Total box office revenue in the U.S. and Canada for the May 2-
The strong business was needed: Heading into the summer, ticket sales were down about 12% compared with the same period in 2012. Four months later, the box office is now about even with last year.
While the season is ending on a positive note, there were certainly plenty of high-profile tales of woe this summer:
The six highest-grossing films this summer were sequels, prequels or reboots. A few original titles did crack the top 10, however, including the
Like last summer, the top earner came from Disney-owned
That superheroes triumphed at the multiplex yet again may not be surprising, but there were at least five other more subtle lessons from the summer movie season:
1. Yes, you can have too many cartoons
Six computer-animated films were released this season — two more than in summer 2012 — but only one was a massive hit:
As for Disney, its
The possible takeaway here? Sure, kids are out of school, but families may not want a new animated film every two weeks. Which brings us to:
2. Be creative with the calendar
The colder months have traditionally been home to horror films, but Universal decided to open
Counterprogramming also paid off for Lionsgate, whose Summit Entertainment launched its stand-up comedy film "
Early summer, meanwhile, is becoming a hotter blockbuster breeding ground. Many of the season's biggest films were released not in July — which has long been thought of as the ideal launching pad for a potential smash — but in May. This year, four of the summer's top 10 films opened in May, versus just two last summer.
3. Doppelgangers were doomed
Yes, audiences have yet to tire of most sequels and remakes. But if your movie resembles another one too closely, it can spell disaster. That may have been the problem with "White House Down," released in July, in which an aspiring
Despite its star power —
"R.I.P.D." was another film rejected by audiences perhaps because it seemed redundant. The film about two cops who come back from the dead to fight crime on earth reminded many of the "Men in Black" franchise. Likewise, with its hulking robots, "Pacific Rim" was often compared to the
Moral of the story? Hollywood needs to get more creative, or start putting more space between expensive films with similar themes.
4. Exhibitors are becoming more flexible, and it's paying off
About 89% of the 40,045 screens in the U.S. are digital — up from 75% in August 2012, according to the National Assn. of Theatre Owners. Now, studios don't have to transport heavy physical reels, and theaters can be more nimble: When a movie sells out in one auditorium, an exhibitor can easily decide to put that film in a bigger space the next day or add show times at the touch of a button. Conversely, films that aren't working can be pulled.
Theater owners are maximizing grosses in other ways too. Instead of opening at 12:01 a.m. Friday — as was long the custom — many highly anticipated titles have been debuting between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Thursdays. That's because exhibitors began to notice that filmgoers were more apt to show up at earlier hours, and they asked studios if they'd be amenable to Thursday night screenings — a mutually beneficial agreement.
5. 3-D is falling — but it's not going away.
American moviegoers have been increasingly less inclined to shell out extra bucks to see a movie in 3-D, but this summer, their interest really dropped. When "Turbo" debuted in July, only 25% of the opening weekend crowd opted to see the movie in 3-D, an all-time low for the format. Other family films fared little better, as "Despicable Me 2" only did 27% of its Independence Day opening weekend business in the format.
While kids' films have always been less popular 3-D options, even movies that seemed more fitted to the medium faltered, like "World War Z" (34%) and
Still, don't expect to stop seeing 3-D movies in theaters any time soon. While it costs studios extra to produce movies in 3-D, there's minimal added cost to distribute 3-D movies. Technology now allows digital prints to be switched between 3-D and 2-D at the turn of a key, so cinema owners don't have to offer as many 3-D showings if audiences aren't expressing much interest.
While U.S. filmgoers may not be crazy for 3-D, studios aren't particularly worried because international audiences love it. With the exception of "Fast & Furious 6" — a franchise that has been set in countries like Japan, Brazil and Britain — all of the summer's biggest hits overseas have been 3-D movies.
The recent moviegoing boom in countries like Russia and China has coincided with Hollywood's embrace of 3-D, and many foreign audiences feel 3-D is essential to the experience. In China, where piracy is rampant, the 3-D option can entice someone to choose a theater over an Internet download or a street vendor's illegal DVD.