The summer box office downward spiral continues, with another big drop. The Top Ten grossed $130 million compared to $174 million last year; 2014 is down 6% from 2013. What gives?
More new films of uneven strength are lagging behind comparable efforts amid a plethora of sequels and a lack of top-draw films. A few tentpoles worthy of the name are in fact holding up the overall box office. Long-term word of mouth successes include "22 Jump Street" (down 28%), at $180 million the biggest live-action comedy since "Ted" (and within $40 million of its total), and in its eighth weekend in the Top Ten, "Maleficent" (down only 22%), at a total $228 million. Even films that had mixed initial reactions are holding on due to the weakness of the newer films.
The below-average percentage drops for holdovers has been a positive development this summer. Of the holdovers in the Top Ten, only the disappointing 50% drop for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" in its second week seems more than expected.
Top Ten Grosses:
1. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (20th Century Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$36,000,000 (-50%) in 3,969 theaters (+2); PSA (per screen average): $9,070; Cumulative: $138,953,000
2. "The Purge: Anarchy" (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: C+ ; Metacritic: 49
$28,369,000 in 2,805 theaters; PSA: $10,114; Cumulative: $28,369,000
3. "Planes: Fire and Rescue" (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 48
$18,000,000 in 3,826 theaters; PSA: $; Cumulative: $4,705 $18,000,000
4. "Sex Tape" (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 37
$15,000,000 in 3,062 theaters; PSA: $4,899; Cumulative: $15,000,000
5. "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (Paramount) Week 4 – Last weekend #2
$10,000,000 (-39%) in 3,224 theaters (-689); PSA: $3,102; Cumulative: $227,157,000
6. "Tammy" (Warner Bros.) Week 3 – Last weekend #3
$ (-39%) in 3,402 theaters (-63); PSA: $2,235; Cumulative: $71,253,000
7. "22 Jump Street" (Sony) Week 6- Last weekend #4
$4,700,000 (-28%) in 2,229 theaters (-580); PSA: $2,109; Cumulative: $180,509,000
8. "How to Train Your Dragon 2" (20th Century Fox) Week 6 – Last weekend #5
$3,800,000 (-37%) in 2,169 theaters (-716); PSA: $1,752; Cumulative: $160,672,000
9. "Maleficent" (Buena Vista) Week 8 – Last weekend #8
$3,302,000 (-21%) in 1,541 theaters (-536); PSA: $2,143; Cumulative: $228,367,000
10. "Earth to Echo" (Relativity) Week – Last weekend #6
$3,260,000 (-41%) in 2,450 theaters (-780); PSA: $1,331; Cumulative: $31,979,000
1. Opening films lag behind their predecessors
This week’s new releases include two sequels and a third opener trying to repeat a past success by replicating the key elements. All three fell short. "The Purge: Anarchy" grossed about $6 million less than last year’s first-go round. The second "Planes" film came in $4 million behind last summer’s surprise (and, as an intended home video release switched to theatrical, much less promoted) success. And most disappointing, Jake Kasdan’s "Sex Tape," meant to score a repeat of his $100 million "Bad Teacher" with the same two stars, came in with less than half that film’s opening gross. Of these, only "Planes: Fire and Rescue" got a strong Cinemascore, so the future is not bright for the other two.
2. Theaters suffering more from weak box office than studios
Six of the Top Ten have budgets of $50 million or less (before marketing costs). "The Purge: Anarchy," from horror maestro Jason Blum, cost more than the original, but still came in at a modest $13 million. Last year’s overall higher-grossing films had only three in the similar range. Though the most expensive films have mainly scored below expectations domestically, there have been fewer out-and-out flops this summer due to studio cost-cutting efforts. Meantime theaters have the same expenses and face a more acute shortfall.
3. Sequels dominate
Four of the Top Five and six of the Top Ten are sequels. Often first sequels top their previous film’s opening grosses, but none did this time. The public may be tired of same old same old. By comparison, the same weekend over the past three years saw a total of eight sequels make the Top Ten. What makes sense on paper with easy brand marketing seems to no longer be working. (The strong expansion of "Boyhood" to more suburban theaters in New York and Los Angeles suggests an initial craving for something fresh).
4. The horror genre may be running out of gas at last
Last summer "The Purge" and later "The Conjuring" continued a respectable showing among horror films after "Mama" and "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" opened strong, and "Evil Dead" and "Texas Chainsaw 3D" also opened at #1. This year’s top opener in the genre remains "Paranormal Activity 2" at $32 million. "Anarchy" will be profitable, but it has now become more of a struggle for studios to make easy money off of the genre. No horror film has opened at #1 so far this year
5. The heartland interest in right-wing films continues
Right-wing themes continues to be victimization and exposes of Liberal life in America. Dinesh Souza created this genre with "2016: Obama’s America" two years ago. His recent "America" (Lionsgate) continues to linger beneath the Top Ten, not close to his first film’s performance, but still respectable at #12 with $1,725,000 and a total of $11,469,000. Two new films entered the scene this weekend. The first, with the unsubtle title "Persecuted" (Millennium), has an all-time low Metacritic score of 7 and the response seems to indicate that there is a limit to the intended audience’s patience. This story about how a liberal Senator frames a fundamentalist preacher for murder managed only $959,000 in 736 theaters.
Meanwhile a new documentary got off to a strong start: "There’s No Place Like Utopia" (from Rocky Mountain, which triumphed with "2016") opened at one Colorado theater for a very impressive $27,800, backed by a strong grass roots campaign. This effort is a Michael Moore-style guerilla-style documentary meant as an expose for the evils and failures of progressive America.