"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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