McGinnis: Summer at the movies was record-breaking letdownWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It was simultaneously an impressive and a very disappointing summer at the movies.
It was impressive in the sheer amount of dollars brought in — an astounding 17 films released between May and August brought in more than $100 million domestically. The box office for the season is expected to top $4.7 billion, according to USA Today — an all-time record.
It was disappointing, though, in that many were expected to do far more. A ton of films that hit theaters during the past four months can easily be considered flops — even among the apparent hits.
A raunchy comedy sequel like “The Hangover Part III” making $112 million in its run sounds great — until you consider parts one and two made $277 and $254 million, respectively. Add in that the also R-rated “The Heat” came out a month later and made more than $40 more — without a half-billion dollar franchise to bolster it — and “Hangover III”‘s number seems even smaller.
For a late summer kids’ flick like “The Smurfs 2″ to make around $66 million doesn’t sound too bad. Then you notice the original made more than twice that amount just two years ago. Add in the massive grosses that “Despicable Me 2″ and “Monsters University” turned in just a few weeks earlier, and it becomes apparent that “Smurfs” got totally Smurfed at the ticket counter.
This isn’t even mentioning the summer’s outright failures. “After Earth” became the biggest summer flop of Will Smith’s career, with the post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic barely managing to crack $60 million. “R.I.P.D.,” a big-budget action-comedy with Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, scraped together only $33 million. Compared to these, Disney’s much-maligned “Lone Ranger” reboot doesn’t look half bad at $88 million — until you factor in its $200 million-plus budget.
Even the summer’s biggest successes came laden with an asterisk. “Iron Man 3″ topped all with a take of more than $400 million domestically, an incredible feat. But the bar was raised on all Marvel universe movies by last summer’s “Avengers,” which made more than $200 million more than that.
The JJ Abrams follow-up “Star Trek Into Darkness” made more than $220 million, but was expected to open bigger and run stronger than its predecessor, neither of which it did. “Man of Steel” certainly washed the bad taste of “Superman Returns”‘ relatively weak box office with a nearly $300 million dollar run — but after the massive grosses of the two “Dark Knight” titles that preceded it, even that number feels like a bit of an underachievement.
And the fact is that stats like grosses cannot be considered in a vacuum. With the ever-increasing price of tickets, it’s easy for the industry to offset a decline in sales by simply squeezing more out of their remaining customers. What does it say here in that same USA Today story? That despite the record amount of money made, the actual attendance — the number of butts in seats — was down 3 percent from last year? By Jove, I think we may be onto something here.
Another problem summer movies — and movies in general — are facing these days lies in the heavily front-loaded nature of their marketing campaigns. Nowadays, a film is built to open big and quickly be forgotten, swept away by the next set of flicks to fill the multiplexes. Nothing is expected to have a long run; they basically want a movie to make a huge statement its opening week and then barely whisper after that.
“Iron Man 3″ had an opening weekend of nearly $178 million dollars. It went on, as mentioned, to make about $400 million. Think about that: In the four months the film has been in release, it made nearly half its total money in the first three days. “Man of Steel” made about a third of its gross in its opening weekend; “Fast and Furious 6,” about a third.
Only a few films had a chance to run and build word of mouth over time. The aforementioned “Heat.” “Despicable Me 2,” as family films tend to have better legs than most any other genre. “Now You See Me,” one of the summer’s genuinely pleasant surprises. “The Conjuring,” the hit horror film that somewhat quietly grossed more than $133 million.
In the end, the legacy of the summer of 2013 may not lie in any one film, but in an increased desire by producers to make more movies even bigger than before. After the one-two punch of “Avengers” and “Dark Knight Rises” dominated 2012, this summer seemed content to spread the wealth around a bit. The end result was a record-breaking letdown. With titles like “Avengers 2,” “Superman vs. Batman,” the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie and many, many more in the pipeline for future summers, Hollywood now seems focused on making sure that epic cinematic events come fast and furious in the coming years. Whether any of them will have epic grosses to go along with their hype — that remains to be seen.
Tags: After Earth, Avengers, Avengers 2, Dark Knight, dark knight rises, Dispicable Me 2, Fast and Furious 6, Hangover Part III, iron man 3, Jeff McGinnis, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Now You See Me, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pop Goes the Culture, R.I.P.D., Star Trek Into Darkness, Superman Returns, Superman vs. Batman, The Heat, The Smurfs 2