It is not an exaggeration to say that this 2014 U.S. summer box office was catastrophic in terms of both profit and attendance. May, ($1.23B, -15.7% compared to May 2013), June (~$994$, -19.2% compared to June 2013), and especially July (~$803M, -39.2% compared to July 2013) were all big disappointments for American studios.
We did see a turnaround in August 2014, however. The U.S. domestic box office grossed ~$946M this August (+8.8% compare to august 2013), an all-time historical record for U.S. box office for that month.
Perhaps explaining this darker turn of events, tickets sales faced a 15% overall decrease (according to Variety). That means 2014 saw the worst theater attendance numbers in 22 years.
Top 10 Box Office Releases (U.S.)
|Movie||Distributor||Total Gross (in Millions of $)|
|Guardians of the Galaxy||Disney||307.9|
|Transformers: Age of Extinction||Paramount||245.1|
|X-Men: Days of Future Past||Fox||233.8|
|Dawn of the Planet of the Apes||Fox||206.9|
|The Amazing Spider-Man 2||Sony||202.8|
|22 Jump Street||Sony||190.9|
|Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles||Sony||182.1|
|How to Train Your Dragon 2||DreamWorks||175.3|
Based on Box Office Mojo data from May 31 to August 2014, last updated 9/17/14.
Let’s try to explain these numbers.
Before we get started, let me clarify that I’m only speaking about these movies’ business here – not their quality.
If we consider the summer 2014’s top ten highest grossing films, eight of them are sequels or remakes. If that weren’t unusual enough compared to previous years, there also wasn’t any single movie one could point to as the big, highly anticipated event of the summer. Consider The Dark Knight in 2008, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in 2011 or The Avengers in 2012.
Fortunately, Guardians of the Galaxy (one of the two non-sequels of the top ten) finally defied expectation at the end of the summer, ultimately saving the August box office. Otherwise, it would be the first summer in 14 years without any movie reaching the $300M mark.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
With support from critics – 74% on Metacritic and 91% on Rotten Tomatoes – the new Bryan Singer movie became the second highest gross for the X-Men franchise with $233.8M (just behind X-Men: The Last Stand which pulled in $234.3M).
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn also did well with critics with 79% on Metacritic and 90% on Rotten Tomatoes – although Josh and Søren were less enamored with the film. The sequel from Matt Reeves (director of Cloverfield) reached $206.9M, outdoing its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes ($176.7M).
The Angelina Jolie vehicle did well, garnering $239.7M at summer domestic box office. As a new spin on an old fairytale, it fared better than the $234.9 earned by Oz: The Great and Powerful last year. On top of that, it’s Jolie’s highest grossing film to date.
22 Jump Street
Here’s another example of a sequel that did better than the first movie ($190.9M versus $138.4M for 21 Jump Street). And like Maleficent, this was the best domestic gross for both of the main actors, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
After getting off to a huge start ($93.1M for its opening weekend), we might have expected a bit more than $200.6M total domestic gross for the return of cinema’s most famous monstrous lizard. Regardless, a decent pull at the box office marks this a success for the new Gareth Edwards movie.
Summer’s (Good) Surprises
Guardians of the Galaxy
Our savior of the summer! Guardians is the only summer movie which crossed the $300M mark ($307M for as of this writing). Once again, Marvel Studios pulls out the big guns at the domestic box office. Nobody expected this movie to do so well before the summer. But Star Lord’s gang surprised everybody and enjoyed positive feedback from critics (76% on Metacritic, 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a whopping 97% from our own Søren Hough).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
This was another movie that nobody suspected might do succeed before the summer. But it seems that Ninja Turtles are still popular in the hearts of young Americans. Indeed, the movie has already grossed $182.3M domestically.
Seth Rogen has established himself as the definitive bankable comedic actor of the summer. After This is the End ($101.4M) last year, Rogen broke $150M with Neighbors. What’s next for summer 2015?
The Fault in our Stars
With an estimated production budget of $12M, the Shailene Woodley-headed picture (and its distributor, Fox) did extremely well with a final gross of $124.8M.
