What do Chris Pratt, Tom Cruise and the blue-haired embodiment of happiness have in common? They all starred in some of the biggest hits of the summer moviegoing season, which didn’t always follow the usual script. With just a few weeks left before Labor Day signals a shift to less frothy film fare, we surveyed the biggest hits (and misses) and came up with 10 key takeaways.
Reboots are great! Expect studios to start mining ideas from more beloved movies from your past, given the wildly positive receptions to Mad Max: Fury Road and Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation. And then there’s the number one movie of the summer, Jurassic World, which devoured everything in its path. The latest installment in the beloved dinosaur franchise now ranks as the third-biggest movie of all time after earning more than $635 million domestically. It also enjoyed the biggest opening weekend ever (and the biggest second weekend ever), and it became the fastest movie ever to reach $500 million.
Reboots are terrible! Not even Chris Hemsworth’s giant prosthetic penis could help propel a new take on National Lampoon’s Vacation. The R-rated comedy starring Ed Helms fell short of expectations, opening to $14.7 million. Likewise, Terminator Genisys fizzled, bringing in just $27 million in its Fourth of July debut. And then there’s Fantastic Four, which debuted to a paltry $25.7 million this past weekend—less than half of what the 2005 edition of Fantastic Four made on its opening weekend. Which brings us to another point…
Superhero movies had (sort of) a rough summer. Before its early May opening, Avengers: Age of Ultron was widely expected to rank as the summer’s No. 1 movie, possibly even outgrossing its predecessor, 2012’s The Avengers, which was then the third-highest grossing movie of all time with a domestic tally of $623.4 million. Instead, Ultron came in at No. 2, bringing in more than $457 million domestically. And while Marvel’s July release, Ant-Man, opened to a solid $57.2 million, with critics responding to Paul Rudd as a hero who could shrink and grow in size, that still was one of the studio’s least successful openings on record. In no universe could Age of Ultron and Ant-Man qualify as flops, but this is the first year since 2011 that Marvel doesn’t have the biggest movie of the summer.
There’s still room for original ideas. Amid all the sequels, prequels, and reboots, a few films based on completely fresh ideas won over crowds. Chief among those? Pixar’s Inside Out, which enjoyed the biggest debut ever for an original property—meaning it wasn’t sourced from some other existing work. Even though Inside Out became the first Pixar movie ever not to open at No. 1 (thanks, Jurassic World), it still stands as the second-biggest Pixar opening of all time (just behind Toy Story 3). The adorable animated adventure, which takes place largely inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl and featured the voice of Amy Poehler as the emotion Joy, did finally snag first place in its third weekend, usurping Jurassic World. To date, it has brought in more than $335 million domestically, making it the fourth-biggest movie of the year.
It’s good to be Universal. Just last week, Universal announced that it has grossed more than $5.53 billion so far in 2015. That’s the biggest sum ever by a studio in a single year—and it’s only August. Universal has had hit after hit in 2015, thanks to the success of movies like Jurassic World, Minions, Furious 7, Pitch Perfect 2, and Fifty Shades of Grey. Notably, the studio can attribute much of its success to international audiences, as $3.59 billion of Universal’s total has come from overseas. Furious 7, for example, has made a whopping $1.51 billion worldwide, and only $351 million of that from domestic audiences.
And it’s good to be Chris Pratt. Andy Dwyer is officially one of the biggest stars on the planet. For two years in a row, Pratt, once best known for his lovable turn on Parks and Recreation, has starred in the biggest movie of the summer, thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. That bodes well for his upcoming projects, including an update of The Magnificent Seven and sequels to both Guardians and Jurassic World. (Maybe he can find time to also work in Burt Macklin: The Movie?)
Everyone still underestimates female-led movies, but they shouldn’t. Summer movies led by women—especially comedies—really had something to sing about. Pitch Perfect 2 was expected to be a hit with a predicted debut around $45 million, but it ended up with $69.2 million instead, bringing in more in its first weekend than Pitch Perfect earned in its entire theatrical run. Similarly, Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck opened to a whopping $30.1 million, well above early predictions that indicated it would land somewhere in the mid-to-high teens. (There were still a few female-led duds, sadly, like the Reese Witherspoon-Sofia Vergara vehicle Hot Pursuit.)
Memorial Day and Fourth of July don’t mean as much as they used to. Memorial Day weekend used to be the official kickoff for summer movie season, but these days, “summer” blockbusters open the first weekend of May, and Memorial Day releases aren’t always blockbusters. Thanks to a lackluster debut from Tomorrowland, this year’s Memorial Day box office was one of the worst in years, and the Fourth of July weekend was similarly sluggish—the weekend’s totals only reached $136 million, making it the second-worst Independence Day period since 2001. Ouch.
Small films are capable of big things at the specialty box office. There was one hit over the Fourth of July: Asif Kapadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary only opened in six theaters, but it earned $222,500—that’s more than $37,000 per theater. To date, Amy has made almost $7 million. Also on the arthouse front, Ian McKellen’s take on Mr. Holmes exceeded expectations, opening to $2.4 million in only 361 theaters and grossing $12.8 million so far.
We can bounce back after a disastrous summer. Barring the surprise appearance of a blockbuster between now and Labor Day (this weekend’s Straight Outta Compton, perhaps?), the summer of 2015 probably won’t break the record set by 2013, when the box office tallied $4.851 billion. But there are still plenty of reasons to cheer. Thanks to chart-toppers like Jurassic World and Age of Ultron, the box office is up more than 11 percent over last year, which was the worst on record since 2006. And there’s plenty more in store for 2015. With the final Hunger Games movie on the way, not to mention Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015 could still beat out 2013’s $10.9 billion box office to become the biggest year ever.
•Box office report: Fantastic Four fizzles and falls to Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation
•Sluggish Fourth of July box office no picnic for Hollywood
•Will this be Hollywood’s biggest box-office year ever?
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