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Box Office Report Card: Studios Get Their Summer Grades

Studios got badly burned this summer.

From May to August, popcorn season in movie speak, the film flops piled up and the big hits were few and far between for nearly every company except Disney.

As a whole, summer did little to instill confidence in the state of moviegoing. To be sure, there were successes such as “The Lion King,” “John Wick 3,” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” but the onslaught of costly duds such as “Dark Phoenix” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” ensured that nobody emerged unscathed. By the time Labor Day has passed, summer moviegoing season should end up almost 3% behind 2018, according to Comscore, pushing the year-to-date box office down more than 6%.

This summer also widened the gap between the have and have-nots, as independent comedies and dramas continue struggling to find an audience. That chasm left Disney looming high about the competition as other studios struggled to keep up with a company that owns the biggest brands in film.

Before we swap sandals for snow boots and put away the sun block, Variety takes a look at how the major studios fared this summer.

DISNEY

Aladdin

Summer Offerings: “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 4,” “Aladdin,” “Dark Phoenix,” “Stuber,” “The Art of Racing in the Rain”
Grade: A for Disney, F for the Fox films it inherited
Takeaways: If only Disney hadn’t been saddled with Fox’s dreary slate, its summer performance would have been close to flawless. Disney’s own titles like “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 4” and “Aladdin” all flew past the coveted $1 billion mark with ease. But alas, the studio acquired the Murdoch film empire, and with that came “Dark Phoenix,” one of the biggest flops of the summer, and other losers like “Stuber” and “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” The crop of Fox misses resulted in a $170 million write-down. “Avatar 2” can’t come up soon enough.

UNIVERSAL

(from left) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw," directed by David Leitch.

Summer Offerings: “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” “Yesterday,” “Ma,” “A Dog’s Journey,” “Good Boys”
Grade: B
Takeaways: Props to Universal for putting its faith in fresh ideas. “Good Boys” became the first original comedy to top the domestic box office in three years. It was a signal that even at a time when R-rated comedies are under pressure, studios can still entice audiences to turn up for a movie that nails the laughs. That wasn’t the studio’s only winner. Beatles-inspired movie “Yesterday” crossed $100 million globally, while Blumhouse’s thriller “Ma” reached $60 million, not bad for a movie that cost $5 million. Ironically, it was only when Universal veered into tentpole territory that it started to skid off the tracks. The latest “Fast & Furious” entry should become profitable for the studio if the spinoff is able to break out in China, but it is still pacing far below its predecessors. Likewise, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” tapped out with nearly half of what the first film made. Its $400 million haul isn’t too shabby given its relatively low $80 million budget, but the goal of the sequel to a beloved movie is to grow the audience, not shrink it.

WARNER BROS.

The Kitchen Movie

Summer Offerings: “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu,” “Shaft,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” “The Kitchen,” “Annabelle Comes Home,” “Blinded By the Light”
Grade: C
Takeaways: Warner Bros. is lucky that the upcoming “It: Chapter Two” looks like a monster hit in the making, because after its anemic performance this summer, its new corporate overlords at AT&T must be getting antsy. “Annabelle Comes Home” pulled off promising ticket sales, but “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” flamed out and “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” was a modest hit, at best. Both films hail from Legendary, the production company that Warner Bros. recently lured over from Universal. Obviously, things could have gotten off to a smoother start. “Shaft,” a sequel no one asked for, flopped and probably never should have been made in the first place. “Blinded By the Light,” which ignited a bidding war after crowds at Sundance swooned, collapsed away from that thin mountain air — another festival favorite that couldn’t connect with mainstream audiences. And “The Kitchen,” a serious crime film that starred Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish (performers best known for their comic work), proved to be a muddled mess. Paging Pennywise!

SONY

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
CREDIT: Courtesy of Sony Pictures/ANDREW COOPER

Summer Offerings: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” “Men in Black: International,” “Brightburn,” “The Intruder,” “The Angry Birds Movie 2”
Grade: B+
Takeaways: On the plus side, Sony had the biggest hit in the studio’s history with “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and successfully launched “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s ode to movies in the age of Manson, in the heat of summer. Tip of the proverbial cap on both those accomplishments. But… not everything turned out so rosy. Having successfully pushed Spidey into the stratosphere, Sony parted ways with the Disney-owned Marvel, which had produced the last two web-spinner films to much acclaim and ample profits. The studio also struck out with its effort to revive “Men in Black” sans Will Smith and his hefty paycheck. Turns out, some franchises are better left undisturbed.

PARAMOUNT

Isabela Moner stars as "Dora" in Paramount Pictures' "Dora and the Lost City of Gold."
CREDIT: Vince Valitutti

Summer Offerings: “Rocketman,” “Crawl,” “Dora and the Lost City of Gold”
Grade: C+
Takeaways: Paramount, Paramount, Paramount. Did you spend the summer like all of us trade reporters, stuck in a holding pattern while anticipating for the long-awaited CBS-Viacom merger talks to finally end in consummation? Aside from “Rocketman,” a look at the life and times of Sir Elton John, the studio took a backseat this summer. “Crawl” was profitable, sure, though $63 million in global box office is hardly blockbuster territory. But “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” the studio’s live-action take on the popular cartoon, was a painful miss in a summer dominated by family films, though it has yet to open in key international markets. With the merger finalized, maybe Paramount will finally get the corporate support it needs. At the very least, ViacomCBS should maybe give its movie studio some money to, you know, make some movies. Novel concept, no?

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