Summer Box Office Looks to Break Record Despite Flops

"After Earth" $244.9m

Toon sequels led a season that wasn't kind to big-budget originals

With just three weeks until summer moviegoing peters out after Labor Day weekend, observers already are calling summer 2013 the best ever at the domestic box office. But studios racked up plenty of battle scars from several big-budget flops along the way.

Yet, the combo of familiar franchises like “Iron Man 3” and “Despicable Me 2” and ever-increasing ticket prices look to be enough to nail a summer record.

SEE MORE: Why Studios Must End Their Mega-Budget Obsession

Domestic totals are estimated at $4.15 billion through Sunday. That’s nearly 12% ahead of this time in 2011 — the previous benchmark summer when totals reached $4.4 billion through Labor Day. Midsummer admissions also were on track for a record.

This weekend saw one of the summer’s last major tentpoles, with Sony’s “Elysium” securing a decent-enough $30.5 million opening. That, along with three other wide releases, was enough to keep three-day totals outpacing the same frame in 2011.

The remaining 11 wide releases this summer, including next weekend’s “Kick-Ass 2,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Jobs” and “Paranoia,” should maintain that pace.

Despite increasing pleas for studios to take chances on original ideas and lessen their dependence on sequels, original properties beginning with Sony’s “After Earth” and “White House Down,” followed by Disney’s “The Lone Ranger,” Warner Bros.-Legendary Pictures’ “Pacific Rim” and Universal’s “R.I.P.D.,”  were the ones that gravely disappointed at the box office. (Though “The Lone Ranger” was based on a radio show, the vintage character barely resonated with today’s auds.)

Apocalyptic overload?

What was it with Hollywood and the end of the world this summer? Audiences surely grew weary of seeing Earth threatened with extinction over and over again. Only a few, including Paramount’s “World War Z,” which just crossed the $500 million global mark this weekend, managed to become bona fide box office hits. Sony’s R-rated doomsday comedy “This Is the End” bagged a solid $96 million, costing just $32 million to produce.

The flux of apocalyptic pics may have had an impact on “Elysium” this weekend. Though the film had an early hold on male interest, it gave up significant ground to “We’re the Millers,” which drew both men and women.

Not too long ago, fairy tale-themed pics stormed theaters, and the most recent, “Jack the Giant Slayer,” got chopped down at the B.O.

Family crowding

Overcrowding affected the summer’s numerous family films, as well.

This weekend, Disney Toon Studio’s “Planes” bowed with $22.5 million, an decent start for the $50 million-budgeted toon. But just three weeks before it, Fox-DreamWorks Animation’s $135 million “Turbo” earned a mere $21 million in three days and has cumed only $75 million so far domestically.

The summer’s highest-grossing toons, “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University,” each earned boffo results worldwide, and “Smurfs 2” is making up for a lackluster U.S. opening with peppy overseas grosses.

What’s in store for summer 2014? Franchise openings include “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “Transformers 4” and “Fast and Furious 7,” while non-sequels include “Maleficent” and “Hercules.”

Summer Box Office*

  • 2013: $4.15**
  • 2012: $4.28
  • 2011: $4.40
  • 2010: $4.21
  • 2009: $4.33

*in billions of $

**estimate through Aug. 11

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  1. gaffgolf says:

    They should measure success by tickets or seats sold not box office gross. Big increase in tickets prices over the past 7 years covers up the fact that less people are attending movies. It’s becoming to expensive-but greedy stars and studios keep getting richer on the backs of the masses!!! Also, get your movie out earliest in the season whether Summer or Xmas. Less decent competition early in the season( no later than May 1st or November 1st) means more ticket sales. That’s how a lousy zombie film like WWZ can succeed!!!

  2. Donella says:

    Studios will have to accept that the North American movie-going public has lost jobs in manufacturing, engineering, and information technology to India, China, and Brazil. That is where the corporate studio heads should look for their box office returns. Meanwhile, people in the U.S. will likely wait for cable, ppv, blu-ray, amazon, netflix until movie prices match current wages.

  3. Nolan says:

    After Earth and Elysium are only true original ideas floating around this summer. Pacific Rim is every Japanese anime ever written, RIPD is based on a graphic novel, White House Down is a mish-mash of Die Hard and other superior action movies and The Lone Ranger is based on the television series of the same name. Siting that original ideas didn’t do well at the box office is inaccurate.

  4. John Dooms says:

    To give the complete story the writer needs to say that the Lone Ranger was ALSO a successful television program at one time – he acts like it had never been visually interpreted before. Granted it was decades ago and this likely affected its magnetism, but the biggest reason the movie failed was that the story was a disorganized mess.

  5. Laer Carroll says:

    It’s not overcrowding that is at fault for flops. The flops themselves are at fault. “Overcrowding” is an excuse the studios make to avoid admitting that fact.

