Opinion: Worst Summer Ever for Movies? A Post Mortem Examination


Here in the U.S., Labor Day weekend unofficially marks the end of summer and with it marks the end of the movie industries favorite time of year. Ever since the 70’s and the birth of the “Summer Blockbuster”, summer has been the benchmark for movie studios to measure success by. The headlines this week were pretty grim,  just like they seem to have been over the past few years. “Worst Summer Ever“, “Box Office Lowest ever”… you’d think the movies didn’t bring in a little over 4 billion dollars. That being said, it indeed was pretty bad numbers wise for 2014’s season. That 4 billion is down 14.7% from 2013’s total.  If you adjust for inflation, it’s the worst since 1997 (that’s when we got Titanic, Batman and Robin, and The Lost World).

So in the wake of the tragic and disappointing end of the summer season, let’s do the post mortem and see the lessons we can walk away with and maybe a cause of death.

1) The “No Pixar”Theory

Optimized-Big Hero 6 (1)
Big Hero 6 coming Nov. 2014 (img via collider.com)

2014 was one of the first times since 2006 that there wasn’t a Pixar movie in the works. Pixar movies have been a juggernaut at the box office and always provide a nice boost. Even with slightly disappointing flicks like Cars 2, there wasn’t as much for the family this go around. The popular How to Train Your Dragon 2 from Dreamworks did well and provided at least one good movie for families over the summer to take the kids to but all in all, the movies this season were aimed at older kids or adults more exclusively. The barometer to test this theory will be later this year as we are getting Big Hero 6 and The Boxtrolls. After all, The Lego Movie made big waves in February, of all months, with it’s AWESOME run. Movie industries might take note that marketing all of your movies at the 13-24 male demographic may not be the best strategy after all. There might be a need for more true family entertainment in the mix or at the very least something outside of the “teenage male” demographic.

That actually brings up #2….

2) The Rise of the Female Movie Goer

image courtesy of wavy.com

Movie studios bank on teenage to mid 20’s males making up a big chunk of audience. They assume that girls just aren’t into the movie going experience like guys are and as such, they tend to shy away from the dreaded “chick flick”. This summer saw a shift in that trend. For proof of that, the most talked about movie on social media over the course of the summer (read as: the movie with the biggest word of mouth buzz) wasn’t Transformers: Age of Extinction, or X-Men, or even the mighty Guardians of the Galaxy. It was The Fault in Our Stars. That’s right, that movie based on the young adult novel about a girl with cancer and her falling in love with a boy with cancer after meeting at a support group. Not one explosion (that I have heard of, I didn’t see it honestly), no aliens, no ninjas. A good story with heart. The target audience was no doubt teenage girls, but there were plenty of adult women in the mix too. The movie was a success bringing in a little over 120 million (that’s good enough to make the top 10 all time for dramas). Another good example was the success of Maleficient which was a CGI effects spectacular aimed at a female audience which broke the $200 million mark.

It’s safe to say that girls and women are heading to the box office and it might be time for studios to realize it. Another “chick flick” If I Stay obliterated Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For just over the course of the past couple of weeks.  Those 2 movies couldn’t be anymore opposite and yet, If I Stay was by far more successful.

3) The Pirating of  Movies or “The Just Gonna Wait Till It’s On Netflix” Theory

The Expendables 3 (img via idigitaltimes.com)

As technology improves and availability becomes more and more abundant, there might be merit into what the industry “claims” is their biggest reason for movies downfall (reminder: they still made 4 billion dollars last year) and that’s piracy. One of the big stories in August was the horrible roll out of Sly Stallone’s The Expendables 3. The studio was real quick to point the finger at a leaked copy of the movie making it onto the web as the primary reason that the action movie flopped so badly. Nevermind the fact that it was the 3rd entry into the series that offered little else than the previous versions or the fact that it was a PG-13 movie instead of the more action oriented R rating though. Bottom line is that the franchise was already running thin on freshness and the novelty of it was spent on the first two.

Granted, piracy is a big deal and if you’ve been to the movies lately there is an ominous warning (if not 2 or 3) advising people about pirating a movie. Pirating certainly didn’t seem to harm Guardians or Transformers though in their bid for summer supremacy. Transformers made it’s billion and Guardians is well on it’s way to it. Actually, I think it’s a new trend of “We’re waiting for Blu-Ray” that is more likely to blame.  I’ve seen Guardians 4 times at the theater, I was a big fan obviously.  When I tell people they *need* to go see it, I can’t tell you how many times I was met with “I hate going to the movies these days” or “I’m waiting for it to hit Netflix“. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I could afford to go see Guardians in IMAX one last go.

