Happy Labor Day everyone!
The summer box office is officially over, as kids are back in school, the weather is getting a touch cooler, and The Nun is kicking off the fall movie season this Friday a la last year’s It. Therefore, it seems right to look at the entire summer as a whole, as it was quite an interesting one. Summer 2016 basically consisted of critical and commercial disappointment after disappointment, while summer 2017 was about the same, with only Marvel and DC doing anything even remotely notable or interesting save for one or two sleeper hits, this summer had a lot more wealth shared, and a lot more interesting stories. Sleeper hits, interesting developments in the indie scenes, and solid blockbuster results, with one or two flops thrown into the mix.
So I’ve decided why not take advantage of the boring weekend and dive into the 10 most notable events that happened this summer that I find interesting (as well as two honorable mentions I added in for fun)?
Of course, with only 10 stories, I can’t tackle every single box office event this summer, so I could miss something that you might have found to be interesting, so if you want to mention something you thought was cool, feel free to mention it here. I should also mention the majority of the stuff listed focuses on domestic box office, because I really don’t care about OS or WW grosses, so if you’re wondering why I’m not including something relating to China or whatever, that’s why. Of course, I will mention OS and WW grosses when appropriate. With all of that said:
Honorable Mention: Sorry to Bother You, but I made decent money. With an offbeat premise, as well as a bizarre execution, even if this debut feature from Boots Riley would have a good opening in limited release (which it did, with a $45K PTA in 16 theaters), this absurdist comedy about racism with communist themes seemed to be very unappealing to the GA. But in a miraculous turn of events, the film held pretty steady during expansion, and managed to crack the top 10 twice, as well as passing Detroit in becoming Annapurna’s highest-grossing film, with a total for the film expected to be around $18M, making it a good start for the distributor's new year after a rocky first year as a distributor. It’ll be interesting to see how If Beale Street Could Talk, Cheney, and Destroyer do later this fall. Add on BlacKkKlansman, and it was a good summer for black auteurs (ironic, considering Boots Riley was quite critical of Spike Lee’s film)
Another Honorable Mention: Hotel Transylvania switches seasons to great success. The first two films in the Hotel Transylvania series each broke the September OW record, thanks to their creative premises, fun comedy, and release dates during the Halloween season, ensuring these films held well throughout October. But for the third film, Sony decided to switch things up and open it in the middle of the summer. And thanks to a fun cruise ship setting, series-best reviews, and sneak previews sponsored by Amazon Prime, the film managed to open to $44.1M, smack-dab in the middle of the previous two entries, and thanks to summer weekdays and good WOM, HT3 was able to stick closely to HT2, with the film currently only behind the film by about 2%. WW, it’s now the highest-grossing Hotel Transylvania film and the highest-grossing fully-animated Sony Pictures Animation film.
At this point, a fourth film is almost surely in the works, and thanks to director Genndy Tartakovsky managing to direct three major hit films, Sony Animation has already greenlit two new works from Genndy, including an action-adventure animated film, and an R-rated animated film.
10. Documentaries rocked the specialty market. This summer saw a surprising upswing in popular documentaries this year, as three films all delivered impressive numbers. The last time such an impressive haul appeared for the genre was in 2012, with the likes of 2016 Obama’s America, Chimpanzee, and Katy Perry: Part of Me, all of which had a lot more going for it than the 2018 offerings.
RBG, a biodoc on the life and important contributions of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opened in the first weekend of May with a solid $578K opening, and held well throughout the summer, even cracking the top 10 twice, and is currently around $13.9M, becoming Magnolia’s highest-grossing movie ever, as well as their only film to cross $10M. RGB is currently in the top 25 highest-grossing documentaries of all time.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, another biodoc, this time on television host Fred Rogers, opened to $475K, and held even better than RBG, cracking the top 10 thrice, and has currently made $22.5M, joining the top 15 highest-grossing documentaries of all time. Three Identical Strangers, a documentary about three identical triplets separated at birth, earned the highest PTA for a documentary this year ($34.3K), opening to $171K, and again held well throughout the weeks, so far grossing $11.7M, becoming newbie distributor Neon’s biggest film excluding I, Tonya. It’s currently in the top 30, but it could reach the top 25 when all is said and done.
