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Summer Box Office Lessons: Grosses Dip, Dozen $100 Million Grossers, Wahlberg Rocks

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
August 31, 2012 2:25 PM
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Hits are not necessarily in 3-D

Seven of the 12 $100 million films this summer were released in 3-D (including three animated hits). Last year had exactly the same number. The big difference was that Christopher Nolan had the clout to refuse to shoot "The Dark Knight Rises" in 3-D. Last year, four of the five biggest films were 3-D (only "Hangover 2" wasn't). This year the Nolan film was joined by "Ted" as a top five non-3-D release. That hardly qualifies as a trend though, and expect the studios to continue to push the digital process.

Imax however continues to be a bigger draw. Movietickets Inc. reported this week that for the summer they had a 30% increase in ticket sales for higher-priced Imax presentations.

This emphasis on visual spectacle and special effects, along with all the other factors mentioned, will just reinforce the narrow range of films released during the summer.

Adults still had films to see

Most of the "older" (in Hollywood terms, over 30) audience of course saw the big studio releases. But this summer saw a surprisingly strong group of specialized films released and, more importantly, succeed. Led by two May releases - Fox Searchlight's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and Focus' "Moonrise Kingdom," both grossing in the mid-40s domestically ("Marigold" doing more than $90 million additionally internationally) found close to the success that Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" had last year. His own "To Rome With Love" only did a fraction of last year's hit, but still added to a wide range of successes that also included "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Bernie" and "Intouchables" all grossing $7 million or more during this period, where last year only "The Tree of Life" joined "Midnight in Paris" at that level. This will only encourage specialized distributors to counterprogram more next year.

The lessons learned from this summer, in terms of future production, won't be applied for another two years. But while there's evidence that studios are shifting away from over-reliance on too-few tentpoles, the globalization of Hollywood will continue, and the studios will continue to bat for the fences. The risks are just too high to stray too far from the tried and mainly true.

Title (Distributor)                                           US/Canada gross     Total world gross                                Budget

  1. The Avengers (Buena Vista)                               $618 million     $1.5 billon                                      $220 million

  2. The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros.)          $423 million        $942 million                                       $250 million

  3. The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony)                       $258 million      $705 million                                   $230 million

  4. Brave (Buena Vista)                                           $230 million      $443 million                                    $185 million

  5. Ted (Universal)                                                   $215 million     $371 million                                     $ 50 million

  6. Madagascar 3 (Paramount)                                $214 million     $583 million                                    $145 million

  7. MIB 3 (Sony)                                                       $179 million     $622 million                                    $225 million

  8. Snow White & the Huntsman (Universal)           $155 million     $394 million                                    $170 million 

  9. Ice Age: Continental Drift (Fox)                        $154 million       $816 million                                     $95 million

10. Prometheus (Fox)                                             $126 million   $341 million                                        $130 million

11. Magic Mike (Warner Bros.)                           $113 million      $154 million                                   $7 million    

12. The Bourne Legacy (Universal)                         $86 million        $131 million                                   $125 million

(All of these films will add to their totals at least slightly. "The Bourne Legacy" will pass $100 million easily. Worldwide is tougher to project, but with much of the world yet to open, somewhere between $200-250 million looks likely).


  • Steve G | September 2, 2012 8:02 PMReply

    Was Mark Wahlberg really drawing audiences to TED? Wasn't it just as much the crass teddy bear (a concept easily conveyed in the poster and trailer) and it being 'the first motion picture from the creator of FAMILY GUY'? Sure, Wahlberg probably helped draw in a bigger crowd - I could imagine Adam Sandler in the role turning off a lot of people. But as the comic 'straight guy', it seems odd for Wahlberg to get the lion's share of credit for a hit comedy.

  • Jill c Brooke | September 1, 2012 4:19 PMReply

    I wonder if the reason that American comedies that are hits in the US but don't sell overseas, is that the low-brow, men-behaving-like-spoiled-boys silliness isn't appreciated by other cultures that don't have the leisure to let entitlement get in the way of growing up?

  • Amyiseverywhere | September 1, 2012 3:23 AMReply

    Excuse me, but you say Magic Mike was a top grosser and also there were very few films
    aimed at women this summer because there was nothing like Bridesmaids. Who do you think went to see a film about male strippers? And took all her girfriends with her? Probably on their hen night? Hasn't the success of Fifty Shades taught you anything? We aren't all about the wedding, guys, that's just a male fantasy anout the purity of woen.Weddings only came into existence so the church could legitimise, control and monitor SEX. A female writer of this piece would not have got this so wrong. Ha ha ha

  • Tom Brueggemann | September 1, 2012 4:29 PM

    Amy -

    I think only 1 of the 12 top grossers of the summer aimed at adult women qualifies as proving that there were very few films geared for them. And last year both "The Help" and "Bridesmaids," both much bigger than "Magic Mike" (which indeed relied primarily on female interest) filled this niche better than what the studios presented this year.
    Again, this is all tied in with any film going in the summer having to justify a simultaneous worldwide release, and most of the rest of the world is even less interested than American audiences, at least according to what those who greenlight movies think. Last year's successes hopefully will result in a better balance by next year.
    I doubt many female writers on box office results would have brought the traditional reason for marriage into the discussion to be honest.

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