The summer box office is down roughly 20% from 2013’s record-breaking highs and year-to-date overall ticket sales are off more than 6%. The only relief in sight is an intergalactic band of superheroes that are well-loved by comic-book aficionados and little-known to the rest of us.
“‘Guardians’ is the biggest swing factor in August,” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “Most Augusts there are surprises like we saw last year with ‘The Butler.’ Nothing stands out right now, so we’ll have to see.”
“Guardians” has been well-received on social media and elsewhere, but is not as recognizable a brand as Iron Man or Captain America, so gauging how the movie will be received is tricky.
“To put all that pressure on one movie is unfair, but it is a Marvel movie and obviously you can’t say the summer is over when there’s still a Marvel movie left to come,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.
Initial tracking is positive and the picture should do well, but hitting the box office numbers enjoyed by members of the Avengers might be a stretch. That means that other August releases such as “Expendables 3” and “Lucy” will have to shatter expectations if the gap between this summer and last is to be closed or at least narrowed.
The safe bet is that the third quarter of 2014 will see another dip at the box office, particularly since there have been six straight weekends of decline. Studio executives argue that many recent films, such as “Sex Tape” and “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” have fallen short of tracking, because less foot traffic in theaters means fewer eyeballs on their posters, trailers and other promotional bells-and-whistles.
The downward trends are causing some analysts to revise their projections for the overall box office in the southerly direction. Morgan Stanley, for instance, just revised its predictions for 2014 from a 1% to 2% drop to a 4% to 5% fall. The investment firm notes that though this fall offers potential hits such as “Interstellar,” another “Hunger Games” and the final installment “The Hobbit,” it may have trouble finding films that eclipse expectations in the vein of “Frozen” and “Gravity.” Moreover, last fall also saw fresh sequels in the “Hunger Games” and “Hobbit” franchises, and this holiday season lacks a top-tier comic-book sequel such as “Thor: The Dark World.”
Analysts are also quick to note that 2015 looks robust, given that it will field new chapters in the James Bond, “Avengers” and “Star Wars” sagas.
“We continue to see a strong slate of sequels driving a record box office in ‘15,” the Morgan Stanley report reads.
The industry has been preparing investors and observers for the downturn for months, and so far exhibitors such as Cinemark, AMC and Regal have seen the value of their shares grow or remain stable throughout the summer.
Likewise, movie studios are now so thoroughly enmeshed in sprawling media conglomerates that their rise or fall at the box office does little to move their stock price. That kind of thing happens when Rupert Murdoch gets a hankering to absorb another entertainment giant, not when “Blended” bombs.