The official movie summer season ends Labor Day, but it’s already hailed as a winner and deservedly so, particularly in comparison to the anemic summer of 2017. Studios won by doubling down on the formulas they know best (aka sequels and franchises), but with enough tweaking to improve dramatically from the year prior — $4.3 billion vs.$3.7 billion.
Summer to summer saw an increase of about 16 percent at the box office, and nine percent in ticket sales. And that doesn’t even include the $338 million earned by “Avengers: Infinity War” in its first week, which fell outside the official summer start of the first Friday in May.
So: Best summer ever? Not even close. Reviewing the last 25 years, again adjusting grosses to 2018 ticket prices, it would rank in the bottom five. Most had totals above $5 billion. But that’s the new reality of domestic moviegoing, in which foreign theaters provide two thirds or more of the box office on hit films.
So why did grosses go up so much?
Fresh(er) Sequels and Franchises
The four biggest films were franchises, and vital ones: “Avengers,” “Incredibles,” “Jurassic World,” and “Deadpool.” Last summer’s franchises were a little long in the tooth with “Spider-Man,” “Transformers,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” (There’s a fine line between familiar and old.) Over 70 percent of this summer’s total gross comes from these films; last summer, it was less than 60 percent.
Even Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep did the unthinkable and appeared in sequels “The Equalizer 2” and “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” Of course, what worked this summer won’t stay fresh forever, and studios are producing little that might become hot sequels in the future.
Audiences Like Better Movies
Cinemascore had 14 of the top 20 grossing films score ratings between A+ and A-. That’s three better than 2017, when only 10 of the 20 biggest scored that well. Similarly, Metacritic shows seven studio wide releases score 70 or better, compared to only five last summer. The impact was particularly strongly with “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” which at 86 scored that franchise’s best notices, giving it a boost that has since translated into strong audience word of mouth. “Crazy Rich Asians” also benefited from quite favorable reviews to elevate audience attention to an original offering.
Women are Winning
Most summers see at most one film among the season’s top 10 with clear majority-female appeal; last year, they included “Ghostbusters” and “Pitch Perfect 2.” Last year saw “Wonder Woman” as the top performer, with “Girls Trip” coming in tenth.
This year will see three: “Oceans 8,” “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” And with an overall effort to make the rest of the lineup female-friendly (“Ant-Man and the Wasp” co-equal?), studios are responding to the reality that a slight majority of the domestic movie audience is female. However, none of the top films were directed by a woman. “The Spy Who Dumped Me” directed by Susanna Fogel, did best, with $32 million.
Domestic grosses for animated films have declined since summer 2015 when “Minions” and “Despicable Me 2” made almost $700 million combined; 2016 saw “Finding Dory” and “The Secret Life of Pets” combine for $850 million. Last year, the two top animation titles, “Despicable Me 3” and “Cars 3” made just over $400 million. This year, “Incredibles 2” rose to become Pixar’s biggest domestic success ever (even adjusted, and by a clear margin) at $600 million; with “Hotel Transylvania 3,” animation took in $760 million so far. That played a major role in this year’s rebound.
Among Most-Expensive Films, Few Losers
The most significant shortfall, and most shocking, was “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” It’s still the fifth biggest film of the summer, but it’s a shock. Its sizable loss stemmed from a combination of oversized budget (rumored around $250 million) and overseas indifference. Otherwise, among the most expensive only “Skyscraper” with Dwayne Johnson risks of not getting into profit. It still reached nearly $300 million worldwide, mostly because of his participation (Japan has yet to open). Its reported initial cost was $125 million. It could still break even, mostly because of what will likely be 80 percent foreign theatrical receipts and additional revenues ahead.
Projected Top Ten Summer 2018 – projected final totals
1. Avengers: Infinity War
2 Incredibles 2
3. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
4. Deadpool 2
5. Ant-Man and the Wasp
6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
7. Solo: A Star Wars Story
8. Crazy Rich Asians
9. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
10. Ocean’s 8
* Still in release