The Weekend Warrior’s Summer Box Office Wrap-Up
Well, that’s pretty much it for the summer of 2015 and boy it was a doozy, that’s for sure!
Since we’re less than a week away from Labor Day and the start of festival and awards season, now seemed like a good time to assay the damage in terms of how things fared compared to how we thought they would fare back in April when we did our Summer Box Office Preview.
While I’m happy to say that my Top 4 “heavy hitters” ended up becoming the Top 4 movies at the summer box office, I severely underestimated two of them, slightly underestimated a third and then overestimated one of them quite majorly. And then there was the #5 movie which I didn’t even think would make it into the Top 10!
Three movies opened with more than $100 million and we got only our second movie ever to open with more than $200 million in a single weekend. Like most people, I expected that to be Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Age of Ultron, just as I thought it would win the summer and maybe even the year. Granted, it did gross more than $450 million, one of four movies to gross over $300 million domestically this summer (and fifth of the year) but it ended up being overshadowed by…
The Summer Superstar: Jurassic World!
Like everyone else, I’d been waiting patiently for Universal Pictures to return to Jurassic Park, but I’m not sure anyone could have possibly expected what a blockbuster hit it would be. I definitely thought it was good for close to $300 million because I knew how many others were dying to see a return to the world created by Steven Spielberg based around Michel Crichton’s novels, but the fact it could make more than double that amount meant that Universal’s already great year became their best year ever.
I’m sure after opening weekend, Spielberg and his producer Frank Marshall were wondering why they didn’t get to the fourth installment sooner after 2001’s somewhat disappointing Jurassic Park 3, considering how often they’d been asked about it over the past ten years, but they successfully gave Universal another franchise to add to their already successful “Furious,” “Bourne” and “Despicable Me” franchises.
Part of the key was when they went with the unconventional choice of director Colin Trevorrow, and though he hadn’t done anything quite on that scale before, I personally felt he really knocked one out of the park in terms of capturing the look and feel of Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park while still making a movie that feels current. The fact is that if Jurassic World wasn’t as entertaining of a popcorn movie, perfect for the summer months where everyone’s out of school and looking for a way to get out of the heat and humidity, then it wouldn’t have been such a huge global hit, grossing another billion internationally.
Heck, it even reentered the Top 10 this past weekend with a re-expansion into IMAX theaters, solidifying moviegoers’ love of the movie. Sure, more critics will sing the praises of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, but the fact is that it didn’t even manage to achieve at the box office what Jurassic World did in a single weekend.
The Summer Super-Heroes
We’re still seven months away from seeing whether Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice can put Warner Bros. on the map with their DC Comics properties, so once again, Marvel Studios dominated the summer as far as comic book movies, first with the anticipated sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron, again directed by Joss Whedon, and then with Ant-Man, which put Paul Rudd in the role of Marvel’s most diminutive Avenger.
Thought by many to surpass the success of the original Marvel’s The Avengers when it kicked off the summer of 2012, Age of Ultron introduced a number of new Marvel characters and continued to build the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, it opened below the original with $191 million and ended up grossing just over $450 million domestically. That’s nothing to scoff at, even for a movie that reportedly cost $250 million, especially since it earned another $943 million worldwide, but it seemed a little disappointing when you realize that’s less than Universal’s Furious 7, which opened worldwide a month prior. It also didn’t fare as well among critics or moviegoers with a lower percentage on Rotten Tomatoes than the original and it only received an “A” CinemaScore (compared to the original’s A+). Again, nothing to turn up one’s nose to, but that brought us to their second summer release.
Even before the summer began, there was a lot of skepticism that Ant-Man could find the success of other Marvel Studios films. Between original director Edgar Wright leaving after developing the movie for eight years to the odd casting that tried to turn Paul Rudd, a B-level comedy actor at best, into a superhero–and not a particularly well known or loved superhero at that–most were doubting that Marvel and Disney could muster another surprise hit ala 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Ant-Man hasn’t done that bad with a $57 million opening and grossing around $170 million domestically, but even with its nearly $200 million international take, it’s not nearly as profitable as other recent Marvel films.
The thing is that neither of Marvel Studios’ 2015 releases were nearly as good as either of their 2014 releases and both of them seem to exist merely to set things up for next summer’s Captain America: Civil War (which should be huge), and it makes you wonder whether maybe audiences might be growing tired of superheroes, which brings us to…
The Fantastic Failure
You can’t talk about the summer’s superhero movies without talking about one of the bigggest disasters of the summer and that was 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Four, which opened in the first weekend of August (the same weekend as last year’s Marvel megahit Guardians of the Galaxy) and became one of the biggest bombs of the year.
Like Ant-Man, there was a lot of talk and rumors about the problems with the production and though it didn’t lose its director, Chronicle’s Josh Trank–at least not voluntarily–negative buzz around the movie began earlier in the summer as he was removed from one of the Star Wars spin-offs. Things didn’t get better as Fox used all their marketing prowess to get moviegoers excited about the FF returning to theaters, but after a lackluster Comic-Con panel and some of the worst reviews of any movie this year, Fantastic Four was in fact… DOOMed.