The magic of the movie theater experience is becoming a hard thing to come by. With people talking on their cells, kids running around the theater screaming and yelling, it’s hard to justify the high cost of going to a theater when with a little patience you can watch it from home with unlimited drink refills and the ability to pause for bathroom runs and no unexpected interruptions. Maybe it’s time for the industry to realize that they need to sell “The Experience” of going to the movies if they want people in the theaters watching their products.

4) Marvel is King… sort of.  How long can they reign?

Guardians of the Galaxy Fan Art Poster (img via tumblr.com)

If we can learn two things about this summer it’s that: a) Marvel Studios is the new king of blockbuster film making and b) the willingness to experiment will dictate how successful and enduring a film studio will be with their movies.  Guardians of the Galaxy, the space opera/comic book movie from James Gunn was a huge gamble for Marvel Studios and it’s parent Disney. It features lesser known characters in a wild and new environment (a.k.a. comic book movie not set in New York, Gotham, or Metropolis). It’s now the number 1 movie of 2014 and is still drawing in good numbers at the box office. Marvel also had a hit with it’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. However, Marvel also found itself with some slightly disappointing turn outs for what was once “guaranteed bank”. X-Men: Days of Future Past – while doing better than expected – was still no where near the level of Guardians or Cap. Even more telling was the modestly disappointing run of The Amazing Spider Man 2. Spider-Man and X-Men are two of Marvel’s most valuable assets in their stores and here we see that both sequels weren’t altogether stand out successes. I mentioned before about experimentation with films.

The King of Monsters (img via godzilla-movies.com)
The King of Monsters (img via godzilla-movies.com)

Godzilla was a bright spot this summer breaking the 200 million mark and I consider it an experiment. They took a dead intellectual property who on their last outing was notably horrid (still love the Taco Bell commercials from that though) and they were able to make a great reboot movie that had audiences excited about giant lizards again. The lesson here is that sequels are no longer the guarantee they once were. Captain America was even itself experimental given the completely new context in comparison to the first film, dialing up the violence and espionage instead of the nostalgia and audiences seemed to like it. Domestically speaking, Transformers:Age of Extinction wasn’t as successful as it’s previous 3 entries but was stronger internationally.

Long story short, movies that broke from the formula and experimented seemed to be more successful than movies that stuck to the tried and true formula. It didn’t pay off as big as they’d have hoped but they did better than expected in almost every case which might mean that movie studios will feel better about trying new things and breaking with tradition. Audiences want to be entertained in new ways and are willing to go to the movies if they feel that it’s something worth seeing.

The Face of Evil (img via newreport.com)

Final Thoughts

So in final thoughts, 2014 might have been a low spot on the bar graph but it had it’s moments. Those brief successes might give studios a moment to pause before just phoning yet another sequel or reboot figuring on audiences showing up no matter what (cough Expendables 3 cough). The story next year will be just how big 2015 was compared to 2014. The “duh” prediction is that it will be one of the biggest ever with Avengers 2, Ant-Man, and the biggest sequel since 1999’s The Phantom Menace in Star Wars: Episode VII. 2015 is going to be huge. Also, 2014 isn’t over yet. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is coming in December along with Interstellar from Chris Nolan starring Matthew McConaghey. That young adult audience I mentioned might pop up again showing support for The Maze Runner.

To quote from Tom Cruise’s Lestat in “Interview with the Vampire”, “There is life in the old lady yet!”


What do you think is biggest hurdle for the movie industry? Netflix? Screaming babies in theaters?

Comment below or hit me/us up on Google Plus. Thanks for reading!

[mks_button size=”small” title=”Source: Variety.com” url=”http://variety.com/2014/film/news/expendables-3-flops-is-piracy-to-blame-1201284859/” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″ txt_color=”#FFFFFF” icon=”fa-sign-out” icon_type=”fa”] [mks_button size=”small” title=”Source: The Guardian” style=”rounded” url=”http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/sep/03/summer-box-office-turning-point-success-failure-blockbusters” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″ txt_color=”#FFFFFF” icon=”fa-sign-out” icon_type=”fa”] [mks_button size=”small” title=”Source: Deseretnews.com” url=”http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865610139/The-lows-and-highs-of-the-worst-summer-for-movies-since-1997.html” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″ txt_color=”#FFFFFF” icon=”fa-sign-out” icon_type=”fa”] [mks_button size=”small” title=”Source: Box Office Mojo.com” style=”rounded” url=”http://www.boxofficemojo.com” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″ txt_color=”#FFFFFF” icon=”fa-sign-out” icon_type=”fa”] [mks_button size=”small” title=”Source: Cinemablend.com” style=”rounded” url=”http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Fault-Our-Stars-Dominated-Social-Media-Summer-67050.html” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″ txt_color=”#FFFFFF” icon=”fa-sign-out” icon_type=”fa”]

Last Updated on November 27, 2018.


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