Why exactly did these movies do so well? Not only were each of these stories compelling and interesting, but in the case of RBG and Neighbor, the main thing that really helped those movies were their inspirational angles. This year, it’s been very hard to watch the news when just about every day talked about shootings or kids being separated from their parents. In turn, documentaries like those were clear escapism, as people got to see remarkable people and their contributions toward women’s rights and children’s television. With pop culture’s fixation on superheroes, it’s only natural some people would want to look at the stories of real-life superheroes (even if Fred Rogers himself has admitted his hatred for them).
This month sees the release of Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore’s semi-sequel to the highest-grossing documentary of all time, and it will be interesting to see how well that film does and if it can maintain the same momentum as the following features did. Meanwhile, this Christmas sees On the Basis of Sex, a biopic featuring Felicity Jones as the Notorious RBG, while October 2019 will have You Are My Friend, a biopic with Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Again, it will be interesting if these films can maintain the momentum following the success of their documentary counterparts.
9. Hereditary gets an awful Cinemascore, yet strong legs. A24’s attempts at jumping into the horror market with indie spooks has been rather mixed. The Witch received stellar reviews, and while not necessarily loved by audiences, still legged out to a decent 2.86x multiplier, while It Comes at Night, another well-reviewed horror flick, was severely mismarketed, resulting in a lot of unhappy customers, and the film earning disastrous legs, only a 2.3x multiplier. Hereditary seemed like it would follow suit. The Sundance release earned phenomenal reviews, but it was noted as being a slow-burner and was quite intense even for horror. This could have easily gotten bad reception from paying customers.
And at first, things started looking bad. Festival buzz, strong digital marketing, and heaping praise over Toni Collette’s performance helped propel the film to a $13.5M opening, but the Cinemascore was a terrible D+, which seemed to paint the idea that audiences really didn’t like the film, and that it was destined to have terrible legs. That was not what happened, as the film managed to have incredibly strong holds for the next few weekends, dropping 49%, 47%, and 37%, in spite of powerhouses like Incredibles and Jurassic World taking up theaters. This led to the film earning $44.1M, achieving a 3.2x multiplier, and becoming A24’s second-highest grossing film of all time in the domestic box office. Worldwide it grossed more than $79.3M, with a couple of markets still to go, making it A24’s biggest movie of all time. Impressive for a movie that didn’t air a single TV ad.
Why did it do so well? While it didn’t have any false advertising and it was slightly more accessible than other A24 horror films, perhaps it was because this film had a very passionate response, whether negative or positive. Love or hate it, there was very little inbetween or people spouting it was just okay when it came to Hereditary. In short, it seems like the people who loved it really pushed for it as a film you need to see to believe, in turn helping the film garner stronger legs than it probably would have otherwise. Collette’s performance buzz also helped to a lesser extent.
Director Ari Aster has already signed with A24 on developing another horror movie, this time starring Florence Pugh, Will Poulter, and Jack Reynor, and alongside the breakout success of Eighth Grade, this was an overall fantastic summer for A24. We’ll see whether films like Mid90s and Under the Silver Lake can carry the momentum in the fourth quarter.
8. Denzel equalizes out of nowhere. Going into the July 20 weekend, many assumed that Mamma Mia 2, which garnered strong buzz towards its target audience and strangely many on BOT, would open at worst in the mid-30s, with a chance at flirting above $40M, with Equalizer 2, a film that had a well-liked, but not beloved predecessor, and didn’t seem to have much going for it outside of Denzel killing people, chilling in the mid-20s. That didn’t happen, as while Mamma Mia met expectations at $34M, albeit a touch below predictions of the film reaching $40M after its strong Friday number, Equalizer was able to swoop in and become the #1 movie in the country, with $35M, ahead of the first film. It also garnered decent legs and is expected to increase from its predecessor by the end of its run.
