going, it will be lucky to finish in the top 10 for the summer, with a domestic haul so far of $168 million.

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So much for that. The actual top 10 at the box office so far are Transformers: Age of Extinction at $241 million, Maleficent at $234 million, X-Men: Days of Future Past at $231 million, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 at $202 million, Godzilla at $200 million, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at $189 million, 22 Jump Street at $188 million, the aforementioned How to Train Your Dragon 2 at $168 million, Neighbors at $149 million and The Fault in Our Stars at $123 million.

Now, I expect that last title to be bumped right out of the top 10 within days as Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy continues to rake in the dough after its winning $94 million opening weekend (more on this in a moment). I am also expecting big things from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it rolls out.

The one thing that strikes me about all of these titles is that we do not have a $300 million dollar movie yet among the whole bunch, which is astonishing for this late in the summer season. I find it very significant that Transformers: Age of Extinction is currently leading the summer box office with a domestic haul of only $241 million. Its previous incarnations have done far better domestic business. Last year, Iron Man 3 was the summer box office champ with a haul of $409 million, and the year before Marvel's The Avengers hauled in $623 million.

So $241 million is quite a drop, even though it is not finished making money yet. At this rate I question whether the latest Transformers movie will even hit $300 million domestic. Still, this flick is far from a "flop" by any means. Internationally, its worldwide haul has hit $1 billion and has set box office records in China, grossing over $300 million there.

The domestic haul points to a larger issue this summer, as the box office pundits and experts have been talking at length about the summer "box office slump."

For weeks on end this summer, the box office has been down by upwards of 20 percent. The usually lucrative July 4 weekend was really bad, the worst in at least 15 years.

One story in the National Post called this Hollywood's worst summer in eight years.

Of course, last year there were lots of stories in the press about how there were so many flops at the cinemas, but the overall box office was pretty robust. The problem this year is that none of the supposed "blockbusters" have been running away with things.

Even a monkey could have figured that out, folks, before the summer season even began.

Just looking at the lineup of movies, it sure looked like it was going to be one unexciting "sequel" movie after another. This summer saw the fourth Transformers movie release and it is obvious by now that a lot of people are getting tired of it. There have been so many X-Men movies that everyone has lost count (it says "seven" on Wikipedia). And the summer movie schedule was overrun with sequels and retreads of one kind or another.

Even Godzilla is not new, even though we haven't had a Godzilla movie in a long time. So you really couldn't expect any of these to bust through and do $500 million or $600 million in business, which is what would have been needed for the domestic box office to match the $4 billion pace of last year.

What has been funny has been following the reaction in all these industry trade publications, all of whom have been trying to put the best spin they possibly could on the whole box office situation.

They have all been running stories hyping up these movies that were going to "save" the summer for Hollywood. First, they were all saying that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was going to be this big hit that would save Hollywood.

Well, it was a hit, hauling in $73 million on its opening July 11 weekend, but the Hollywood Reporter reported the weekend box office was still down 24 percent from a year earlier.

So much for the Apes.

Next, all the hype was about how Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be the next great Marvel superhero movie franchise with all these new characters in it, and about how it would save the summer for Hollywood.

August 1 rolls around - and wham!! Guardians of the Galaxy opens to over $94 million, shattering the $69 million August record held by The Bourne Ultimatum from 2007.

So we immediately started getting all these stories about how the "summer slump" was over in Hollywood.

Well, compared to previous August numbers, certainly it's a better situation. But you have to keep in mind, August is usually the dregs of summer anyway. It marks the beginning of the end, right before the big September annual box-office nosedive.

Yes, it will be an above-average August box office, but it will do nothing to change the end result of the summer. According to the report in Variety this weekend, ticket sales tracked by Rentrak were now down 18 percent instead of 20 percent going into the weekend.

So maybe the overall box office will end up down 15 percent for the summer instead of down 20 percent. Big deal. Down is down.

But I like to look at the "big picture," and what I see in the whole grand scheme of things is how well some of these releases have done during some unconventional times of the year.

As I said before, August is usually the tail end, the dregs, of summer movie season. And yet Guardians of the Galaxy has done very, very well for itself at an unusual time of year for a blockbuster release.

It was the same thing this past April when Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released. April, again, is not a month known for blockbusters. But Captain America ended up setting all kinds of April records and has hauled in a domestic total of $259 million, making it the top grossing movie of 2014 in North America, so far - just a couple million ahead of The LEGO Movie, which was released in February.

It just goes to show that if you have a release that is eagerly anticipated, it will get an audience at any time of year. It doesn't necessarily have to be slotted in a certain date during May, June or July to do well.

The other takeaway so far is that any movie involving characters from the Marvel comic books clearly can do no wrong. Since April we have had four blockbusters featuring Marvel superheroes, all No.1 hits. The first three - Captain America 2, Spider-Man 2 and the latest X-Men - all had domestic hauls in excess of $200 million. Guardians of the Galaxy is almost halfway there right now, and it has been in the cinemas only a few days.

In fact, Marvel superheroes have topped the overall domestic box office for seven of the last 19 weeks. So while Hollywood as a whole has experienced the summer blahs, clearly that does not apply to Marvel or any of its properties.

With Guardians of the Galaxy dominating this past weekend, their hot streak of recent years continues. The man with the biggest smile on his face in all of Hollywood, no doubt, is Stan Lee.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist


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