2014 Summer Film Season

The reviews are in: the 2014 summer box office for film was a washout. Despite all-time high ticket prices and add-ons like 3D and IMAX, the overall box office return was down from years past. Much (virtual) ink has been spilled discussing why, but there are two pretty clear-cut answers:

1. The overall quality of the films.
2. How many of the films were used and/or distributed.

That’s not to say there WEREN’T good films out there. The independent film scene filled in a lot of gaps for us weekly movie-goers, with the likes of Chef, Boyhood, Begin Again and more. There were also three pretty terrific blockbusters which jumped the $200 million mark in Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. These films also topped the 90% mark on Rotten Tomatoes.

Here’s the problem: none of those films topped $350 million in the US. That’s a big YIKES for blockbuster films.

Let’s take Guardians of the Galaxy for example, which currently leads the US box office for the year with somewhere around $300 million. GotG had a $170 million budget. With all of the marketing and add-ons that come with creating and pumping a big blockbuster film like this, the film has to make back somewhere around TRIPLE it’s budget before it even breaks even. Therefore, GotG make its first dollar when it crossed the $510 million mark. With over $600M in global box office take, GotG is one of the few successes in the 2014 blockbuster season.

Unfortunately, there were a number of high-profile bombs this summer as well. Here’s a list of films that performed poorly:

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: $200M budget, $202M domestic
Blended: $40M budget, $46.3M domestic
Edge of Tomorrow: $178M budget, $100 domestic
The Expendables 3: $90M budget, $36.7M domestic
Get on Up: $30M budget, $30.3M domestic
The Giver: $25M budget, $38M domestic
Hercules: $100M budget, $71.4M domestic
Into the Storm: $50M budget, $44.6M domestic
A Million Ways to Die in the West: $40M budget, $42.6M domestic
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: $65M budget, $12.9M domestic

Hollywood makes its living on blockbuster films. Even the smaller, independent films depend on them – if the studios don’t make their money on their $200 million robot films, then they can’t invest the $10 million in the quirky Alexander Payne comedy. Questioning this system at this point is folly; the studios are far too invested in their current system to just abandon it completely, even after a summer like this one.

So let me make the following proposal, stating with a question: who made the decision to release Live, Die, Repeat: The Edge of Tomorrow, a quality film with a 90% RT score, in June? This was a film with a $170M budget that came out two weeks AFTER the biggest X-Men film in years, a week before 22 Jump Street, a huge comedy franchise and three weeks before another robot franchise film in Transformers 4. Who thought placing it there, and with pretty limited and relatively ineffectual marketing, only to get its trailers drowned out by the rabble? This is a heavy sci-fi war film, so certainly not a broad base, and not part of a franchise or adaptation, so no major built-in fan base to speak of. It’s got a $170M budget, so placing it in such a narrow hole requires that it have a $100M opening weekend in the US for it to even have a CHANCE to make its money back.

Does that make sense to you? Me either.

Let’s go back in time now. On the weekend of March 14-16, 2014, Mr. Peabody and Sherman ruled the box office with $21M in its second week. Need for Speed, the top new release of the weekend featuring Aaron Paul just off of his Breaking Bad fame, topped out at $17M.

Can you imagine if Edge of Tomorrow had come out there, a full three weeks before Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Or in February, where it would have had free reign for weeks without another major action flick? Don’t blame Tom Cruise; this film is a victim of bad timing.

A few other lessons the studios need to learn as well:

Spider-Man 3 killed the entire Tobey Maguire franchise due to a bloated script featuring too many new characters and villains. Therefore, the studio rebooted, and in their second film back, a mere seven years later, feature a film with too many new characters and villains.

How about Blended, the Adam Sandler comedy? Unfortunately for Adam Sandler, his last five films have not done so hot: Blended, Grown Ups 2, That’s My Boy, Jack and Jill and Just Go With It. He’s another one who might benefit from a less crowded field, though Blended got some pretty scathing reviews (14% RT score).

The Giver: An odd combination, to be sure. The studio marketed this film like it was the next Hunger Games, but then recruited Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep to star and pushed them hard in the trailers. Might have worked if this was a kids movie, but teenagers don’t really want to go to the movies with their parents, and many probably have no idea who Bridges and Streep even are.

The good news is the summer of 2015 looks a lot more promising than this one ever did.