Summer Box Office Report Cards: Universal and Disney Dominate in 2015

jurassic World
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The summer box office will go down as the second-biggest in history, but the wealth wasn’t evenly distributed. Instead, the results revealed a profound case of corporate income inequality.

Two studios, Universal and Disney, gobbled up most of the profits after fielding massive hits like “Jurassic World” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Together, their films made up seven of the 10 top-grossing domestic releases this summer. That left the rest of their big studio brethren to fight for crumbs, with some finding little left over. Variety breaks down the numbers to see which bets paid off and which fell flat.


Hits: It was a run of blockbusters for the ages, propelling Universal to heights no other studio has reached. The big winners include “Jurassic World,” a canny reboot of a franchise that had stalled with 2001’s “Jurassic Park III”; “Pitch Perfect 2,” an a cappella comedy that hit the right notes with younger females; “Minions,” a spinoff of “Despicable Me” that showed you don’t need Gru to build a global smash; “Trainwreck,” a beautiful comedic marriage of Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow; and “Straight Outta Compton,” an edgy rap drama that bested more conventional popcorn season offerings. Bravo!

Misses: “Ted 2” was a bong rip too many. Don’t expect a part three.

Verdict: A nearly flawless performance. A studio that many had written off four years ago comes roaring back, solidifying old franchises and setting the stage for new ones.


Hits: The Mouse House benefited from having two of its biggest brands, Marvel and Pixar, busy conjuring up entertainment for the masses. On the comicbook end,  “Avengers: Age of Ultron” fell a bit short of its 2012 predecessor, but its $1.4 billion global haul makes it the sixth highest-grossing film in history, and “Ant-Man” racked up $361 million, far less than other Marvel movies, but a respectable result given that he’s a C-minus-list character. After sitting out last summer, Pixar returned with a bang, as “Inside Out” became a critical and commercial triumph to the tune of $689.9 million worldwide.

Misses: “Tomorrowland,” a drab attempt to launch a new franchise based on a theme park attraction, collapsed, guaranteeing a massive writedown and proving that George Clooney should stick to prestige dramas and Nespresso ads.

Verdict: Just imagine how stacked this lineup will be when Disney adds Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars” sequels and spinoffs to the bunch. When it comes to brands, there’s Disney and then there’s everyone else.


Hits: “San Andreas” shrewdly traded on fears of the “big one” to the tune of $468.7 million globally, and “Mad Max: Fury Road” would have counted as a win with $373.3 million worldwide, if it hadn’t taken more than a decade and untold millions to make.  Applying the definition of “hit” liberally, “Vacation,” a critically derided attempt to bring back the Griswold clan, is a disappointment, but its low budget means it could make money.

Misses: Too many to name, but start with “Hot Pursuit,” a comedy as painfully generic as its title, stop over at “Entourage,” a bigscreen version of an HBO show that devolved into self-parody, take a detour to “Magic Mike XXL,” a sequel that didn’t make enough of a profit to keep Channing Tatum stripping, and end up with “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” a bigscreen version of a TV series that’s slightly less beloved than “Petticoat Junction.” Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Verdict: Warner Bros. tried to flood the zone, fielding more films than any other studio, but quantity couldn’t make up for a lack of quality. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” can’t arrive soon enough.


Hits: Melissa McCarthy continues to be one of the most consistent box office draws in the business, as her name above the title pushed “Spy” to $234.7 million globally. “Paper Towns” was no “Fault in Our Stars,” but the John Green adaptation did earn $67.3 million worldwide on a slender $12 million budget.

Misses: Let’s have a moment of silence for “The Fantastic Four” and Josh Trank’s career.

Verdict: It’s hard to see how “The Fantastic Four” recovers after producing some of the worst results for a comicbook movie in history and suffering catastrophic reviews. Cue “taps” for Mr. Fantastic and friends.


Hits: Strapping Tom Cruise to the side of an airplane propelled “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” to box office heights, with the fifth film in the spy series earning $438.6 million worldwide. There will be more impossible missions to come. Cruise’s chiropractor be warned.

Misses: It’s not an outright flop, but “Terminator: Genisys” may be the end of the line for the cyborg series. Foreign crowds like the movie better than Stateside ones, but its $324.8 million take is dispiriting given the franchise’s legacy and the fact that this one boasted the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe China will save it.

Verdict: Make more movies. Paramount only released two films this summer, a fraction of what many other studios launched. There’s a reason the studio has committed to increasing its output, because more popcorn seasons like this imperil Paramount’s status as one of the majors.


Hits: Zilch.

Misses: “Pixels” was yet another Adam Sandler misfire, “Aloha” was the trainwreck that the Sony hack hinted it would be and “Ricki and the Flash” is struggling to bring in Meryl Streep fans.

Verdict: If former studio chief Amy Pascal hadn’t been pushed out for her leaked emails, this slate would have doomed her job prospects. At least Sandler is Netflix’s problem now.

