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Summer Box Office Shrinks, But So Do the Flops

The hits have been smaller, but so have the flops.

The summer box office is down 20%, but most of the films that have hit theaters over the last three months have a good chance of recouping their production budgets while still in theaters.

“We really haven’t had an out and out misfire yet,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations.

There’s been nary an “After Earth,” a “White House Down” or “The Lone Ranger” to harsh Hollywood’s mellow this summer. To say nothing of “R.I.P.D,” the D.O.A. science-fiction comedy that debuted nearly a year ago to the day, recouping only $78 million of its $130 million production costs plus whatever else it took to market this “Ghostbusters” retread.

Yes, there have been turkeys. “Blended” ($93.7 million on a $40 million budget) and “A Million Ways to Die in the West” ($82.2 million on a $40 million budget) will likely stay in the red, and the $15 million debut for this weekend’s “Sex Tape” doesn’t scream “sequel!,” but these are relatively cost-efficient misfires. They aren’t likely to produce $200 million write downs the way that realizing Johnny Depp’s ambition to wear a bird on his head did.

Some films treated like flops, were in fact hits, as in the case of “Tammy,” which has netted $71.2 million so far, a healthy return on a $20 million production. Others, such as “Edge of Tomorrow” ($352.6 million on a $178 million budget) won’t break even, but have stemmed the bleeding with help from foreign crowds.  Of course, the movie business may have dodged a bomb when “Jupiter Ascending” vacated the summer and took its frosty buzz to next year, allowing to Channing Tatum to get credit for “22 Jump Street” instead of getting questioned for donning Spock ears.

So why is the box office still down 6.1%, year -to-date? The reason may be that there are fewer mid-level hits such as “The Conjuring” and “We’re the Millers,” not just the lack of a global blockbuster on the scale of last summer’s “Iron Man 3.” While none of this year’s crop of tentpole releases looks positioned to cross $300 million stateside, not enough films will top out at between $90 million to $120 million domestically.

“The studios are just taking big swings and not producing enough middle of the road efforts,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst of BoxOffice.com. “Not every movie has to make a billion dollars worldwide. A slate needs diversity.”

Investors may be pleased that studios have been shielded from the kind of losses that weigh down an earnings report, but exhibitors can’t be happy.

“The profit margins are terrific news for studios, but for the exhibitors, they just want consistently great product that brings people into theaters irrespective of profitability,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.

Theaters live and die on foot traffic and popcorn and soda sales. It’s a safe bet that some of the people who caught “White House Down” in theaters last summer, bought a Coke.


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