The summer box office is, indeed, in dire shape.
As the movie business heads into the final stretch of summertime, 2017 could be the first year in over a decade that the season’s domestic box office does not earn more than $4 billion, according to projections provided by comScore.
And chances are that mark will be missed by quite a bit. Current projections put the summer (which, on the theatrical calendar starts with the first Friday in May and ends on Labor Day Monday) at $3.78 billion. The last time numbers dipped so low was in 2006 when the summer earned $3.74 billion which, at the time, was a 6% increase from the year prior.
Not so for 2017, which is currently slumping 5.7% behind last year, and 14% behind for the summer. The month of August has been particularly slow. The biggest hits of the month are “Annabelle: Creation,” “The Dark Tower,” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” two of which have yet to make $50 million domestically. Meanwhile, “Suicide Squad” set records for the month of August in 2016, leaving the month this year pacing over 34% behind.
Projections show the summer season slipping even further behind after next week as there are no new major releases — only “Tulip Fever,” a re-release of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and several indie flicks entering the market in limited release. After Labor Day weekend, the summer is expected to finish 15.7% behind last year’s benchmark.
As sour as domestic ticket sales have been, international and global box office sales are both pacing higher than last year — the year to date through Aug. 27 is up 2.8% internationally and 0.2% worldwide. That’s in large part due to China. The Middle Kingdom’s release “Wolf Warrior II” alone has grossed over $800 million, and almost none of that was in North America.
Among the many factors that contribute to such a slow season is an apparent cooling of the public’s interest in studio sequels. Apart from superhero movies “Wonder Woman,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” — the latter of which earned more than the original — nearly every franchise film has underperformed. Some, like “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and “Transformers: The Last Knight,” slumped to new franchise lows. There were also several big-budget whiffs, most notably “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” which have both earned about $39 million at the domestic box office, or as much as indie darling “The Big Sick.”
While the domestic summer box office over the past few decades has trended up, there are peaks and troughs year to year. The record-holding summer remains 2013 with over $4.7 billion. The following summer, in 2014, fell off over 14% to just over $4 billion before shooting up 10% in 2015 to $4.5 billion. Still, the industry’s cyclical nature can’t fully explain away the simple fact that business this summer has been undoubtedly abysmal.