Monday, June 17, 2013

A Summer Box Office Update: The Would-Be Blockbusters

The latest Superman film, the Zack Snyder-helmed Man of Steel, took in $125 million at the U.S. box office this weekend (and almost $200 million worldwide), which is not just a very respectable take for a non-sequel, but a new June record, which has BoxOfficeMojo's Ray Subers predicting a final tally in the $300 million range or higher. If this proves accurate, Man of Steel will accomplish what Bryan Singer's 2006 Superman Returns failed to do - provide a launch pad for a successful Superman franchise.

Meanwhile, Iron Man is closing in on the $400 million mark domestically (and near-certain to break it Monday), while it has broken the $1.2 billion mark globally - pulling in as much money as the first two films in the series combined. It's Avengers money more than Iron Man money, and yet another instance of Marvel's seemingly risky investment in that mega-franchise paying off big.

In short, superhero movies are still doing well. So is the Fast and Furious franchise. With $219 million stateside, and $636 million globally, Fast & Furious 6 has already outgrossed 2011's Fast Five, previously the highest-grossing earner in that franchise by a long way - which made the series a rare, "mundane" exception to the prevailing pattern of heavily science fiction and fantasy-based films among the first-rank action blockbusters of recent years.1

By contrast, Star Trek: Into Darkness has been something of a letdown to its producers. With $210 million from the U.S. in the till at the end of its fifth weekend it is far from a flop, but still unlikely to match the first film's gross domestically, despite higher ticket prices and 3-D surcharges (and of course, the larger budget). However, overseas earnings are more than making up for this. (The film has grossed another $200 million internationally, compared with the 2009 movie's $127 million.) The result is that, despite the disappointment of some in the figures, this post-reboot Star Trek movie is likely to be chalked up as a success in the end - unlike After Earth, another big-budget space-themed movie which is regarded now as an unambiguous flop (with a mere $100 million taken in worldwide, far short of what it will take to cover the $130 million budget).

Star Trek: Into Darkness has been much praised by critics, while After Earth has only contributed to the scorn heaped upon the once-celebrated M. Night Shyamalan. But the two together remind us that while Star Wars and Avatar all but set the standard for commercial success, audience response to space opera has tended to be rather more fickle than is the case with more grounded genre fare (like the superhero films that, year in, year out, top the charts).

Of course, the season is not quite half over, with many more big-budget spectacles aiming for grosses in the high nine and low ten figures scheduled for release over the next two months. Coming this Friday is World War Z (capitalizing on the only other trend that has endured as long as superheroes in the 2000s, zombies), and the Friday after that, White House Down (the year's second thriller about a terrorist seizure of the White House, after March's Olympus Has Fallen). In July, viewers can look forward to the reteaming of Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger, Guillermo del Toro's mechas-and-monsters-themed Pacific Rim, Red 2 (a sequel to the 2010 film based on the Warren Ellis comic) and the return of everyone's favorite X-Man in the inventively titled The Wolverine. And in August, District 9 director Neil Bloomenkamp's Elysium, a second Percy Jackson film (Sea of Monsters) and the obnoxiously titled Kick-Ass 2, will round off the season.

I don't have any predictions about how these as-yet unreleased films will do with critics or audiences to offer. However, the $250 million The Lone Ranger looks to me like the biggest gamble of the season given the money sunk into it, the cultural buttons the film pushes (however inadvertantly), the recent travails of Western-themed would-be blockbusters (like Cowboys & Aliens), and the clear hopes of the Suits who greenlit it that it will give them another Pirates of the Caribbean-style success - so that for those who find the ups and downs of the film business interesting, that seems the story to watch.

1. Fast Five (2011), which took in $209 million domestically and $626 million globally, earned 60% more in inflation-adjusted terms than Fast and Furious (2009), which in its turn was the series' highest grosser (certainly globally). The only other such action movies which regularly enjoy such earnings belong to the highest profile spy franchises, like the Mission: Impossible and James Bond series (2011's Mission: Impossible movie pulling in nearly $700 million, 2012's Skyfall over $1.1 billion).

My Posts on Star Trek
12/16/12
So Far This Summer . . .
5/29/12
New and Noteworthy (Avengers, "The End of SF"-Again, Fringe Renewed)
5/18/12

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