There have been 5 pricey disasters in a row, but the season is still ahead of 2012 by double digits
For all the megaflops this year, the sky isn't falling on the box office: Summer is still pacing to be the biggest ever, thanks to more hits than bombs, the biggest of which have already been detonated.
While there's been an unprecedented string of high-priced flops — five films with budgets well north of $100 million have opened to less than $25 million over the last month — the season is still running ahead of last year by 10.7 percent.
"This month has brutal, but none of these misfires have been a surprise," BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino told TheWrap. "With so many huge movies in the marketplace, it was a given that there were going to be some major casualties."
With a few exceptions, the hits have been just as predictable this summer — and there have been more of them than misses. The total domestic gross for the summer to date is $3.42 billion, better than last summer's $3.09 billion to this point, according to BoxOffice.Mojo.
And the same logjam of tentpole movies that made some disasters all but inevitable has also brought unusual depth to the market: the summer will see at least 20 films with budgets north of $100 million, six more than last year. Even the ones that don't hit add millions to the big picture.
Some of the highest-profile movies in what's left of the season — Hugh Jackman's "Wolverine" (photo top), the Mark Wahlberg-Denzel Washington action movie "2 Guns," Sony's kiddie film "Smurfs 2" and the Matt Damon-Jodie Foster sci-fi film "Elysium" — are looking solid, so this summer could still top the $4.32 billion record set in 2011.
With more than $400 million in domestic grosses, Disney's "Iron Man 3" heads a list of six movies that have taken in more than $225 million already this summer. Last year at this time, there were two: "Marvel's The Avengers" and "The Amazing Spider-Man."
Brad Pitt's "World War Z," at one time seen as a likely bomb, is on its way to $200 million. Baz Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio's "The Great Gatsby" has been steady for Warner Bros., and the magic-themed heist thriller "Now You See Me" has been the summer's biggest surprise with $115 million.
It's worth noting that two of the biggest bombs — Disney's $225 million "Lone Ranger" and Universal's $130 million "R.IP.D" — are from the studios that have otherwise done very well this summer. Disney has the No. 1 and No. 4 films in "Iron Man 3" and "Monsters University," and Universal has the No. 3 film in "Despicable Me 2" and the No. 5 in "Fast & Furious 6."
Part of the reason things seem more bleak than they really are is perception, according to Wunderlich senior analyst Matthew Harrigan.
"It's human nature. It's a lot more fun to talk about bombs than hits," he said. "You had 'Despicable Me 2' setting a five-day record for animated movies at the box office and 'The Lone Ranger' tanking in the same week, and the 'Lone Ranger' stories outnumbered the 'Despicable Me' stories by about 10 to one."
That said, a $100 million-plus loss of any movie is still a major hit for any studio. But Harrigan doubts that there will be any seismic shifts in the studios' strategy of placing mega-budget bets on franchises that can bring in billions in box office, licensing and theme rides — for years.
"Obviously you want to avoid flops, especially of that size," Harrigan said, "but there is a need to creatively revitalize and keep priming that pump, and when you play the high-risk, high-reward game that these studios are, some very big misses are the cost of doing business."
The pricey summer movies that missed — "After Earth," "White House Down," "The Lone Ranger," "Pacific Rim," "R.I.P.D." and "Turbo" — were all seen as potential franchise launchers. Guillermo del Toro's giant robots may yet justify a sequel if it performs overseas, but the others won't — and that's a big loss for the studios dreaming of future sequel riches.
However, one need only look at the 2015 release schedule to see that there won't be any serious retrenching, at least anytime soon. There will be at least as many tentpole movies next summer, with the next "Avengers" movie, Fox's "Independence Day 2," Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean 5," Sony's "The Smurfs 3" and Paramount's "Terminator" already penciled in.
That's not to say this summer's batch of box-office belly flops won't bring more intense scrutiny of huge budgets. The grosses run up by "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "The Great Gatsby" would have been more impressive had they not cost $190 million and at least $105 million, respectively.
"Profit margins still matter, and while you're not going to see a major shift in the studios' strategy, I don't think you're going to see ('Lone Ranger' director) Gore Verbinski laying down railroad tracks in New Mexico again anytime soon," Harrigan said, referencing the rampant cost overruns on the Johnny Depp action Western.