With a trio of superhero smash hits and a record R-rated original comedy bow on the books, a new high-water mark at the summer domestic box office would’ve seemed a slam dunk. But even Batman, Spider-Man and the Avengers need a little backup sometimes — and it never came.
Summer 2012 will wind up trailing last year’s Stateside pinnacle by nearly 3%, despite “The Avengers'” record-wrecking $207 million opening, “The Dark Knight Rises’ ” 2D-record $160.9 millionbow and a robust $258 million domestic cume for “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
How could that not be enough?
Simply put, there were fewer middle-of-the-road players than last year, coupled with a few big-budget clunkers and auds’ unwillingness to pay higher 3D ticket prices for many pics. Not even the unexpected lift from Universal’s “Ted” — now at $215 million and counting — could overcome the season’s disappointments, including “Battleship,” “That’s My Boy,” “Rock of Ages” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”
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Still, this summer’s players were enough to keep year-to-date domestic B.O. up over 2011 by about 4%.
Though international totals also trail last summer by 4%, the 2011 campaign benefited from an unprecedented three $1 billion worldwide grossers — “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” This year, “The Avengers” is the only film to reach $1 billion globally, though “The Dark Knight Rises” is just $40 million shy of hitting that mark — a feasible goal given the pic’s record-setting start in China earlier this week.
In the wake of the July 20 shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., some speculated the incident would discourage attendance. But no evidence ever emerged conclusively tying the rampage that left 12 dead to a downturn in moviegoing. The tragedy’s impact on summer biz appears to be negligible.
Rather, the lack of a solid midsized performers put 2012 off the pace. Last summer boasted plenty of mid-range surprises, from R-rated successes like “Horrible Bosses” and “Bad Teacher” to “The Smurfs” and “Super 8.” There were 17 $100 million-plus grossers, from the first weekend in May to Labor Day weekend. In 2012, there were only 11.
There were more eleventh-hour date changes than usual this summer, and they had a mostly positive effect. U, for one, quickly snagged the late-June launch pad for “Ted,” after Paramount bumped “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” to 2013.
The season’s unpredictable nature came crashing down on other big-budget bets, however. U’s $300 million global grosser “Battleship,” which avoided complete disaster by the grace of international auds, landed in the wake of Disney-Marvel’s “Avengers” steamroller. Other Stateside disappointments, including Warner Bros.’ “Dark Shadows” and Par’s “The Dictator,” were also buoyed by larger international tallies.
This year, the international box office faced major scheduling challenges as distribs fought to avoid the one-two punch of the Euro Cup soccer tournament and the Summer Olympics.
“From a dating perspective, those events are always a big challenge because you have a bottleneck of product in May,” Warner Bros. Intl. distribution prexy Veronika Kwan Vandenberg said. “It’s been quite congested before and after. Although that gave rise to some great counterprogramming opportunities, especially for family films.”
Fox’s boffo toon “Ice Age: Continental Drift” was the biggest beneficiary as it went head-on with the Euro Cup in late June throughout Europe and Latin America. As a result, the film has grossed a mammoth $822 million worldwide, of which more than $668 million (or 81%) comes from overseas, making it the second-highest grossing animated film ever internationally.
Also making waves outside the U.S., Warner’s “Dark Knight Rises” nears $1 billion in global grosses with $535 million internationally so far, positioning it to be the first of the trilogy to perform better overseas than at home.
The worldwide divide for 3D continued to evolve: International auds showed their usual support of the format, while domestic interest waned — and not just with family films. Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” stands as the summer’s third-highest grossing film (and best of the numerous franchise reboots) with $710 million globally. But it failed to measure up to the 3D standards set by past fanboy pics. Spidey earned just 44% of its domestic opening from 3D, which occupied more 70% of its debut locations during Fourth of July weekend. By comparison, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” earned 60% from 3D during the same frame last year.
All told, 3D domestic summer admissions are down around 17% vs. last summer.
The opening weekend 3D share has deflated slightly with each new entry, especially when it comes to family fare. Par-DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar 3,” for instance, earned 45% of its domestic bow from 3D, followed by Disney-Pixar’s “Brave” (34%) and “Continental Drift” (35%).
“It’s a light bulb that goes off that the industry should clue in to,” said U distribution prexy Nikki Rocco. “There are films to be enhanced by the format, but you have to be careful.”
Warner domestic distribution topper Dan Fellman agreed that auds are struggling to justify paying higher 3D ticket prices, which this summer lifted the national average cost of ducats to an all-time high of $8.12 per ticket. “There’s a point where 3D pricing isn’t justified, probably for family films,” Fellman said. “That’s a fundamental problem.”
2D strikes back
It’s notable that two of this summer’s top-five grossing pics — “Dark Knight Rises” and “Ted” — were 2D pics, compared to one (“The Hangover Part II”) last year.
Similar to 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” U’s R-rated laffer “Ted” developed shapely legs, as did Warner’s male-stripper pic “Magic Mike.” The latter pic ranks as one of the summer’s biggest financial hits, grossing more than $150 million worldwide while costing around $10 million.
A pair of crossover pics easily led the season’s specialty field: Fox Searchlight’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and Focus Features’ “Moonrise Kingdom.”
“Marigold” entered the domestic fray May 4 with nearly $75 million already in the till from overseas plexes. Pic now has cumed $134 million worldwide, of which more than $45 million comes from the U.S. “Moonrise,” meanwhile, was a close second domestically, with $43.8 million, for a global take of almost $60 million.
While the summer ultimately fell behind 2011, observers insist there are enough high-profile offerings this year (i.e. “Twilight” finale, James Bond pic “Skyfall,” “Rise of the Guardians” and the first “Hobbit”) to keep year-to-date totals ahead of the curve.
“We are in a business that is very cyclical,” Fellman said. “We really lose perspective when it comes to looking at raw data, because at the end of the day, our business has been about one thing: content.”