Season's top three releases were franchise titles

Summer was a bit less sunny at the domestic box office this year, but hits like “Iron Man 2″ and “Shrek Forever After” helped Paramount top the season’s distribs with $778 million.

Those two Par reboots characterized a summer that, some B.O. observers suggested, suffered from franchise fatigue. Yet the seasons’s top three releases (“Toy Story 3,” “Iron Man 2″ and “Eclipse”) were franchise titles.

While the season through Labor Day was down slightly from last year’s record-breaking tally, despite higher ticket prices, Sony saw four titles gross north of $100 million domestically. “Karate Kid,” “Grown Ups,” “Salt” and “The Other Guys” boosted the studio’s grosses to roughly $680 million — approximately $130 million more than last year. Sony rose to No. 2 after 2009′s fifth-place ranking.

Twentieth Century Fox had the toughest time this summer, falling from the No. 3 spot in 2009 to No. 6. Disney ranked third in the season’s standings, followed by Warner Bros. at No. 4. Universal improved on last summer, up a ranking to No. 5.

Though summer market share doesn’t reflect year-to-date earnings or take into account profitability and per-title averages, studios still like to tubthump hearty grosses as a sign of the season’s success. Likewise, a down season can mean troubling news for year-end totals.

While Par has landed in the top two spots for the past three years, the studio was down 12% from last year, when it took in $885 million during the same period.

“Iron Man 2″ was the studio’s top summer performer but didn’t manage to outpace its predecessor. The sequel kicked off the summer, bowing in Stateside multiplexes May 7. Cume is $312.1 million; the original posted $318.6 million in 2008. “Iron Man 2″ also tallied the summer’s highest three-day opening at $128.1 million.

Par’s second-highest grosser, “Shrek Forever After,” which has totaled $238.4 million, also failed to surpass the franchise’s previous titles domestically. The 3D toon played better with overseas auds, ranking as the top international grosser for the series with a boffo $719.6 million worldwide.

Sony launched three successful original titles this summer, led by the Adam Sandler ensemble laffer “Grown Ups,” which has earned $160 million in the U.S. The studio’s Angelina Jolie starrer “Salt” posted $115.6 million, while “The Other Guys” marked another hit comedy for Sony.

Those three, topped by one of the summer’s surprises, “Karate Kid” ($176.3 million), helped lift Sony’s summer totals 24% ahead of 2009. Jump was impressive since the studio didn’t release any major tentpoles, such as last year’s “Angels and Demons” or “Spider-Man.”

Sony’s “Eat Pray Love” and “Takers” performed solidly for their late-summer slots. “Eat Pray Love” has cumed $70.3 million to date; “Takers,” $40 million.

Disney was virtually flat with last summer’s totals, at $615 million, boosted by the sesh’s top performer, “Toy Story 3.”

Toon stands as the highest-grossing animated film worldwide, totaling north of $1 billion, as well as the domestic B.O.’s second highest grossing toon behind 2004′s “Shrek 2,” with $436.7 million.

“Toy Story 3″ accounted for more than 60% of Disney’s total summer grosses.

A pair of Jerry Bruckheimer-produced pics, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” underperformed in the U.S., though foreign returns helped make up for lost ground domestically. “Prince” reached a less-than-stellar $90.7 million in the U.S. through Labor Day, while domestic totals for “Apprentice” stand at $61.8 million.

Last year, Warner claimed the top prize, posting just under $1 billion thanks to blockbusters like “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and “The Hangover.” Yet with fewer tentpoles, the studio earned slightly more than half of what it grossed during summer 2009. Warner’s slice of the season topped out at $522 million.

Still, the studio reaped top coin with its Christopher Nolan-helmed tentpole “Inception,” grossing $278.5 million in the summer’s fourth spot.

Meanwhile, Warner’s Memorial Day release “Sex and the City 2″ failed to ignite much enthusiasm among the pic’s core female demo, posting $95.3 million vs. the original’s $152.6 million take in 2008.

Midsummer releases “Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” and “Jonah Hex” also underperformed for the studio. Despite the higher 3D ticket surcharge, “Cats” grossed only $42.2 million. “Jonah Hex,” based on the graphic novel, reached a dismal $10.5 million.

Like Warner’s original pic “Inception,” Universal also reaped outstanding returns with “Despicable Me,” the first teaming between U and Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment. The 3D toon has turned in $241.5 million through Monday, enough to land among the summer’s top five pics.

Universal struggled last year to find solid footing at the summer box office, with none of its titles able to reach the $100 million mark. This year, however, U totaled $500 million with the benefit of two pics that landed above $100 million: “Despicable” and “Robin Hood,” which has grossed $105.3 million domestically.

But according to Universal, “Robin Hood” was always meant to be an international property, especially given its Brit-originated story and Aussie stars Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. Pic’s overseas totals have more than doubled the film’s domestic take.

U’s fanboy pic “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” as well as raunchy laffer “Get Him to the Greek,” lacked aud awareness, though that did not prevent “Despicable Me” from succeeding. “Scott Pilgrim” has totaled a disappointing $29.3 million, while “Greek” fared slightly better in the U.S., with $60.9 million.

Twentieth Century Fox struggled the most this summer, earning half as much as last year’s sesh.

Fox totaled $379 million for the summer, with a slate led by “The A-Team” and “Knight and Day.”

Both pics earned just north of $75 million domestically, but given their respective properties and stars, Fox had hoped for stronger turnouts.

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