The Summer Box Office Wrap-Up

The summer of 2012 is now officially over and boy, was it a weird one as moviegoers seemed to be all over the place about what they wanted to see and when they wanted to see it, thoroughly trashing many of the age-old summer moviegoing patterns established over the past ten or eleven years. In other words, it was business as usual at the summer box office as audiences got finickier and yet, as expected, the summer was dominated by three superhero movies, two a culmination of years of previous film developments, one a rather daring attempt to reboot a successful franchise.

(Note: Most of the numbers used in this article were taken from the estimated gross at the time of writing; by the time you read this, some of the movies are likely to have grossed more.)

At the beginning of the summer, I made a list of what I thought would be the Top 15 movies of the summer. I was close on a couple of them, slightly off on others and just in another stratosphere when it came to a few of them.

Clearly my biggest error was thinking that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises would win the summer box office with a projected total of $445 million. It won’t be number one although it’s slowly getting to that amount with $424.6 million grossed as of this writing, putting it in the Top 10 for all-time domestic grossing movies. Its $160 million opening was nothing to scoff at, besting its predecessor by a couple million and becoming the third-highest opening ever, but that weekend had a major damper put on it by the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, which many feel affected how well it opened.

Instead, the honor of winning the summer went to the summer opener, Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s The Avengers (Disney), which nearly doubled the $340 million I thought it would make, ending up with over $620 million domestically by Labor Day. (Then again, it opened with $207 million rather than the $136 million opening I predicted earlier in the summer, an amount I raised by opening weekend.) It was quite astounding for a movie that followed two $300 million blockbusters in Iron Man and its sequel and two movies that made just over half that amount (Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) clearly showing that the sum could be significantly greater than the parts. Audiences really wanted to see these heroes brought together and early raves and solid word-of-mouth made it one of the must-see event movies of the summer, although few could foresee it breaking and setting many new records. Currently it’s firmly in the third place spot for all-time highest grossing movies domestically and it’s helped pave the way for Disney and Marvel Studios to continue building on the Marvel Cinematic Universe through 2015 when the sequel is scheduled for release.

Then there was The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony – July 3), continuing a franchise that had seen three movies that grossed over $300 million. This one fell short of our expectations, opening with $119 million in its first six days (compared to our $155 million) and grossing $258.4 million so far, which means it will probably never make it to our $310 million prediction, falling short of the $336 million domestic made by its predecessor, Spider-Man 3. Even so, Sony were pretty happy with its box office results with $705 million grossed globally and they already had a sequel dated for 2014 before the movie’s release.

Aside from the superhero movies, the real winner of the summer had to be Seth McFarlane’s Ted (Universal), starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and a foul-mouthed teddy bear voiced by the “Family Guy” creator. While very few people may have known about the raunchy comedy as the summer began, in what turned out to be the smartest decision of the summer, Universal decided to release it the last weekend of June after the “G.I. Joe” sequel suddenly moved. It ended up exploding into a summer that had yet to see the release of two of its biggest movies. It opened big with $54.4 million and without The Dark Knight Rises nipping at its heels, it was able to gross over $200 million.

Ted opened the same weekend as the Steven Soderbergh-directed Magic Mike (Warner Bros.), a drama with comedic elements based on Channing Tatum’s pre-actor days as a stripper. It opened with $39.1 million and grossed over $113 million, which made it one of the summer’s biggest surprises after Seth MacFarlane’s Ted. Besides becoming Soderbergh’s biggest non-“Ocean’s 11” movie and another feather in the cap both for Channing Tatum, who has clearly been moved to the A-list with his three movies this year, and Matthew McConaughey, whose eclectic work in films like Richard Linklater’s Bernie and William Friedkin’s Killer Joe has suddenly made him viable and relevant for the first time in many years. (Personally we think he should get a supporting Oscar nomination in Magic Mike for playing such a hilarious role.)

We thought that Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (20th Century Fox – June 8) would fare far better than it did, just because there seemed to be so much anticipation for it, but its opening fell short of our predicted $62.5 million opening with $51.5 million and it doesn’t seem likely to come anywhere near $245 million total, having grossed just over half that amount to date. It grossed $214 million internationally which helped Fox make the decision to move ahead with the planned sequel for sometime down the road, although controversial screenwriter Damon Lindelof may not be involved with that–for better or worse, depending on whether you liked the movie or not.

The summer offered three big animated movies from Disney•Pixar, DreamWorks Animation and Fox/Blue Sky Films, all vying for family audiences and as we predicted, the former’s Brave (Disney•Pixar – June 22) brought in the most business with $230 million to be the fourth-biggest movie of the summer. The close runner-up in the animated category was DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (DreamWorks Animation – June 8) with $214 million (compared to our $185 million prediction) and third place went to 20th Century Fox’s Ice Age: Continental Drift, which grossed just $153.4 million domestically, which was pretty disappointing compared to the gross of the previous installments and our own $180 million total prediction. (Before you comment, we’ll discuss how the film’s international box office more than made up for it just two paragraphs down.)

