Summer in shadow of 2010

When it comes to summer box office, the pressure is always on to better the previous year’s totals.

At summer’s midpoint, Stateside box office is still off last year by 7%, despite a steady stream of high-profile pics, including “The Hangover Part II,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and last weekend’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” which pushed Paramount over the billion-dollar mark domestically.

Some observers thought B.O. totals would have eclipsed 2010 by now in year-to-date comparisons, and while several major combatants could tip the scales (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “Captain America: The First Avenger”), comparisons between this year’s biggest summer titles and their 2010 counterparts have left the 2011 box office behind.

Original concepts

“Super 8,” the summer’s most-anticipated original-concept pic, is by no means a disappointment: Domestic cume is $110.1 million, and it cost Paramount a reported $50 million to produce. But neither is the J.J. Abrams-helmed thriller a runaway success, failing to ignite summer box office the way Warner Bros.’ “Inception” did last year with its domestic total of $292.6 million.

In some ways, the comparison may be unfair (“Inception” had Leonardo DiCaprio, while the cast of “Super 8″ was relatively unknown), but the two pics both tell original high-concept stories and come from directors with significant fanbases (and “Super 8″ even had producer Steven Spielberg’s name going for it).

Both films also were well-received by audiences and critics, though “Inception” benefited from a highly involved narrative that boosted repeat viewings.

This summer’s other buzzed-about original title, Universal’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” launches July 29, two weeks after “Inception” bowed last year. U’s Jon Favreau-helmed pic, which stars Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, could benefit from a less-crowded end-of-summer B.O. (“Super 8″ bowed during a busy June sked) but faces students heading back to school in August.

Leggy comedies

Like the original tentpoles aiming for lengthy play time this summer, a steady influx of comedies (most R-rated) has sought to do the same.

Here, 2011 wins hands down.

Leading the charge, Warner’s Memorial Day weekend opener “The Hangover Part II,” with U.S. totals at $248.7 million, has handily outdone the studio’s holiday offering last year, “Sex and the City 2,” which cumed $95.3 million domestically.

U’s femme-driven raunchfest “Bridesmaids” managed to impress moviegoers with an even higher multiple than “Hangover II,” cuming almost six times its opening ($26.2 million) with a total $153.7 million. That beats Warner’s 2008 “Sex and the City” ($152.6 million), making “Bridesmaids” the seventh-highest grossing romantic comedy ever.

Pic hasn’t dropped more than 31% in eight weekends and is on track to surpass 2010’s best comedy, Sony’s “Grown Ups,” which tallied $162 million.

Sony’s recent comedy offering “Bad Teacher” debuted with a solid $31.6 million on June 24 and has already doubled that with $62.7 million. “Friends With Benefits,” Sony’s other R-rated summer laffer, bows July 22.

Animated action

The biz’s two biggest toon houses, Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, unleashed their newest animated features this summer: “Cars 2″ and “Kung Fu Panda 2,” respectively.

Toon pair could wind up beating their franchise predecessors, but neither film will reach last year’s best from Pixar and DWA. “Toy Story 3,” from Disney/Pixar, cumed a colossal $415 million domestically vs. $122.6 million for “Cars 2.” Meanwhile, Par-DWA’s “Shrek Forever After” grossed $238.7 million; “Panda 2,” $157.3 million.

“Cars 2,” only in its second week, has cumed half of the franchise original, while “Panda 2″ is $58 million short of its predecessor after six weeks.

Comicbook crunch

While there are more comicbook adaptations this summer (four) vs. 2010 (one), none from this year’s group so far has been able to catch “Iron Man 2,” with $312 million — though collectively, 2011’s pics well exceed that total.

Par’s “Thor” comes closest to the “Iron Man 2″ cume with $178 million, followed by Fox’s “X-Men: First Class,” with nearly $140 million domestically. Warner’s “Green Lantern,” which crossed the $100 million mark over the Fourth of the July weekend, is one of the summer’s bigger disappointments given the film’s $200 million pricetag.

The three comicbook pics so far this summer (“Captain America” bows July 22) all rep either potential franchise firsts or, in the case of “First Class,” a franchise reboot. So it’s not surprising that none has done the same biz as “Iron Man 2,” especially since the 2010 pic had more room to breathe in holdover frames. That film, however, didn’t have 3D, while this summer “First Class” is the sole 2D-only offering.

Aud interest for the format has declined in recent months, though “Dark of the Moon” saw a much-needed revival with 60% of its opening from 3D.

Last year, Fourth of July opener “The Last Airbender” (not a comicbook pic but still fanboy-driven) collected 54% of its $69.3 million five-day opening gross from 3D, which repped 51% of its overall locations. (“Dark of the Moon” had 69% of total locations in 3D.)

With Warner’s first 3D “Harry Potter” offering in the wings, as well as Par’s “Captain America,” bizzers will keep a watchful eye on whether the format can gain momentum and help tip the scale in favor of 2011.

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