As the summer movie season grinds to a close, the month of August is living down to its reputation as Hollywood’s dumping ground.
Since the release of the “Fast & Furious” spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” at the start of the month, studios have released 10 movies in at least 1,000 theaters nationwide, according to data from Box Office Mojo. Of those, only two are considered genuine successes: the R-rated comedy “Good Boys” and the PG-13 horror film “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”
And the local multiplex is about to get even more crowded, with the release of Fox Searchlight’s horror movie “Ready or Not” starting Wednesday, followed by the action sequel “Angel Has Fallen” and faith-based drama “Overcomer” on Friday. None of the new releases are expected to do huge business.
With a long track record of August bombs, why are studios releasing so many late summer movies?
The box office this summer has been dominated by a handful of big-budget franchise titles, including Disney’s highly anticipated remake of “The Lion King,” that were all but certain to draw large crowds. Risk-averse rivals, who saw the onslaught of brand-heavy movies coming, avoided releasing their films on the same weekends as the big-budget tent poles, fearing they wouldn’t be able to compete.
Distributors surrendered prime summer weekends in to high-profile offerings including Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and Universal Pictures’ “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” which both opened to virtually no competition. Even Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” a rare original summer film, had a full weekend all to itself last month.
The desire to get out the juggernauts’ path has led to a late-summer pileup, according to analysts and studio sources.
Warner Bros.’ comedic drama “Blinded by the Light,” about a Pakistani teenager inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen, opened with a lackluster $4.33 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada last weekend, according to studio estimates, though the film got sparkling reviews and could still attract an older audience through word-of-mouth.
Annapurna Pictures’ “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” the latest from director Richard Linklater and starring Cate Blanchett, debuted to just $3.46 million from more than 2,400 theaters. Entertainment Studios’ shark sequel “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” also faltered, grossing $8.43 million, while Sony’s “The Angry Birds Movie 2" posted modest returns.
A similar glut of middling movies crowded the prior weekend, during which 20th Century Fox’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain” and Warner Bros.'s “The Kitchen” both underperformed. Paramount Pictures’ “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” a live-action film based on an animated children’s TV show, opened with a decent $17.4 million. CBS Films and Lionsgate’s “Scary Stories,” however, exceeded projections with $20.9 million.
Analysts offered various explanations for the struggles. Many of the films, like “The Kitchen” and “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” suffered from poor reviews, but some of the movies probably also cannibalized one another. “Dora” and “Scary Stories,” co-produced by Guillermo del Toro, may have split some of the Latino audience, analysts said. “Blinded by the Light’s” premise was probably too similar to that of the Beatles-themed “Yesterday,” which came out in June. “Blinded” and “Bernadette,” meanwhile, likely appealed to a similar segment of the adult population.
In other years, some movies have managed to surprise by pulling in big audiences while opening in August, including “Suicide Squad” in 2016 and “Straight Outta Compton” in 2015. But this year’s slate has illustrated how difficult it has become to get attention amid the blockbusters.
Universal’s “Good Boys” was a rare example of a movie that managed to break out amid the late-summer doldrums. The movie, about foul-mouthed sixth-graders, surpassed expectations with $21.4 million through Sunday, making it the highest-opening original comedy of 2019 so far. The movie benefited from strong reviews and a savvy marketing campaign that featured the epic, R-rated misadventures of its young stars. The film was produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who previously scored with “Sausage Party,” the raunchy animated film Sony released in August 2016.
“We’ve seen some previous success in mid-August with R-rated comedies, and we knew we had the goods,” said Jim Orr, president of domestic distribution for Universal. “Regardless of there being a number of other films in the marketplace, we knew we could cut through.”
The summer box-office season, which stretches from the first Friday of May through Labor Day, has been down slightly from last year’s, with some high-profile flops offsetting major hits like Disney’s “Aladdin” and “Toy Story 4.” Summer movies have generated $3.99 billion in ticketing revenue since May 3, down 2% from the same period of time a year ago, according to Comscore. Year-to-date, movies have generated $7.47 billion, down 6.4% from 2018.
This weekend isn’t expected to provide much of a boost for cinemas.
“Angel Has Fallen,” produced by Millennium Films and released by Lionsgate in the U.S., is expected to open with $13 million to $15 million, which is less than previous series installments “London Has Fallen” (2016) and “Olympus Has Fallen” (2013). “Ready or Not,” a $6-million movie in which a bride’s wedding night goes badly awry thanks to a frightening party game, should collect $8 million to $11 million in its first five days in release.