It opened with $25.7 million, which is more than Jennifer Garner’s Elektra movie grossed in 2005, but it also probably cost at least $100 million more to make as well. So far, it’s grossed just $52 million domestically, which is less than the opening of both previous Fantastic Four movies. (It’s grossed closer to $100 million overseas at least.) That’s pretty horrendous and not any way to prove to the naysayers that Fox have gotten it all together when it comes to making superhero movies. (Many of us are still holding out hope that next summer’s X-Men: Apocalypse will continue that franchise’s continued growth under the aegis of Bryan Singer.)
Just as the summer of 2015 was all about the battle between two studios, Universal and Disney, that feud continued into the summer’s two biggest animated movies as Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out took on Universal and Illumination Entertainment’s Minions. On paper, it would make sense that the latter, a prequel/spin-off to Universal’s hugely successful “Despicable Me” franchise would be the bigger of the two movies. After all, Inside Out from the Oscar-winning Up filmmakers Pete Docter and Jonah Rivera, was an original and somewhat cerebral concept that might not connect with kids. But the reason they both were successful was that they were the only animated movies and really the only serious family movies for most of the summer, so even with just three weeks between them, there was enough business with school out for both to succeed.
Inside Out capitalized on its star voice cast and the diversity of its characters, while Minions did the same with the popularity of the diminutive henchman and while the latter opened bigger with $115.7 million, it had larger drops over subsequent weeks. Inside Out opened with $90.4 million (the second-biggest opening for a Pixar movie) and then stuck around to come close to $350 million. Currently, Minions is $20 million behind it and with schools already starting up, it probably will have to settle for fourth place for the summer.
Women Are Doing It for Themselves
While in general, this wasn’t a very good summer for comedy following last year’s one-two punch of Neighbors and 22 Jump Street, three female-driven comedies did amazing business with Universal’s Pitch Perfect 2 killing it with a $69 million opening and grossing nearly $185 million total domestically. That was followed by two more female-centric, R-rated comedies with Melissa McCarthy’s Spy and Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck each grossing over $100 million. Those were pretty much the comedy highlights of the summer beyond the two family friendly animated movies, so anyone in Hollywood who claims “women aren’t funny” or that “women can’t sell movies”… well, it’s time to get out of the Stone Age, buddy, cause this summer proved otherwise.
Tom Cruise Still Has Got It
While there was little doubt Tom Cruise’s return to an old standby, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s super-spy Ethan Hunt, would be a hit, some may have been questioning Cruise’s superstar status after his last couple movies, 2012’s Jack Reacher and 2013’s Oblivion, failed to gross $100 million and last year’s acclaimed Edge of Tomorrow barely made that amount. With stellar reviews, the movie opened solidly with $55.5 million (actually less than I predicted), which was the second-biggest opening for the franchise. Maybe it wasn’t that impressive when you realize that Mission: Impossible II opened bigger 15 years ago, especially when you consider ticket price inflation, but it was Cruise’s biggest opening in ten years and Paramount’s highest grossing movie of the year so far. Also, most critics loved it just as much as Ghost Protocol going by Rotten Tomatoes, which is a good sign that there will be a sixth M:I movie sooner rather than later.
If there’s one thing this summer will be remembered for is that it was one where nostalgia was king, because so many of the sequels and remakes released this summer were flashbacks to the past.
Besides Jurassic World, we got two other movies that tried to revive ‘80s franchises with George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road faring much better than the latest attempt at bringing Arnold Schwarzenegger back to his sci-fi action franchise with Terminator Genisys. The latter didn’t even gross $100 million domestic after opening with $42.5 million over the five-day 4th of July week. That’s compared to the $72.4 million five day opening of Schwarzenegger’s previous installment with 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which was released by Warner Bros. When you have that sort of diminishing returns, it’s time to think that maybe it’s time to retire a franchise, because even trying to reinvent it as WB tried with 2009’s Terminator Salvation just hasn’t worked.
Frankly, the 70-year-old Miller’s return to the Mad Max franchise, replacing Mel Gibson with Tom “Bane” Hardy, seemed like an even more surprising decision, and many moviegoers and critics were surprised by how well Mad Max: Fury Road worked and rave reviews helped it to a $45.4 million opening. That’s not bad for an R-rated action movie based on a character, who hasn’t been seen on the big screen in over 30 years (and without its original star). While it opened lower than my predicted opening, it still ended up just ahead of the $150 million I predicted as far as its total gross.
And then you have something like MGM’s remake of the horror movie Poltergeist, which had been in development for years and finally seemingly got a savior in Sam Raimi and Ghosthouse Pictures (who had a hit a few years earlier with their Evil Dead remake). 20th Century Fox (who had their own hit remake with The Omen in 2006) opened the remake over Memorial Day weekend, an odd choice that led to a $22 million opening weekend but just $47.4 million total as it fell to Insidious Chapter 3 (influenced by the original Poltergeist) just a few weeks later. It made the same amount internationally, which probably saved it from completely bombing, but it may have put the last nail in the horror remake coffin… until next year.