Two movies that surpassed our expectations in late May and early June were the return of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (joined by Josh Brolin) for Men in Black 3 (Sony – May 25), which grossed $178 million after a $54.5 million (three-day) Memorial Day opening. The following weekend, Universal Pictures’ Snow White and the Huntsman supplanted it in the top spot with $56 million, well better than our $44 million prediction and ending up with a gross of $155 million, roughly $10 million more than our prediction.

This summer also proved the strength of the international box office with some of the biggest hits getting a bigger boost outside North America. While The Avengers made $620 million domestically, it made another $874 million internationally, and that was one of the bonafide hits. The Dark Knight Rises more than doubled its gross when one added in the $535 million from its international release, but those two weren’t even the most impressive showings. Ice Age: Continental Drift may not have impressed many with its $154 million domestically, but the $662 million it made overseas more than made up for it. Universal’s Battleship grossed $237 million overseas compared to the measly $65.2 million made in North America and Sony’s MIB 3 made nearly three times its $178 million domestic gross overseas. Studios have become so in tune with the fact that their movies can do better internationally, they’re generally opening movies there first as was the case with The Avengers, Ice Age and others.

As summer started winding down, Universal tried to revive a franchise with The Bourne Legacy (Universal – August 3), which took the same approach as The Amazing Spider-Man by bringing in a new actor to take over the lead in Jeremy Renner. Even though he was one of the stars of the summer’s biggest movie Marvel’s The Avengers, it fell short of our earlier $56 million opening prediction with just $38 million and likely won’t come even close to our predicted $175 million total. This doesn’t mean that Universal won’t try to continue that franchise and it still has many more territories to open in internationally that could contribute to that decision.

The other August opener, Len Wiseman’s remake of the sci-fi actioneer Total Recall (Sony – August 3), starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel didn’t even muster our predicted $34 million opening–and that was when it was opening against The Bourne Legacy–instead faltering with just $25.7 million opening weekend and not even making $60 million so far.

We also must remove G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Paramount) from the equation entirely since it was moved to next spring in a last minute decision and somehow we don’t think it will open with our expected $57 million in that crowded market.

But the three predictions we made in late April that proved the most embarrassing were the ones we had down near the bottom of our Top 15: Peter Berg’s Battleship (Universal), Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy (Sony) and Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (Warner Bros.), all which we thought would gross more than $100 million and how many of them reached that amount? NONE OF THEM!!!

That’s one of the factors that made me think maybe it’s time for studios to put less focus on the summer and look at other times of year to release their potential franchises. Some studios have already figured this out which have led to hits for Warner Bros. with 300, Fast and Furious for Universal and others not to mention Liongate’s The Hunger Games, currently the third-highest grossing movie of the year. That’s certainly going to be happening a lot next year as a number of this year’s planned summer movies will be opening in the winter and spring, and there’s certainly a future “Battle Cry” where we can discuss this further.

Anyway, as in year’s past, we’ve decided to pick one studio as the winner of the summer and while one might expect us to go with Disney since they released two of the biggest movies of the summer, Marvel’s The Avengers and Brave, being a winner isn’t always about making money but also can be about taking creative risks and Disney weren’t the creative force behind either movie and weren’t taking nearly as big a chance by releasing them.

Instead and possibly for the first time ever, the honor of being the summer’s big winner goes to Universal Pictures, who just happen to be celebrating their 100th birthday this year.

Although Battleship tanked, they already made $200 million with its international release, and maybe The Bourne Legacy wasn’t as successful without Matt Damon, but they had a much bigger opening with Snow White and the Huntsman than anyone expected and having the foresight to release Seth MacFarlane’s Ted, move its release date at the last minute and then have it become one of the summer’s Top 5 movies, that’s pretty impressive. If you add all that to the success they already had with Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax in March, making them the only studio to have three movies in the Top 10 so far this year, you have a studio that’s once again become a major player. They also have a great line-up for 2013 that makes us think that they’ll be starting their second centennial off as one of the big players in the genre game.

Before we wrap things up and just for yucks, here are The Weekend Warrior’s favorite movies of the summer, including limited releases and docs:

1. Searching for Sugar Man (Sony Pictures Classics)

2. The Intouchables (The Weinstein Company)

3. Samsara (Oscilloscope Labs)

4. Prometheus (20th Century Fox)

5. The Avengers (Marvel/Disney)

6. Take This Waltz (Magnolia)

7. Brave (Disney*Pixar)

8. Trishna (IFC Films)

9. Hope Springs (Sony)

10. Ted (Universal)

11. People Like Us (DreamWorks/Disney)

12. Sleepwalk with Me (IFC Films)

So that’s it for this summer. We now have eight more months before we have to start thinking about next summer but maybe sometime between now and then, we’ll share our “Battle Cry” about how studios should stop putting so much focus on the summer and start thinking of other more profitable times to release their tentpoles, franchise films and potential blockbuster.


Marvel and DC