While in the end Mamma Mia grossed more domestically and worldwide, that weekend taught a lot of lessons. Not only was the first Equalizer something audiences were really into, but Denzel Washington still has plenty of star power, and is able to carry a film to a solid opening when given the right project. It also taught us that having a broadly appealing film can really help deliver when it comes to the box office, as while Mamma Mia skewed heavily female at 83%, Equalizer skewed 58% male, showing a stronger appeal towards both genders and preventing any sort of frontloadedness.
Regardless, both films were great successes, and threequels for both films are surely in the works.
7. The Cruise Missile Explodes to a Franchise High. Earning a $61M opening in late July, Mission: Impossible was intended to be the last shot in the arm for the summer box office...then The Meg and Crazy Rich Asians happened, but we’ll get to that later.
Regardless, thanks to the goodwill from features like Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation, some mindblowing and death-defying stunts, and outstanding reviews across the board, Fallout opened to a franchise high, showing the 22-year old series is still alive and well, a relief for Paramount as this is the studio’s biggest franchise at the moment (unless Bumblebee manages to be a monster hit this Christmas, which is not impossible). Word of mouth was very enthusiastic, as it was #1 at the box office two weeks in a row, dropping an impressive 43% in its second weekend. Good holds continued throughout the next few weeks, as the film is expected to end somewhere around the $215M mark, along with an estimated $700M WW gross, making it the highest-grossing film in the franchise worldwide, a rarity for a sixth movie in a series that started in the 90s.
It’s up in the air on whether Fallout can pass MI2 and become the highest-grossing film domestically, but what Fallout’s performance shows is that sometimes wild, but authentic stunt work can be just as impressive to moviegoers as VFX wizardry. And it was another hit for Paramount, who has been climbing its way to a comeback, thanks to A Quiet Place and Book Club overperforming. A Mission: Impossible 7 is also surely in the works.
6. Skyscraper sinks, while The Meg swims. This summer saw two major US-China co-productions. Both co-productions featured lead actors who will appear in the upcoming Fast and Furious spin-off. Before summer rolled around, most would assume that Dwayne Johnson’s Skyscraper would open to $45M and Jason Statham’s The Meg to $25M, largely due to Johnson’s more significant starpower. Surprisingly, those openings were reversed, a result that shocked many.
Due to a generic plot, making it look like a Die Hard and Towering Inferno mishmash, Skyscraper solely relied on one idea for its hook in almost all of its marketing: Dwayne Johnson...being Dwayne Johnson. And while that might have worked back in the 90s when all you needed was a bankable star, today, at a time when IPs and unique concepts are what rules multiplexes, it isn’t enough to just have a big name to sell your movie. Universal and Legendary learned that hard, as Skyscraper fell hard from its mid-30s tracking, opening to a measly $25M. It's currently grossed $67.4M domestically and less than $300M worldwide, a very disappointing result for the $125M release.
The Meg’s premise, involving Jason Statham facing off against a giant shark, was quite silly, almost to the point of sounding like the pitch for a Sharknado spin-off than a theatrical film. Tracking seemed to agree with the idea, as the film was expected to open somewhere in the 20s. But miraculously, that wasn’t the case, as the film’s $45M opening more than doubled from tracking. This was largely in part, ironically, due to the silliness of the concept. People love sharks. Jaws birthed the blockbuster, Shark Week is always a hit on TV, and recent releases like The Shallows and 47 Meters Down were able to become summer sleepers. Meanwhile, the marketing played the film up as an absurdist horror comedy. It’s stupid, and the film seemed aware that it was stupid. The fact it played Beyond the Sea in its trailer, as well as feature gags like a Yorkie swimming away from a giant shark made it seem like Statham and company are giving a wink to the camera, telling audiences they’re going to have a goofy, silly, and fun time.
Audiences seemed to have a good time, as the film is expected to gross around $140M, which would make it Warner Bros’ highest grossing film this year. Along with a boffo China and OS gross, the film is expected to end with around $500M WW, becoming one of the first major US-China co-productions to become exceedingly lucrative for both parties.
Johnson and Statham will be teaming up next August with the upcoming Fast and Furious spin-off, and it will be interesting to see how big this spin-off will be, and how much help both actors’ starpower will be.
