The dog days of summer have produced more than their share of dogs at the box office this year.
With just two weekends left in Hollywood’s official summer movie season, the total domestic box office from the start of May to date sits at an estimated $3.43 billion, according to data from comScore and Box Office Mojo. That’s down a whopping 12 percent from the $3.9 billion made to this point last year.
In addition, overall box office since the start of 2017 totals is down 3.5 percent, currently sitting at $7.18 billion.
It’s not just studios who have taken a beating. AMC Theatres, the world’s largest theater chain, reported $176.5 million in losses in the second quarter and saw its stock plummet 25 percent. In fact, North America’s four top cinema chains — including Cineplex, Regal Cinemas, and Cinemark — reported a combined market value loss of $1.3 billion since August 1.
“There was just a lack of big-ticket items to keep audiences coming in on a regular basis,” Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap.
And it’s not as if studios have been killing it with moviegoers in recent summers. In 2016, while box office totals for the year saw a modest 2 percent bump, the summer box office flatlined compared to 2015 with $4.44 billion compared to $4.48 billion the previous year.
What went wrong? Let’s start with the season’s biggest hits, which proved to be not nearly as big as last year’s blockbusters. This year’s top three performers are all comic-book adaptations: Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman,” which has racked up $401 million, Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” ($389 million) and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” ($306 million).
The fourth top grosser, “Despicable Me 3,” has been the big family audience draw of the summer with $247 million and counting. Combined, these four films have made $1.34 billion domestically — 39 percent of total revenue this summer.
But while that’s an impressive number, last summer’s top films brought in more money. 2016 boasted two films that topped $400 million: Disney/Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” ($408 million) and Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Dory” ($486 million). Another animated movie, Universal’s “The Secret Life of Pets,” grossed $368 million, while Warner Bros.’ “Suicide Squad” topped $300 million by Labor Day.
That’s a combined total of $1.56 billion, 14 percent higher than the top four films of this summer.
Below the big hits are the releases that are most responsible for this summer’s downturn: the under-performers. While many of these films were not flops for their studios given overseas performance, neither did they provide the shot in the arm in between comic book movie releases that analysts and exhibitors were hoping for.
The biggest culprits this summer were Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and Paramount’s “Transformers: The Last Knight,” both of which saw a big drop in domestic returns compared to previous installments in their respective franchises.
“Pirates 5” became the first film in that series to gross less than $200 million domestically — just $171 million, a mere 21 percent of its global total. “Transformers 5” fared even worse, making just $129.5 million despite having no wide-release competition when it opened in late June. By comparison, the last installment in the series, 2014’s “Age of Extinction,” made nearly double that with $245 million.
And while Paramount’s “Baywatch” performed OK overseas, the $69 million comedy only made $58 million in the U.S. This result, combined with that of “Pirates 5,” contributed to the lowest Memorial Day Weekend numbers since 1999.
One silver lining is that there were fewer big-budget bombs this summer than last year, when the season churned out clunkers like Universal’s “Warcraft,” MGM’s “Ben-Hur,” and two live-action Disney misfires, “The BFG” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass.”
This year, there were only three big busts domestically: Warner Bros.’ “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” and STX/EuropaCorp’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” both had budgets of over $150 million, but failed to make even a third that amount in North America. “King Arthur” only grossed $39 million and “Valerian” stands at $36 million after three weekends.
Joining them is Universal’s $160 million reboot of “The Mummy,” which made just $80 million domestically but earned a respectable $322 million from overseas markets.
This summer had its share of modestly budgeted sleeper hits, including critically acclaimed successes like Universal’s “Girls Trip” ($97 million grossed against a $19 million budget) and Sony TriStar’s “Baby Driver” ($100 million against a $30 million budget).
But neither proved as big as STX’s “Bad Moms” did last summer. That $20 million R-rated suburban comedy grossed a whopping $113 million, spawning a sequel that’s due in theaters this December.
“The real success comes with coming into theaters with a lot of hype and then having the reviews to back it up,” Bock said. “‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Guardians 2’ were able to do that. But after them and ‘Spider-Man,’ there were no films that were able to get people to say, ‘This is a movie we need to see.'”
But analysts don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button just yet. The final two months of 2017 should help make up the ground lost in the summer, with especially high anticipation for Disney/Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” Warner Bros.’ “Justice League,” and Disney/Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
“I’ve heard concern from investors who tell me, ‘There’s something fundamentally wrong. Consumers aren’t going to theaters anymore. What happened?'” B.Riley financial analyst Eric Wold told TheWrap. “That’s a hard conclusion for me to come to after a record-setting 2015 and 2016, followed by a surprisingly strong Q1 of 2017.”
“It’s going to take several hit movies in a row to get consumers back on track,” he said. “That might not happen until ‘Thor,’ but I don’t think anything negative is happening that’s keeping people away from theaters other than movies they don’t want to see.”