After earning $123.9M, this was the highest grossing film at the U.S. box office for French director Luc Besson. This marks Lucy as a great success for both him and his firm EuropaCorp. I guess his gamble paid off.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Gone are the days of Sam Raimi’s über lucrative series, especially if you consider inflation over the last 15 years. After taking in only $202.1M this summer, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 offered the worst yield yet for a Spider-Man movie. Does this really justify a third movie? Or perhaps Sony believes their Sinister Six film can save the franchise? Time will tell.
Transformers: Age of Extinction
As with the Spider-Man films, Transformers is a declining saga. Earning just $245.1M, Extinction brought in the lowest domestic score for a Transformers movie yet. Note that both this film and TASM2‘s meager success was in spite of a near-obsessive worldwide marketing campaign.
How to Train Your Dragon 2
This was the most inexplicable disappointment for me. Following good reception of the first movie and general approval of the sequel (76% on Metacritic and 92% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the lack of competition in the animated category this summer, I have to admit that I expected $250M at least for the new DreamWorks feature. Yet the Dean DeBlois-directed sequel only earned $175.3M: a small mystery.
Edge of Tomorrow
It’s amazing how hard it was for Tom Cruise’s movie to cross the $100M threshold (and not by much; it only reached $100.2M before leaving theaters). Unfortunately, with an estimated production budget of $170M, we can’t consider it a success for Warner Bros. As a means of explaining this from a marketing standpoint, I advise you read these excellent articles from Movie Fail’s Josh Rosenfield here and here.
Summer’s Biggest Flops
I don’t want to spend too much time on this category. Let’s just say that I send my sincerest condolences to all of these casts, crews and studios. It was rough out there.
Total Gross =$71.7M / Estimated Prod. Budget = $130M
Total Gross = $46.2M / Estimated Prod. Budget = $40M
Happy Madison finds themselves far from the $120.9M of 50 First Dates, the last product of the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore tandem.
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Total Gross = $42.7M / Estimated Prod. Budget = $40M
Let’s hope for Seth MacFarlane’s sake that Ted 2 does better.
Total Gross = $38.5M / Estimated Prod. Budget = $100M
Step Up All In
Total Gross = $14.7M / Estimated Prod. Budget = Not Available
Enough with the Step Up movies, no?
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
Total Gross = $13.5M / Estimated Prod. Budget = $65M
With $51.5M lost, this may be the most impressive flop of this summer. Why they didn’t let the first fabulous movie alone?
Conclusions and Predictions
Perhaps the public has grown bored of the usual franchises; Transformers, Spider-Man, Expendables or Step Up just aren’t as exciting as they used to be. Fortunately for Hollywood, some were brand new (Guardians of the Galaxy, an installment in the MCU but a new superhero property nonetheless) while others benefit from re-imagination (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).
One of the most surprising trends was that families didn’t support animated films with plebiscite so much this summer. Both How to Train your Dragon 2 and Planes: Fire & Rescue yielded disappointing returns for their parent studios despite strong brand recognition and established predecessors.
One of the other big takeaways is that women were the queens of the box office this year. Angelina Jolie in Maleficient, Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, Shailene Woodley in The Fault in our Stars and Melissa McCarthy in Tammy all yielded unabashed success when considering profit/cost margins.
Even still, it’s clear that we just lived through one of the worst summers in recent U.S. box office history. Not that we were expecting any huge return this year. As aforementioned, there was no one franchise or mega-blockbuster slated that might have carried us through the season. And in fairness, we probably could have anticipated the July slump after the schedule change for Fast and Furious 7, delayed following Paul Walker’s devastating passing.
Looking ahead to 2015, the playing field seems much more promising (if a bit overcrowded); The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World, Ted 2, Terminator: Genisys, Ant-Man, Minions, and The Fantastic Four are all headed our way. I think that the potential of next summer is much bigger than 2014, a transitional year if ever there was one.
I hope 2015 is a success, anyway – otherwise the U.S. box office may be in a steeper and more permanent decline than we thought.
All box office data was sourced from Box Office Mojo.