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Summer Box Office Cooling Off Despite ‘Transformers 4’ Success

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” attracted moviegoers in droves last weekend, but despite its success, the domestic box office is struggling to keep pace with last year’s record-breaking numbers.

Through last weekend, ticket receipts are down 0.9% at $5.19 billion. Thinner numbers for summer tentpole season are largely to blame for the shortfall. Overall, the total box office from the first weekend in May through last weekend is running 13.1% lower, and analysts expect the second quarter, which includes the month of April, to fall roughly 6% when the final numbers are tallied.

“Usually you see more big breakout films, but this year we haven’t seen that one big, massive summer blockbuster,” said Eric Handler, a media and entertainment analyst at MKM Partners.

Going into the summer the stateside box office was up nearly 9%, but its lead has evaporated as big-budget productions have opened big, before flaming out quickly. Only three summer releases — “Maleficent,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” — have passed $200 million domestically. In 2012, it took the first “Spider-Man” reboot two weeks to crack that figure. This year, its follow-up huffed and puffed its way past the same threshold after nine weeks.

That’s also a far cry from 2013, when four films had surpassed $220 million by the same point on the calendar, one of them “Iron Man 3,” which had brought in north of $400 million. Given the slow-down, it looks like this year will have a tough time eclipsing last year’s record of $10.9 billion in receipts.

Wary of seeing their major films compete with World Cup, studios may have decided to keep their powder dry until next year — a decision that could have been a concession to increased importance of the foreign box office. Still a number of films have opened to lofty figures, such as “Godzilla” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” only to plummet by more than 60% in their second weekend of release.

One saving grace is that thus far the summer has been mercifully free of massive bombs. “Blended” flopped, but was relatively inexpensive to produce, and “Edge of Tomorrow” is struggling to recoup its investment, but is being buoyed by the international box office. There’s been nothing to match such day-glo turkeys as “After Earth,” “White House Down” or “The Lone Ranger,” though there’s still two months to go.

Exhibitors and studio executives have publicly stated that the cyclical nature of the business means that summer 2014 is leaner than years past. However, they are positively ebullient when it comes to discussing 2015 and 2016, which offers up such hotly anticipated movies as “Star Wars 7,” “The Avengers 2” and “Batman vs. Superman.”

“2015 should be easily a record breaking year for the box office,” said Tony Wible, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott. “We don’t have a full slate for [2016] for another year, but you’re starting to see some good titles slated.”

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