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

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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