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  1. jez says:

    The way I see it, it seems since 2010, When Alice in Wonderland enchanted it’s way to became one of the few Billion Dollar Blockbusters, summer blockbuster season actually started in March hence why many so called summer blockbusters like Captain America: Winter Soldier, Fast Five, Cinderella and most recently Furious 7 have been getting the jump on summer itself.

  2. Michael says:

    Jurassic World, Avengers, Furious 7, and NOW Terminator genisys are big winners.

  3. lily says:

    Paper Towns was definitely not a hit. It was a flop compared to Fault in Our Stars.

  4. lily says:

    Vacation was not a hit. It flopped badly. Magic Mike XXL still made a big profit so it should be in the hit section.

  5. harry georgatos says:

    The Murdoch empire should immediatly start house-cleaning at Fox for the two biggest stinkers in the last 20 years of Summer popcorn movies in FANTASTIC FOUR and the 90 minute commercial masquerading as a feature film in HITMAN AGENT 47. Fox specializes in selling dumb movies to dumb teenagers. AGENT 47 is not a bad premise but needed a script from the ALIAS mob with John Woo directing then having an imbecile moron that is Skip Woods career. The executives at Fox are to blame for bringing bottom line talent living below the poverty line of filmmaking ability. There has to be house-cleaning at Fox as those executives are nothing more then sleazy used car-salesmen masquerading in the Hollywood studio system. Murdoch has basically hired losers that I wouldn’t give a mop job to!

  6. Chris Wood says:

    I seem to remember another film called “Furious 7.”

    • Jake says:

      This is a summer box-office report card. Fast 7 was a April release. Summer season begins with May releases or late April releases when their opening weekends include a day or more in the month of May.

  7. Ansolo says:

    so what’s the summer box office that’s the first-biggest in history?

  8. guest says:

    Sony is really f*cking up here.

  9. Mimi says:

    Fast and the Furious was a sequel to a popular franchise along with Jurassic World. Minions was a spin-off off the popular movie Despicable Me along with the sequel. Those three movies were the foundation of their success, so yea-DUH it made Universal filthy rich this summer. What did you expect? I’m tired of Variety acting like Universal did something so creative and out of the box. The true summer hit that no one really expected to be highly successful was Straight Outta Compton.

    • therealeverton says:

      you have a bit of a point, it’s the backhanded swipe at superheroes that bugs me.

      However Penguins of MAdagascar was also a Spinoff and it didn’t work, to make it so big that t may be the highest grossing in the series is a big deal. Jurassic Park was a favourite, but the second film made $365m less than the first film and the third film made $250m less than that one. To make a new sequel 14 years later and have it do such big business, third highest grossing film all time, that is a big win.. AS for Furious 7, will the death of Paul Walker made a difference for sure, but the resurrection of that franchise has been astonishing.

      None of those films was likely to fail completely (Jurassic World could have been bothered, look at Terminator and Fantastic Four) but to get two films over $1.5b in one summer is a pretty big deal.

  10. jez says:

    Technically Universal and Disney were even bigger champions considering the staying power of Furious 7 and Cinderella (the latter, despite being in theatres for nearly 2 months prior, somehow had a minor resurge in the week the Avengers were unleashed.

    Question, when is a summer blockbuster not a summer blockbuster?
    Answer: When it’s released in March/April but still has some staying power.

  11. Ivan says:

    Yet if weren’t interested in movies about super heroes or ones with a number in the title, this was a bleak summer indeed.

  12. Abax Mabax says:

    Hitman should have been in ‘misses’ for Fox. Essentially repeating the same bloody mistake they did back in ’07. Why is Skip Woods still being hired is beyond me?

    And micro managing and ruining Fantastic Four (yeah Trank isn’t fully to be blamed here! FFS!)….apparently no one has learned anything at Fox after X3 and Origins:Wolverine…………

    • Brent says:

      Agreed. Some Fox executives must have been doing some really bad drugs (as usual with many movie studio executives). Especially upsetting when 20th Century Fox did pretty good last year… Oh well.

  13. therealeverton says:

    ” $361 million, far less than other Marvel movies”

    NOPE. IT is in line with the opening film s for “weird” characters. It made more than Incredible Hulk and will end its run with more Than Captain AMerica 1 and has a genuine shot at beating Thor 1 as well. It’s a decent result in line with expectations and NOT overachieving like Iron Man and Guardians of The Galaxy.

  14. BrenH says:

    Great write up, with one exception for me. Magic Mike XXL may not have made as much as was hoped for, but it’s made almost twice as much as Paper Towns (which you counted as a hit for Fox) did both domestically and internationally on a similar budget. It’s definitely turning a profit, and should be counted as a hit for Warner Bros.

    • therealeverton says:

      You’re also right here about Magic Mike. es it made less than the first film, but at $14.8m it made a tidy llittle profit of of around $14m

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