The summer movie season is almost over, and the results are very mixed. If one looks at the success of this past season’s slate of films in terms of quality, it was a pretty terrific summer. Blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Edge of Tomorrow gave audiences great stories and characters to go with the popcorn munching. Meanwhile, strong independent films like Boyhood, Life Itself, Calvary and Obvious Child meant that adult crowds were not starved for titles to see.
However, while the summer gave us a better than average schedule of films, this will go down as one of the worst summers for moviegoing attendance in history. Even with 3D surcharges and higher ticket prices, this season will end up close to 10% below last year’s total in North America. May had decent business – although not a single title surpassed the $250 million mark, a rarity for the kick-off month. June ended up 16% below last year’s record cume, but was not too much of an outlier. It all came to a head in July, which dropped 30% from 2013. It was the first time since 2002 that the total box office failed to reach $1 billion during July and also marked the steepest year-to-year decline of a single month in the history of recorded box office.
Now, August has made some big surges on last year, due to the huge takes for Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But it is too late – these heroes could not save the summer of 2014 from being a box office nightmare.
Some could blame the precipitous drops on two major movies switching release dates. Fast & Furious 7 was originally slated for July while The Good Dinosaur had a May 30th release date until those projects were delayed. Both films had a good shot of eclipsing $200 million domestically, which means they could have made up for much of the season’s shortfall.
Still, Hollywood has to learn that just because it is the summer does not mean that audiences will just show up for anything. A season with such poor returns could put struggling theaters out of business, since around a third to a quarter of ticket sales usually head to the movie houses. Meanwhile, a shortage of big films means that audiences are less likely to know about upcoming releases in the fall, which means the relative box office slump could continue.
While the film industry looks back on a season most are hoping to forget, they should keep certain lessons from the past four months in mind. As we approach Labor Day weekend and the end of the summer movie season, here are some lessons that studios hopefully learn before they plan or revise the next year’s schedule.