The domestic box office ended July a shell of itself, brought low by a scrawny series of would-be blockbusters.
What a difference a month makes. “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” have sparked a rally at the multiplexes the past two weeks, crushing records and becoming the first- and fourth-highest openings in August history.
“August has become a star of a month at the box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “It used to be thought of as the dog days of summer and as sort of a dumping ground.”
The domestic box office ended July down more than 20% from summer 2013 and suffering from eight straight weeks of declines. Thanks to “Guardians'” $94.3 million opening and “Ninja Turtles'” $65 million debut, it now is 16% behind.
The past weekend was a marked improvement on the same period a year ago. Total ticket sales stood at $186 million, according to BoxOffice.com, a 16.8% jump from the same weekend in 2013 when “We’re the Millers” and “Elysium” premiered. Year to date, the box office is down 5.5%, a lot brighter than the nearly 7% it was off a mere two weeks ago.
“There’s two new franchises in the first two weeks of August,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “No other month this summer produced two huge new franchises.”
The success or failure of upcoming releases such as “Let’s Be Cops,” “The Expendables 3″ and “Sin City 2″ will determine if those gains can be sustained or will prove ephemeral. Analysts predict “Let’s Be Cops” will be an R-rated comic hit, but it’s not clear if the wide-scale release of pirated copies of “The Expendables 3″ will hurt the geriatric adventurers’ box office chances.
Going into the summer, both “Ninja Turtles,” a reboot of a popular series of films from the 1990s, and “Guardians,” which featured a lesser-known band of Marvel comicbook characters, were seen as question marks. They had brand awareness, but they weren’t considered to be as potent as “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” or any of the tentpoles films that crowded into theaters in May and June. Their success could inspire studios to more actively scout out August as a time to launch some of their bigger films.
“What we’re seeing is the audiences are still there for these major franchises,” said Bock. “It doesn’t have to just be the leftovers.”
Because films of this scale are planned and plotted out years in advance, the change may come slowly. Next year, August looks quiet, with “Assassin’s Creed” and a remake of “Point Break” among the more prominent offerings, but in 2016, the month will host a DC Comics film and a Smurfs sequel.
After getting off to a hot start, the coming weeks and months should cool down, analysts say. September and October releases such as “Gone Girl” and “The Maze Runner” look strong, but will have a tough time matching “Gravity’s” $716.4 million worldwide haul. Last year, four films opened in September and October before topping out at more than $100 million domestically, a difficult feat to repeat. So enjoy this August sizzle before it fades.
“To an extent, it’s a rebound,” said Shawn Robbins, assistant editor of BoxOffice.com. “But it seems to be more a final breath of summer in a year where there really wasn’t a huge blockbuster.”