The summer movie season runs from May through the end of Labor Day in September. This year, during the summer season the gains made earlier in the year slid, due to several underperforming films in addition to Paramount removing "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" from the slate.
Total ticket sales this summer are estimated at 533.5M, which was down -4% from 2011. Total 2012 summer box office is estimated at $4.28B, down -2.73% from 2011. Last year, summer ticket sales hit a record $4.4B. Until 2012, every year, for the last seven years, box office revenue went up during the summer.
If you include the first four months of the year with the summer totals, we see YTD percentages over 2011 fall every month of the summer: April (+14.7%), May (+10.5%), June (+9.6%), July (+6.3%) and finally August (+4.3%). As September begins, YTD revenue totals are -0.3% behind 2010.
Memorial Day weekend is a perfect case study for what went wrong this summer. Sony's "Men in Black 3" took over the No. 1 spot from "The Avengers," but the Top 12 films were off -31% from the previous year and overall domestic receipts were the lowest since Memorial Day weekend in 2001.
"MIB 3" did good business with $178.5M domestic, $445M foreign and $623.5M worldwide. That makes it the weakest of the franchise in domestic box office but highest grossing (unadjusted) worldwide. It sits as the sixth highest grossing movie (worldwide) so far in 2012. "MIB 3" is another troubled production, however. It started and stopped so many times that there is no way to know how much went into producing it or how diminished the returns really are. It’s still an impressive haul for a project many people thought was doomed. Sony is probably relieved to get it off the books.
"The Avengers" was the champion of the summer and kicked it off with a record-breaking $207.4M its opening weekend. It set a new all-time opening weekend record, beating last summer’s "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" ($169.2M). It goes on to shatter other financial benchmarks as well, such as fastest to reach $100M, $150M and $200M domestic. It is already the fourth highest grossing film of all time in the U.S. (unadjusted) and Disney's biggest movie ever (unadjusted). It grosses $620.6M domestic, $882.3M foreign and over $1.5B worldwide. This single movie represented 15.2% of all domestic box office during the summer period.
Outside of the big comic book movies -- "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises" ($424.5/$577.7) and "The Amazing Spider-Man" ($260/$735.3) -- animated features paced the summer. "Brave" ($232.2/$469.8M), "Madagascar 3" ($214.8/$602.8M) and "Ice Age: Continental Drift" ($156.3/$828.7M) all do very well. A movie starring an animated bear, "Ted," opened with $54.4M from 3,239 locations, making it the highest debut for an original “R” rated comedy. Ted racked up $216.3M domestic and $384.7M worldwide.
Ted was bumped up two weeks to take the release date formerly occupied by "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." This was also a boon to "The Amazing Spider-Man," which opened without direct competition from another franchise movie a week earlier, which would have been the situation had Paramount stuck to their guns. "The Amazing Spider-Man" goes down as a successful reboot, but it is worth noting that is the worst performing movie in the franchise, even with 3D added into the equation.
Two big summer releases, "Battleship" and "Dark Shadows," fall into the "John Carter" trap. Like the earlier film, the bulk of their grosses are from overseas and the films cost too much to make and market. "Dark Shadows" does $79M domestic, $236.5M worldwide but on a $150M plus budget. "Battleship" does $65.3M domestic, $237.6M foreign and $302.8M worldwide.
"Battleship" was yet another movie with a complicated budget situation --its ability to turn a profit was severely hindered by throwing money at production related problems, hoping they go away. This is ironic from a studio that claimed to want to avoid costly films with limited appeal. As we saw with other high profile blockbusters, this often leads to a diminished return on investment, and a terrible film overall.
We saw the same thing happen to the "Total Recall" remake. It failed to find an audience with $57M domestic, $98.7M foreign and $155.7M worldwide. It’s tough to make a blockbuster without stars and Hollywood did a terrible job manufacturing them this summer.
Even the profitable ‘Bourne’ franchise fell short. "Bourne Legacy" made just over $100M domestic, but only generates $159.6M worldwide (and counting). That makes it the lowest grossing film of the franchise, despite being the most expensive to produce ($125M). ‘Legacy’ led a soft August month, down -16.7% from August 2011 and included the worst performing box office weekend of the year, until the one just gone, anyway.
Eleven movies made over $100M this summer, below the 18 movies that did so in 2011. ‘G.I. Joe’ would likely have crossed that threshold as well. Both "Ted" and "Magic Mike" are included in this group and both were independently produced and financed.
Other weak summer releases include "Rock of Ages" ($38.5M/$50.1M), "That's My Boy" ($36.9M/$49.4M), "The Watch" ($33.5/$42.6M) and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" ($37.4M/$90.6M), none of which connected at home or abroad.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt and that seems to be the theme here. The majority of the summer releases were retread ideas and it looked as if a saturation point has been reached.
By throwing money at poorly developed, easily recognizable, ideas that appeal to international audiences, studios have run into a wall of diminished returns at home. This is sad, but to be expected given the global business model that studios operate on.
Despite the general perception of the film industry as a hit-or-miss kind of business, the success for the industry as a whole resides in a diversified slate, not just one or two movies that drive all box office. The success of smaller and middle budgeted movies helped to save the studios from an embarrassing summer. I just hope the studios realize this before committing unlimited funds, to half-baked brands, without any recognizable talent.
The fall and winter release calendar is strong. Many established franchises are likely to perform well: "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part Two," "Skyfall" and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (in 3D) come to mind. Disney will be a big player with 3D re-releases in "Finding Nemo" and "Monsters Inc." and also a new animated original, "Wreck-It Ralph" (also in 3D). Other potential rainmakers include "Les Miserables" and Tom Cruise’s next franchise, "Jack Reacher."
It will be interesting to see how the small and medium budget films perform and which awards season contenders connect at the box office.