Other Summer Bummers
It wasn’t all wine and roses this summer though, as there were plenty of other movies that failed to make much of a mark, including Seth MacFarlane’s return with Ted 2. The original movie was an enormous, seemingly-beloved hit for Universal so it made sense to make a sequel, but after a $33.5 million opening, the sequel grossed just $81.3 million domestically, less than half of what the original Ted grossed. Ted 2 earned almost $100 million internationally, but it just wasn’t the type of hit comedy people were hoping.
Horror didn’t fare that well this summer despite the hopes of another hit on par with James Wan’s The Conjuring in 2013. Besides Poltergeist, the two Blumhouse sequels, Insidious Chapter 3 and the recent Sinister 2, fared worse than their predecessors. Their attempt at creating a new horror villain with The Gallows (released by New Line) barely made a dent with $22 million, although Joel Edgerton’s recent The Gift (released through newcomer STX Entertainment) is likely to gross $40 million or more. Fortunately, these are all fairly inexpensive films, but there really was no breakout horror hit with Insidious Chapter 3 topping the lot with just $52.2 million. (Instead, audiences went for the real life horror of New Line’s earthquake movie San Andreas, helped by the presence of Dwayne Johnson, which grossed $154 million domestic and double that overseas.)
I hate to draw attention to how badly Sony Pictures fared this summer with just one dog after the next, but when the best you have to offer is an Adam Sandler video game action-comedy like Pixels and even THAT doesn’t do as well as many thought it might, maybe it’s time to rethink your summer strategy. Sony has been a complete non-player this year, which is disheartening after last year’s horrible hacking ended their year on a low note. Fortunately, they have some decent family and awards potential fare for the remainder of 2015, and they’ve announced a lot of future releases that includes reboots of Ghostbusters and teaming with Marvel for their next Spider-Man movie, but boy, they really need to get out of their current rut.
The Summer Top 12
Before we get to the summer’s big winner, which shouldn’t be too big a surprise, here’s a handy dandy chart of the Top 12 movies of the summer (with the total gross as of the time of publication) and how things turned out compared to the Weekend Warrior’s early summer predictions.
(Note: The total domestic gross on the far right is estimated through Labor Day in most cases.)
This Summer’s Big Winner: Universal Pictures
Every summer I like to pick one studio as the summer’s big winner, one that really took best advantage of the summer and there’s absolutely no question that the summer of 2015 was owned by Universal Pictures. After having one of the biggest installments of the Fast and Furious of all time in April, they kicked off their summer with the sequel Pitch Perfect 2, which opened with more than the original movie did in its entire theatrical release, and went on to gross $183.8 million based on a $29 million budget. Needless to say, Universal quickly announced a threequel for 2017. A month later came Jurassic World, and then a month after that, Minions, a prequel to their Despicable Me animated franchise. Those two movies alone have made $950 million domestically and with Pitch Perfect 2 and Furious 7, that’s almost $1.5 billion right there between five movies. Normally, a studio would be happy making that amount domestically in a single year, let alone by September, and in past years, Universal would be lucky if all their movies were able to bring in that much. And then they wrapped things up with Straight Outta Compton, a biopic that opened with $60 million–what these sorts of movies usually make in total–and is now in the Top 10 for the summer.
The fact is that other than Ted 2, Universal could do no wrong this summer and it shows that the studio has achieved a new pinnacle in terms of combining quality production with marketing and promotion that gets moviegoers excited about their movies. It will be amazing to see if any other studio will be able to have this kind of year over the years to come.
Disney also did well as they basically shared the summer Top 5 with Universal with Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Pixar’s Inside Out surpassing Minions, and then Marvel Studios’ second movie of the summer, Ant-Man, is still going strong, having recently entered the Top 10 for the summer.
Lastly, here’s my own personal Top 10 for the summer (and if you click on the titles, you’re likely to find reviews and/or interviews by yours truly for everything other than Amy):
1. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Fox Searchlight)
2. Batkid Begins (Warner Bros.)
3. Phoenix (IFC Films)
4. Meru (Music Box Films)
5. Amy (A24)
6. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Warner Bros.)
7. Jurassic World (Universal)
8. Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.)
9. The End of the Tour (A24)
10 (tie). The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sony Pictures Classics) / Inside Out (Disney•Pixar)
That’s it for this year’s summer box office, and while I’ve totally failed on delivering more regular content like this over the summer, I have a lot of ideas about things I want to write about and if I get the time over the next few months I will. In the meantime, get ready for the fall with festival season, the holiday movies going right into awards season, which should keep movielovers entertained through next February or March.
Incidentally, how did you do with your own summer predictions and what were the biggest surprises and shockers (either good or bad) of the summer for you? What would your Top 10 be? Let us know in the comments below!