  6. Stephan K. says:

    To adress “White House Down” espeically. That movie flopped because it was bad and it was rated PG-13. Adult audiences grew weary of all the PG-13 fare thrown their way with everything fun cut out. “Olympus has fallen” did very well and that with a modest budget. So after one sees “Olympus has fallen” what should motivate me to go and see the PG-13 version of the exact same film? Which was disliked by critics too. And Now Olympus has fallen is leading the Blu Ray/DVD charts, bringing in even more money. So you might have mentioned that people also want to see good movies. Just being original doesn’t make a good movie by itself.

  7. Kim says:

    “Despite increasing pleas for studios to take chances on original ideas and lessen their dependence on sequels, original properties beginning with Sony’s ‘After Earth’ and ‘White House Down,’ followed by Disney’s ‘The Lone Ranger,’ Warner Bros.-Legendary Pictures’ ‘Pacific Rim'” – how are any of these “original ideas”??? You’ve got 2 science fiction action films, an action film that puts the president at risk, and a feature version of an old TV series. Not one of these is an original idea. Done to death, is the phrase that comes immediately to mind.
    Mind you, I haven’t seen them and they may well be very well done. I love action films personally. But, regardless, they have been done.

  8. G. Jardoness says:

    With the growing competition and availability in the consumer market, and the speed at which a theatrical release is turned-over and shoved through that pipeline, the figures have seemingly plateaued.

    With a couple spending upwards of $40, (for the movie alone), it’s becoming easier to justify waiting the extra six-weeks, and forgo the ‘experience’, which is more and more derivative, and less and less appealing than the one they could provide, at home, for themselves and their friends.

    The only thing that might’ve added to this article is a cost comparison, to go along with the gross figures — how have costs (in percentage to gross) changed? I can only guess, the difference is shrinking?

  9. Julienne says:

    They’re making movies based on the mood of the Industry…and the current economy (during the last 5 years) is in the tank…over…kaput! Americans are fed-up with all the hypocritical Stars backing this administration’s socialist programs, that’s killing the economy.

  10. Rob gaeta says:

    Chris says:
    why no mention of how well Man of Steel was, did and looked?

    It made about 600m on a 200m budget (not including marketing costs). It really didn’t do that well, hence why we are not getting a true man of steel sequel, but the batman/superman team up instead.

    • Roger says:

      Probably because Marvel is still kicking DC’s butt in the BO Iron Man 3 did twice what Man of Steel did with roughly the same budget….

      • Johnny Blaze says:

        Marvel has been given a free pass because they speak to the lowest common denominator. The masses who only care about mindless entertainment, which is exactly the drivel Marvel churns out every time. That’s why flicks such as Iron Man 3 can somehow manage critical and monetary success despite being a complete & utter mess. DC doesn’t have that audience net, which is why Man of Steel got panned critically despite if anything being slightly less bad when compared to IM3.

  11. RJM says:

    Why are you STILL calling Pacific Rim a ‘flop’? 400 Mil world wide to date….sounds successful to me.

    • MCS says:

      Uh, Variety, or someone here, please kindly define what makes a movie a “FLOP”? Is it referred to in ticket sales, seat sales, box office gross/net, a bad plot, a poor storyline, lack of or no marketing and promotions, no studio support, no film merchandising, etc., etc. etc. because as far as I have read so far, Pacific Rim (which is not a flop, and actually should have done better at the box office) was hardly promoted by Warner Bros. which distributed the film. PacRim was, for me, much better than Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel.

    • James Rusnack says:

      Wow…a movie that makes over half a billion dollars (MoS) and is in the top 75 all-time box-office successes is considered a disappointment.

    • harry georgatos says:

      The studio with PACIFIC RIM were looking for $800 million and over at the box office. These tentpole pictures have to make twice it’s budget and marketing costs. At the end of the day the pay-off wasn’t there for the studio and has become a flop!

      • Jim miller says:

        I personally have not heard from anyone that Warner brothers or legendary were looking to make 800 million on pacific rim… Only a single film, ironman3 , has done that much in 2013….and I am also perplexed why pacific rim, which will probably break into the top ten films of the year this week, is still being labelled as a ‘flop’ by variety. It Seems almost like a grudge at this point.

      • Pacific Rim, like most films, cannot be called a flop until it is clear where its gross will end up. Whilst clearly they always hope a film will make a big profit; sometimes the strategy is to get a film that rescues/sets up a franchise despite not making a BOX OFFICE profit. (See Star Trek 2009 or Batman Begins or Snow White & The Huntsman for recent examples.

        Given that it attempts to introduce audiences outside of The Orient to a genre (genre mix) that is virtually non existent there, Pacific Rim certainly is one of those films that would hope, rather than expect, Box office profits, as opposed to long term profit and genre kick-starting. the poor opening in Japan is a major surprise and may stop this film from getting enough to continue the series. We shall see, but it remains too early to call flop on this film.

  12. Rob gaeta says:

    I hope the studios aren’t deterred by the flops of the non sequel movies, like after earth. It’s not that we don’t want original ideas, we just don’t want them to be in in a terrible film. “After nepotism” more like.

  13. Chris says:

    why no mention of how well Man of Steel was, did and looked?

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