This third weekend of August, with the last megabudgeted wide-release behind us (Elysium came out last week), the last, more modestly produced superhero film just out (Kick-Ass 2 came out this weekend) and the grosses and rankings posted thus far unlikely to change very much between now and Labor Day, it does not seem too early to take stock of the season.
Glancing at both the films, and the financial data, continuity rather than rupture seems to prevail in yet another summer dominated as it has been by high-concept, big-budget spectacles based on familiar products, if not well-known franchises. In line with the last decade's established pattern, superheroes (Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, to a lesser degree The Wolverine) and zombies (World War Z) have done particularly well.
By contrast, science fiction films of other types have done less well, with the audience for such thing as futuristic and space-set stories proving fickle. Again, it was a high-profile sequel to a recent hit that did best, Star Trek: Into Darkness pulling in $227 million in North America and matching this abroad--but its American ticket sales were markedly lower than those of its less-costly predecessor, less than what the producers hoped for, and a reminder that enthusiasm for the brand cannot be taken for granted. The earnings of April's Oblivion topped out at about $90 million, while Pacific Rim and Elysium are fighting for only a little more than that, and After Earth flopped outright. Audiences also proved less than enthusiastic about the Percy Jackson sequel, Sea of Monsters.
It has been much the same story with the season's more grounded action films. Once again, only the latest Fast and Furious sequel held its own against the speculative-themed blockbusters, pulling in $238 million domestically and $782 million globally--a new high for the franchise, even in inflation-adjusted dollars. Meanwhile, despite the advantage of its PG-13 rating, bigger budget, summer release date and Roland Emmerich name (and Channing Tatum's alleged draw), White House Down did less well than March's Olympus Has Fallen. After nearly a month Red 2 has made considerably less than the original, making it unlikely ever to catch up. And the Western-set Lone Ranger, a high-risk gamble no matter how one looked at it, proved to be a bad one, crashing and burning on Independence Day weekend, and pulling in less than $200 million worldwide to date, making it one of the costlier flops of recent years.
This has also been the case with comedy, with sequels to two family-themed animated hits (Monsters, Despicable Me) cleaning up. Among live-action films, the Bucket Brigade was prominent, with This is the End and The Heat, while Adam Sandler and company had another hit with Grown-Ups 2. (By contrast, the more action-oriented animated features Epic, the Pixar spin-off Planes and Turbo were lesser performers, to varying degrees, while The Smurfs 2 and The Hangover III indisputably disappointed in comparison with their predecessors.)
That said, there were a few hits that did not quite fit into this pattern: Baz Luhrmann's remake of The Great Gatsby, the caper film Now You See Me, the horror movie The Conjuring. In fairness, however, Gatsby, the biggest commercial success of the lot, earned a mere $330 million globally, making it just the 13th largest hit of the year, and it is hard to see any of these films changing the market very much.
So once again, we have had a season dominated by sequels, superheroes, zombies, and Pixar, while the Bucket Brigade and Adam Sandler remain the studios' go-to guys for live-action comedy. With The Amazing Spider-Man 2 kicking off summer 2014, and followed up by more superheroes (X-Men with Singer at the helm again, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Michael Bay-produced Turtles), more Transformers and Fast and Furious and Expendables, more remakes of old properties (Godzilla, the Planet of the Apes), more sequels to animated hits (another Planes movie is on its way), and even more comedy from the very same actors and directors (Melissa McCarthy will be back in her directorial debut Tammy, while Jake Kasdan, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel reteam in Sex Tape), expect much, much, much more of the same this time next year.
The Lone Ranger Flops
Reexamining the Cult of the Film Star
A Summer Box Office Update: The Would-Be Blockbusters
New This Week: Star Trek: Into Darkness