Summer Box Office Report Card: From Disney to Universal, Grading Popcorn Season

Summer Box Office 2017
Courtesy of Warner Bros/Universal

Hollywood studios may be scared to show their summer report cards to their corporate bosses. After all, ticket sales were down 12% year-over-year as flops like “The Mummy” and “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” failed to attract crowds.

That’s not to say the Universals, Warners, and Disneys of the world didn’t have successes they could crow about. Despite the rough box office headwinds, there were still some big hits. Sequels to “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Despicable Me” scored, “Wonder Woman” and its feminist heroine tapped into the zeitgeist, while “Dunkirk,” a brainy historical drama, sailed into the heart of summer and emerged triumphant.

To help the six major studios learn from their mistakes (and to give them gold stars when they excelled), Variety is taking a hard look at the summer that was. Here are the hits and misses, winners and losers of popcorn season.

UNIVERSAL
Summer Offerings: “The Mummy,” “Despicable Me 3,” “Girls Trip”
Grade: B
Takeaways: “Girls Trip” must have come as a huge sigh of relief for Universal. After a number of R-rated comedies from competitors failed to connect, the bawdy farce quenched the market’s parched, mirthless throat. But the studio needed it as much as anyone after “The Mummy” majorly whiffed, putting its ambitions to create a cinematic universe of monster movies on ice. (“Girls Trip” has out-earned the Tom Cruise-starring reboot in North America.) Meanwhile, “Despicable Me 3” has made a killing overseas, but stateside, it’s still trying to catch up with the original.

WARNER BROS.
Summer Offerings: “Dunkirk,” “Wonder Woman,” “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” “The House,” “Annabelle: Creation,” “Everything, Everything”
Grade: B+
Takeaways: If only Warner Bros. hadn’t decided to revisit the Knights of the Round Table. If it left “King Arthur” well enough alone, it might have graduated from summer with honors. Instead, it will have to settle for just missing the A grade.

Still, there’s a lot for Warner Bros. to be happy about. The studio scored an unlikely summer hit with Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” a World War II epic that should also factor into the awards race. It’s also closing out August on a high note with the latest “Annabelle” packing in crowds looking for a scare. Most importantly, it proved that the DC Comics logo doesn’t have to be a warning to moviegoers. By adding humor and optimism into its comic book landscape, “Wonder Woman” was not only financially successful, it was beloved. “Justice League” take note.

DISNEY
Summer Offerings: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Cars 3”
Grade: A-
Takeaways: Disney had the first smash hit of the summer with the second “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Little did we know at that point that it would be one of the few blockbusters. While Bob Iger’s Magic Kingdom remains the gold standard in Hollywood film, there are signs that some of the studio’s beloved franchises are reaching their expiration point. The latest entries in the “Pirates” and “Cars” universes slipped below their predecessors (OK, but still, they’re the fifth and seventh-highest-grossing movies of the summer on the domestic charts). A record-setting season it was not, but hey, that’s what “Star Wars” is for, right?

SONY
Summer Offerings: “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Rough Night,” “The Dark Tower,” “The Emoji Movie,” “Baby Driver”
Grade: B
Takeaways: Sony is showing signs of life after years in the box office graveyard. The studio successfully rebooted the Spider-Man franchise, giving the superhero series a more youthful, zippier makeover with help from Marvel. Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” a poppy heist film, also proved that summer hits don’t have to be dumb. But despite the raves for “Baby Driver,” quality control was a problem for Sony. Both “The Emoji Movie” and “The Dark Tower” suffered some of the worst reviews of the year.

FOX
Summer Offerings: “Snatched,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” “Alien: Covenant,” “Captain Underpants,” “War for the Planet of the Apes”
Grade: B-
Takeaways: Fox’s summer box office has been satisfactory at best. The studio should be happy with the reviews for “War for the Planet of the Apes,” but even though it’s a solid double, the sci-fi adventure film will fall short of blockbuster status. The rest of Fox’s lineup was more miss than hit. Audiences didn’t want to join Ridley Scott’s latest ill-fated space expedition, with “Alien: Covenant” a franchise killer, and “Snatched” was an Amy Schumer comedy that, well, people never quite cared enough about to find.

PARAMOUNT
Summer Offerings: “Baywatch,” “Transformers: The Last Knight”
Grade: C-
Takeaways: It would have been a failing grade for the beleaguered studio, but foreign audiences rescued the latest Transformers sequel from being a complete financial disaster. It’s hard to know where to begin with Paramount. Its major franchises are running out of steam and have yet to be replaced, and it hasn’t had a true hit since “Fences” opened in December. Newly appointed studio chief Jim Gianopulos has his work cut out for him if he wants to restore Paramount’s luster. A summer like this only puts the studio deeper in the hole.

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  1. Rick Young says:

    how did sony get a b average when 4 out of the 5 films either flopped or severely underperformed??? Spiderman was their only hit .“Rough Night,” “The Dark Tower,” “The Emoji Movie,” “Baby Driver” all either was killed by critics or bombed at the box office , i would have gave them a c- at best , are you on Sony’s payroll or what????

