ZAMM.COM: Summer Summary

By Martin Grove, ZAMM.com



Summer summary: Summer may not be over till it's over, but we can already see what's worked best at the box office these past few months.

Hollywood's summer season begins with the first weekend in May and winds up in early September with Labor Day weekend. Since Iron Man 3 hit theaters May 3, 15 films have managed to gross over $100 million. Of these, six were able to crack the magic $200 million mark.
Those six big guns of summer were: (1) Iron Man 3 with $407.8 million; (2) Despicable Me 2 with $338.3 million; (3) Man of Steel with $287.9 million; (4) Monsters University with $260.1 million; (5) Fast & Furious 6 with $238.3 million; and (6) Star Trek Into Darkness with $226.8 million.

Nothing else arriving from now through Labor Day will have enough summer playing time to get close to numbers like those, but the last gasp of summer can still generate good grosses. Last weekend saw the R-rated Elysium open to a luxurious $30.5 million while the R-rated We're the Millers enjoyed a sexy $26.6 million and a five-day cume of $38 million. All told, last weekend's films in the marketplace were up nearly 12 percent from the comparable weekend last year.

This weekend could see more lively late summer action thanks to the R-rated Kick-Ass 2. It's been tracking best with men under and over 25, the perfect demo for an action crime comedy with characters dressed up as masked superheroes.


Meanwhile, it's worth noting that this summer's top hits share some common denominators. Five of the six were released in 3D--Fast was the exception--and benefited from 3D ticket pricing.

Five of the six titles were early summer arrivals, opening in May or June. Actually, Despicable, the lone exception with its July 3 launch, only missed June by three days. Hollywood recognizes that moviegoers' have a big appetite for event films in early May, after enduring a long winter of small and frequently depressing Oscar contender dramas. So broad appeal tentpole films like Iron that open in early May are just what the box office doctor ordered.

All six titles were episodes from blockbuster franchises--two superhero action fantasies (Iron and Steel), two animated family features (Despicable and Monsters), one classic sci-fi adventure (Darkness) and one action film (Fast).

And none of the six heavyweights was driven by the kind of superstar casting that used to go hand in hand with summer movies. Iron's Robert Downey, Jr. is a terrific actor, but he doesn't quite command the exalted brand name Hollywood status that defines Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio as superstars. The real superstar in Iron's case was Marvel, which created the film's comic book and film franchise roots.

But even though the era of summer superstars is history now (remember when Eddie Murphy or Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone starring in a summer movie automatically meant long lines at the box office?) Pitt and DiCaprio turned out to be worth their weight in box office gold this summer. Pitt was the driving force behind the success of World War Z ($197.5 million) and DiCaprio was the big attraction for The Great Gatsby ($144.6 million).

Steel launched Henry Cavil from TV's The Tudors as the new Superman. Here, too, it was comic book and film franchise roots that attracted audiences to Steel. Despicable and Monsters worked thanks to their 3D animation appeal to family audiences and because they were new episodes of familiar franchises.

Fast stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson were reunited for this new episode in a well-established action franchise. They're great casting, but it was really great action that accelerated Fast's box office performance.

Darkness, too, boasted having a reunited star team on board for the latest episode of a long-running franchise. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana were perfect casting, but they're not a superstar magnet for long box office lines. What propelled Darkness was being the latest chapter in a hit series.

What all of this adds up to is Hollywood's current formula, which favors the familiar over the original, 3D over 2D, big loud action over anything else and stars who are right for the material but aren't expected to do the heavy lifting when it comes to ticket sales.

It's not much of a change from last summer, by the way. There were 12 films last summer that cracked $100 million and six of them took in over $200 million.

Of last summer's big six, four were released in 3D (Marvel's The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Brave and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted) while two were 2D (The Dark Knight Rises and Ted). Four were franchise episodes--Avengers, Spider-Man, Madagascar 3 and Rises. They weren't superstar driven either. In fact, Andrew Garfield took over and made a success of the title role in the Spider-Man franchise reboot that Tobey Maguire had become famous for in the previous three episodes.

Bottom line: The big difference between last summer and this one is that this summer's number one movie, Iron Man 3, took top honors with just $407.8 million. That would only have put it in third place last year--behind Avengers with $623.4 million and Rises with $448.1 million.

Nonetheless, this summer's hits gave the year a big box office boost. Going into the summer, ticket sales were down about 12 percent from last year. Thanks to summer's successes, Hollywood's now up nearly half-a-percent vs. last year.  

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