Memorial Day Weekend Box Office Drops 28 Percent, What’s Behind the Fall?

X-Men: Days of Future Pastdominated the Memorial Day weekend box office and is on pace to become the highest-grossing film in the mutant franchise’s 14-year history.

However, domestic ticket sales dropped 28% to $227 million for the four-day period, according to BoxOffice.com. That was below the roughly $240 million that most analysts expected the theatrical market would hit and a shadow of last year’s record-breaking $316 million figure.

“‘X-Men’ did fine, but you had a pretty steep decline with ‘Godzilla,’ and ‘Blended’ just tanked,” Eric Handler, managing director of MKM Partners, said. “Those two films were the bigger issues.”

The major hurdle that the domestic box office faced was that, aside from “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Blended,” there were no other major releases debuting in the marketplace. In contrast, Memorial Day 2013 saw the premieres of “Fast & Furious 6,” “The Hangover Part III” and “Epic.”

“If there had been a third major movie opening this year, we’d be looking at a very different situation,” Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst of BoxOffice.com, said. “Too many weekends fall victim to this mentality that it has to break a record or it’s a disappointment.”

In terms of this year’s offerings, “Blended,” a romantic comedy reuniting Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, failed to recapture the spark that ignited “50 First Dates” and “The Wedding Singer,” tanking with less than $20 million over the long weekend. That made it Sandler’s second-weakest opening ever for a film that kicked off on more than 3,000 screens. It was also far below the $30 million that analysts had projected it would make.

Though “Godzilla” continued to be a monster at the international box office, the reboot fell steeply in its second week of U.S. release. The picture saw its box office tally drop by nearly 66% to roughly $39 million, which pushed the overall numbers lower than anticipated.

Year-to-date, the domestic box office is still up more than 3%, but going into this summer many exhibitors and analysts are bracing for some choppy waters. The issue is that on paper this year’s crop of blockbusters — “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2” — will have a hard time scaling the heights of “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel,” “Monsters University” and “World War Z.”

At last week’s JP Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, for example, Regal Entertainment Group CEO Amy Miles and CFO David Ownby admitted that this year might fall short of last year’s ticket sales, but talked up the return of the Superman, Star Wars and Avengers franchises over the next two years.

“It’s really hard not to be excited from a box office perspective when you look further into 2015 and 2016,” she said.

However, some box office prognosticators are feeling better about the exhibition and movie business’ more immediate prospects, noting that the success of spring hits such as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and this summer’s “Neighbors” and “Godzilla” have kicked off the first half of 2014 in strong form.

Also helping inject optimism into annual forecasts was DreamWorks Animation’s decision to shift “Home” out of its November release date and replace it with “Penguins of Madagascar,” a spin-off of the “Madagascar” franchise that will arrive in theaters with higher brand-awareness.

“I still don’t think we’ll be up this year, but we’ve had a relatively solid start to summer,” Eric Wold, a box office analyst with B. Riley & Co., said. “Summer is looking less bad than it was a few months ago.”

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