  2. Moviegoer says:

    So Disney & WB win, Universal and Sony are mixed bags, FOX needs a lot of work and Paramount makes only failures. I’m not shocked.

  3. Jeff says:

    Did lionsgate release enough movies for a grade? I’d gave given them a B- for a bunch of lower budget doubles.

  4. IT--II--IT says:

    TRANS promotional
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    —————————————————————- – – Hollywood franchise slum

    100% INTEL RUN – – – Hollywood franchiseh slum

    MAO smiles on – — in this, the 11th HOUR of ‘put away’

    TAKE HEED

  5. John says:

    Wait a minute…why is he calling “The Mummy” a flop ?

    it ain’t.
    It did $ 402 mill. plus worldwide and counting.
    That’s solid and it will probably make a profit.

    It box office was only weak in the US.

    • Moviegoer says:

      It’s not a flop but not a success either. It’s slightly better than Warcraft.

    • Flosse says:

      You have to keep in mind that the usually American movie company only gets a fraction of what their movies do overseas. Only a small percentage of money earned at the box office in China finds its way to the Hollywood studio behind the movie. Warner Brothers UK, France, Estonia, Germany etc. have P& A costs as well, they often have to add subtitles or need a dubbed version of the movie, new posters with writing in their language, press junkets, the works. They make new copies, distribute them, so a larger part of the box office outside the US stays there and only a small percentage goes back to Hollywood.
      Global gets more and more important for the multinational movie companies, because a movie that flops in the US but does well globally may not directly bring money home, but makes the German, French, Japanese arm of the company strong.

      As far as I know, the first weekend dollars go mainly to the studio (and the stars with participation deals), so a sleeper may be nice for the studio, but is nicer for the cinema, because they can keep more money. That’s why studios are so obsessed with weekend grosses.

    • frederick@dreamerchant.com says:

      The trouble with American entertainment journalism is national bias shown in determining box office receipts, successes and “flops”. It is obviously based on the profitability of a motion picture as respects the coffers of U.S. distributors and not the movie’s world-wide acceptance . Call it “economic xenophobia” or a kind of “cinematic jingoism”–but American-reported box office receipts are not a reflection of a film’s ACTUAL gross earnings and overall success.

    • Mary T says:

      That was written the Monday after it opened, with $32.2 million domestically for an opening weekend for a movie that it’s estimated at having cost $345 million to make it is a flop. If it’s still only made $402 million, then it hasn’t made much of a profit for the studio.

      • Flosse says:

        Numbers are always in flux. If you want to use the numbers in advertisment, you inflate them. If you need to deflate them, you may find ways to do so. Paramount tried that with Coming to America, if my memory serves me well, in order to pull a “The Producers”, meaning, we lost money on the movie that made $288m unadjusted, so, yes, you get a percentage, but of nothing. The court saw it differently, so they settled the case by nearly paying a million.
        A rule of thumb says that a movie has to take double its domestic negative costs to break even, so if the negative costs (costs to produce one negative of the movie, without p&a) is $125m => $250m.

      • John says:

        It cost 125 mill. to make according to all sources.
        Even if you factor in P&A, this should be counted as a success, at least at the international box-office.
        This is no “flop”.

  6. JR says:

    The tomatoes may be favorable to Dunkirk, but I am not. Over-hyped; hard to follow at times; few characters to really care about (just the guy and his son on their boat).

  7. Lucky says:

    Well on the positive side I recall looking at Rotten Tomatoes a couple weeks ago and 8 movies out of the top 10 were Fresh, most being high 80’s and up. August has been slow as it often is, but the summer was pretty solid, and domestically audiences mostly wised up to awful movies, which is encouraging.

  8. harry georgatos says:

    A handful of movies have propped up the Summer holiday period. It’s basically the same product over and over being regurgitated in different clothing. Apart from DUNKIRK and WAR FOR PLANET OF THE APES and to a lesser degree WONDER WOMAN there’s very little to recommend. The latest TRANSFORMERS is a really smelly affair along with BAYWATCH movie that also stank. New ideas please. Next year we are getting a new MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE film, the sixth in the franchise. If I see another Mission film with disavowed agents I’ll storm out of the cinema! This franchise has been the same film in more expensive clothing and locations, apart from the highly respected first film from iconic director Brian De Palma, it’s basically the same ideas. If a film is any good with original concepts people will turn up. This summer has been a disappointment to say the very least.

  9. Cath says:

    Comparing box office receipts one year to the next has always been a bit odd. (Like comparing students in the fifth grade from one year to the next…different people, different abilities.) Different movies bring in different audiences. Who would have thought that “Avatar” would have been a big smash or “Frozen?” It isn’t often that one movie pulls in an across the board audience. A number of movies later in the year are supposed to do well so we have to wait to see how the year (domestically) fares. Dismissing worldwide box office in the above equation is a bit odd. So far the big movie of the summer worldwide looks to be “Despicable Me 3.” You acknowledge that but it certainly doesn’t make it a flop for the studio. My guess is that that movie will make a bunch of money after the theater run. Kids movies usually do. As for the studios, maybe they should rein in the costs. Two hundred fifty million dollars is too much for one movie. I don’t care how wonderful it is or how wonderful it looks.

