Summer moviegoing is usually about the stars, the spectacle and the sizzle.
But in a trend that's mystifying Hollywood, this summer's box office is being driven by films with modest ambitions, including relatively inexpensive comedies, lower budget animation and horror pictures.
Call it the summer of the B-movie. Like the quickie flicks the studios used to crank out for the back end of double features, these new hits —
It's these smaller films that have helped summer box-office receipts climb by 14% over last year--defying the conventional wisdom that summer is the time when audiences mainly want to see movies that are big, loud and laden with costly special effects.
The numbers have Hollywood experts grasping for explanations, including studios doing a better job of serving niche audiences on the one hand and consumers experiencing blockbuster fatigue on the other.
"Everything looked watered down and the studios were left trying to distinguish their movies," said Ted Mundorff, chief executive of Landmark Theatres, affirming the second theory.
This weekend the trend seems to be hitting its apex.
Last weekend "Pacific Rim"— a movie that received generally positive reviews but reminded some people of the
"Grown Ups 2," by comparison, cost a relatively modest $80 million and in less than a week has taken in $66 million, virtually assuring a tidy profit. The film didn't try to build a new mythology or dazzle with effects; instead it was a lighthearted confection with recognizable jokes about bodily functions and child rearing meant to comfort more than shock — a kind of B-movie comedy for the modern age.
"In a way it's a little bit of a memory piece," director
Since the summer moviegoing season began in early May, the biggest-budgeted new movie has now failed to win the weekend box office on eight occasions. In the comparable period in 2012, this happened only three times. Ditto for 2011.
Of course, moviegoers have yet to tire of superheroes —
"There's a lot of blood in the water," said Fox distribution president Chris Aronson. "There have been more high-profile failures than normal. But it's hard to castigate the business when business is up," offering a contradiction articulated often in recent weeks on studio lots.
One of the lower-budget breakout hits is the animated sequel "Despicable Me 2," which has taken in nearly $250 million, with a budget about half that of