5 Takeaways and 5 Questions From the Sputtering Mid-Summer Box Office

5 Takeaways and 5 Questions From the Sputtering Mid-Summer Box Office

Here's why 2014 is running nearly 11% behind last year — and what to look for in the second half

This summer's box office is running 10.8 percent behind last year's as we near the midway point.

That's not a shock. Last summer was the biggest in history, with $4.8 billion in domestic grosses. And while this year has its share of strong sequels, there's been nothing comparable to “Iron Man 3,” which topped $1 billion worldwide, or “Despicable Me 2,” which did nearly the same.

That said, there have been some major success stories.

Fox's Marvel mutant mashup “X-Men: Days of Future Past” was the first summer movie to hit $200 million domestically and is still going, and the studio scored a counter-programming coup with teen drama “The Fault in Our Stars,” which has taken in $85 million — on a $12 million budget.

Also read: ‘X-Men’ Kicks Off Fox's Stellar Summer

Sony has bounced back from its very tough summer 2013 with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “22 Jump Street.” And it has “Think Like a Man Too,” horror thriller “Deliver Us From Evil” and the Cameron Diaz comedy “Sex Tape” — all potential No. 1 movies — yet to come.

Disney gave up the May summer kick-off slot it's had for the past couple of years to Sony and Spidey, but scored with Angelina Jolie‘s fairy tale update, “Maleficent.”

Last year at this time, Warner Bros. had three of summer's top ten movies in “Man of Steel,” “The Great Gatsby” and “The Hangover Part III,” with “The Conjuring” and “We're the Millers” on the way.  But this year, other than its Legendary Pictures co-production “Godzilla,” it has been tough sledding.

Also read: The Most and Least Liked Summer Movie Actors – Tom Cruise, Vin Diesel, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum

Tom Cruise‘s “Edge of Tomorrow” has been a domestic disappointment, Adam Sandler‘s comedy “Blended” missed and the Clint Eastwood-directed musical “Jersey Boys” isn't going to be breaking any records. “Jupiter Ascending,” the sci-fi epic from Andy and Lana Wachowski, has been pushed to February 2015.

Universal connected with one R-rated comedy, “Neighbors,” but Seth MacFarlane's “A Million Ways to Die in the West” was a misfire. The studio has five openings set for July and August.

Paramount and Lionsgate sat out the first half of summer, but the former is about to make a major splash with “Transformers: Age of Extinction” on June 27.

Also read: The Most and Least Liked Summer Movie Actresses – Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Mila Kunis, Shailene Woodley

There's still more than two months left of summer left, so things will change. But here's what we've learned so far:

Jennifer-Lawrenc-X-Men-Days-of-Future-PastMarvel Means Massive: The season's two highest-grossing movies so far are Fox's “X-Men: Days of Future Past” ($208 million domestically, $770 million worldwide) and Sony's “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” ( $199 million, $702 million worldwide) and both are based on the comic book giant's superheroes. Also, Disney's “Guardians of the Galaxy is looking very strong ahead of its Aug. 1 debut.

Ignore Women at Your Own Peril: Predominantly female audiences have driven two movies — “Maleficent” and “The Fault in Our Stars” — to No. 1 openings in the middle of superhero season. And strong turnouts by women had a lot to do with the breakout first weekends of R-rated comedies “Neighbors” and “22 Jump Street.” Melissa McCarthy's comedy “Tammy,” which debuts on July 2, should continue the trend.

The Dating Game: This summer has seen seven different movies open at No. 1 and no film has held the top spot for more than a week. You could say that's an indication that none of this season's tentpoles have been strong enough to dominate, and that's true. But give credit to the studios, who have done a great job of picking their opening dates and timing their marketing campaigns.

Also read: Summer Box Office: You've Won Opening Weekend – Now Get Out of Here

Godzilla-wedRose-Colored Glasses: It's been a strong summer for 3D, as well as IMAX and Premium Large Format screenings. “Godzilla” drew more than half of its $93 million opening weekend grosses from 3D, which also accounted for 43 percent of the “Amazing Spider-Man 2” opening. Twelve of the top 15 locations for “Godzilla” were IMAX theaters, and the format delivered more than $14 million — or 15 percent — of the grosses. With the right movie, premium-priced huge screens can make a huge difference to the bottom line.

Reviewing the Reviews: All of this summer's No. 1 films have had the critics behind them, with every winner scoring at least 73 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes except for “Maleficent,” which was at 50 percent. But impressive notices didn't help Tom Cruise's sci-fi epic “Edge of Tomorrow,” which debuted to an underwhelming $28 million despite its glossy 90 percent “fresh” rating.

Now, for the questions as we head into summer's home stretch:

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTIONWill “Transformers” Be the First — and only — $100 Million Opener? “Transformers: Age of Extinction” will be the first summer release for Paramount, which has taken a less-is-more approach to the season. Mark Wahlberg is the new lead and it's directed by Michael Bay, so it should be loud and lucrative — and the first and only film to open to more than $100 million this summer. Fox's “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and Disney's “Guardians of the Galaxy” look strong, but not six-figures-in-three-days strong … at least, not yet.

See video: ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ Payoff Trailer: Mark Wahlberg Finds Optimus Prime

Will Sequel-itis Set In? It hasn't so far, with Spidey, “X-Men,” “22 Jump Street” and “Dragon 2” all scoring and “Think Like a Man Too,” “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” looking good. But fatigue could be a factor after those films. Improving on the grosses of the originals could be a tall order for Disney's animated “Planes: Fire and Rescue” and Universal's “The Purge: Anarchy” (July 18), Lionsgate's “Step Up All In” (Aug. 8), the bad-ass geezers of “Expendables 3” (Aug. 15) and “Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Die For” (Aug. 22).

How Scary is the Horror Drought? “The Purge” and “The Conjuring” both posted breakout debuts last summer, and 2013 was a very strong year for horror overall. But in 2014, not a single horror movie has put a significant scare into the box office. That should change with the July 2 arrival of Sony's “Deliver Us From Evil,” a supernatural saga starring Eric Bana, Olivia Munn and Edgar Ramirez and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. A spooky first trailer and a dearth of horror competition will help.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLESIs August Finished as a Box-Office Dead Zone? Over the past several years, studios have rightfully earned kudos — and some significant grosses — by shifting summer-style tentpole movies to April (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), March (“The Hunger Games”) and May (“The Avengers”). August has traditionally been summer's softest month, but if “Guardians of the Galaxy” delivers as expected and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” should come through, distribution executives looking to blaze new release date trails may have found their next frontier.

Also read: Universal Moves Scarlett Johansson's ‘Lucy’ Up Against ‘Hercules’

Could “Hercules” Gets Beat Up by a Girl? We're not talking just any girl, mind you — it's Scarlett Johansson playing a highly evolved and merciless warrior in Universal's Luc Besson thriller “Lucy.” Johansson has built some action hero cred in “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is one of the few actors today that can open a movie, so it won't be easy. It's been a tough year for sword-and-sandals sagas so far, but Paramount's Brett Ratner-directed take on the Greek demigod has a better pedigree than those films, and Johnson is known as “franchise Viagra.”

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The chart is based on figures from Box Office Mojo, and reflects total as of June 19.