  10. Flosse says:

    I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Wonder Woman 1, Alien: Covenent, Baby Driver, King Arthur, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Strangers Tell No Tides… ;-)
    Besides these 7 movies, hardly anything appealed to me or my lady.
    None of these 7 movies was downright bad. Guardians was spot on, a lot of FUN, I expected more from Wonder Woman, I expected much more from Alien, especially a better script, Baby Driver was fun, but after the second heist, it went downhill, especially in the overlong battle towards the end. King Arthur was not downright bad, but the good scenes were too far apart, they already seemed to have the next steps in the franchise in mind before doing the first movie properly. Spider-Man was okay, a bit too much by the numbers and Pirates of the Caribbean somehow should have stopped with the closing of the trilogy. But then again, there were niche scenes, such as Sir Paul’s cameo, the guillotine scene of the bank heist.

    I do doubt that Hollywood will refrain from doing more sequels, reboots or remakes, because they do have name recognition and seem to guarantee a certain number of bums on seats. On the other hand, we as an audience call for sequels, we want more of the same, just different. And better. New, but familiar. So, we do look ahead to Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man & the Wasp, Black Panther, Thor 3, Justice League 1, Star Wars 8, Bad Moms 2.

    Nevertheless, please, please, please, do invest some money into stories and be brave enough to go for a simple happy end, instead of signposting the “surprising” final twist, as they did in Alien (was anybody really surprised by which David survived?) Was anybody really surprised by who the bad guy in Wonder Woman would be? Was anybody really surprised that the bad guy in Baby Driver always popped up again like in a bad 90s horror movie? Sometimes less spectacle makes a better movie.

  11. frederick@dreamerchant.com says:

    There is a phenomenon to considered when weighing the success of any film. The movie “DETROIT” in a theater, here, in the U.S. where tickets sold showed the name of a DIFFERENT film….

    Did the box office receipts count for “DETROIT”, or not? If not, then how reliable is the accounting at each theater chain? Does anyone ever question the validity or veracity of the distributor/theater owner(s) or simply take whatever is reported as sooth?

    Agreed, the taste of today’s critics (and yesterday’s) does not always conform with the popular appetite, yet poor or larcenous bookkeeping of box office receipts paints an inaccurate picture and, of course, is unforgivable. Is there “a guarantor” for these movie grosses before “winners” and “losers” are declared by Variety and others?

    • Christophe says:

      Wow! That is a pretty damning accusation! Not just because such a practice would skew box office numbers but also because it would mean the theater is ripping off those who produced the film and giving the money to others.

  12. Melissa says:

    Bob Iger needs to buy out Paramount. That’s the only way Paramount can survive at this point.

  13. my wife and i are baby boomers. for many years we usually went out to the movies at least once each week. we love the movies. but lately, it’s become clear that our tastes diverge from the tastes of studio (and many non-studio) “greenlighters”, and also of many critics. of all the films mentioned in this article, we saw two. they were both “okay”. we were entertained but not moved.

    we have seen other movies during the past six months–about ten, mostly indies. we no longer make our film-going choices based upon general critics’ reviews, because we find most critics to be “unreliable”–as far as we’re concerned. we rely on word of mouth from friends, on a few selected critics (one working for variety), and on the identity of the directors and actors.

    we’ve liked at least eight of the ten we’ve seen, but none has been a box office juggernaut. all were entertaining for us. we tend to enjoy films that are a bit elliptical–where audiences are expected to do “some work”, to extend their attention spans.

    it appears that each of the indie films we’ve seen has “made money”, even those erroneously (even frivolously) labelled “busts”: their box office, alone, including global box office, has exceeded their production costs (we discount both other revenue sources and revenue sharing).

    it would be beneficial to all, we think, if each “multiplex” reserved at least one screen to show indie films for movie fan baby boomers like us. we don’t “vote our responses” to the films on internet sites, but we do share word of mouth. and we even buy popcorn and drinks.

    • Christophe says:

      You are far too kind with your “taste divergence” theory darling. The sad truth is studios have NO taste!

  14. Mark says:

    The main problem is lack of quality. Who wants to hire Guy Ritchie, and why he keeps getting high profile jobs? Is he a better director than John Mctiernan?
    And why Ridley Scott decided to tell the same Alien tale again?

    • Christophe says:

      Exactly! The original stories of ‘King Arthur’ or even ‘The Mummy’ have tremendous potential but studios and filmmakers manage to turn them into crap while claiming to make them cool and modern.

    • frederick@dreamerchant.com says:

      My sentiments, exactly. Bravo!

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