5. Book Club and Crazy Rich Asians deliver for underrepresented groups. This summer was really good for films that targeted female audiences. Not everything was a hit, as films like Adrift and The Spy Who Dumped Me did mediocre business, but there was still a lot to be impressed by. Ocean’s 8 became the second-highest grossing film in its franchise domestically at $138M, while Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again used a fun Godfather II-style plotline and Cher to a great $120M.
But the real success stories when it came to female-targeted summer features were Book Club and Crazy Rich Asians. Book Club was a last-minute acquisition from Paramount for only $10M. Most people here more or less ignored the movie's existence, so when it managed to open above its $9-10M tracking with $13.5M, it turned quite a few heads. What made the film overperform was its catering to a demographic that is often underserved by Hollywood. While films targeting senior citizens aren’t a new phenomenon, they are usually period pieces, have a young co-star, or focus on old men, such as 2017’s Going in Style, and 2015’s A Walk in the Woods. This was a bit of a unicorn, as the film focused on four senior-aged women, and their relationships with their husbands or other men. When it comes to the recent discussions on diversity in Hollywood that have been sprouting up, age is often ignored, so having a film that focuses on four senior-aged women and the issues they have to face as senior-aged women managed to really strike a chord with its target audience, resulting in a good opening, and stellar legs, with a 5x multiplier, $68.6M domestically, and $81M worldwide. Off a $10M budget, that in turn led to a tidy little profit for Paramount.
But of course the real monster success story was Crazy Rich Asians. This romantic comedy squarely targeted itself to the Asian-American community, another group oft-ignored by Hollywood. Because it was the first Hollywood film to have an all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club in 1993, Crazy Rich Asians became an event picture for its target audience. Thanks to its event status, as well as stellar reviews, the film more or less revived the romantic comedy genre. Opening to $25M for its 3-Day, and $34M for its 5-Day, Crazy Rich Asians became the first rom-com since 2015’s Trainwreck to open above $20M. When it came to weekend 2, word of mouth was so strong the film managed to drop only 6% from its 3-Day weekend, effectively grossing another $25M. To put that hold into perspective, most films that drop around that number had the benefit of holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving to help soften their blows. CRA dropped so low without any holiday benefits. The closest example for a situation like this is The Sixth Sense back in 1999. With that hold, as well as great weekday numbers, the film ended up with $76.8M by weekend 2. This weekend has the film currently estimated to gross $22.2M for its 3-Day, a 10% drop, as well as a current estimate for the 4-Day Labor Day weekend to finish at $28.3M, resulting in a $117M total so far. At this point, not only is $150M a lock, but so is $175M, and possibly even $200M if legs continue to be this amazing.
Regardless of where it lands, Crazy Rich Asians will be somewhere within the top 5 highest-grossing romantic comedies of all time. And to think director Jon Chu almost gave this movie to Netflix. A sequel based on the second book is already in development, and it’s certain that Constance Wu and Henry Golding are getting a lot of offers at the moment.
What Crazy Rich Asians and Book Club, similar to Black Panther earlier this year, prove is that there is a lot of financial upside when you produce a movie for a demographic that’s largely been marginalized and represent said demographic in a high-quality production. It also proves there is some financial viability in midbudget features and romantic comedies. The genre seems to be relegated strictly to streaming nowadays, and while I’d be lying if I said films like Set It Up, The Kissing Booth, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before would have been hits if they were released in theaters, there’s definitely still an audience for these kinds of films at the movies, and much like this summer’s documentaries, it will be interesting to see how studios will respond to these surprise hits.
4. Deadpool, Jurassic, and Ant-Man show why legs matter. While Deadpool 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and Ant-Man and the Wasp all delivered great openings, there was an aura of disappointment with them. Deadpool 2 went below its predecessor in spite of a massive marketing campaign and rave reviews, while Ant-Man and the Wasp was confusingly frontloaded, making only $76M in spite of a strong Friday of $33.7M. Jurassic World’s opening was still quite good, but one can argue that it could have held better, especially since it failed to cross the $150M mark. And all three films were hit hard on their second weekend, dropping around 60%. This seemed to create the idea that all of these movies were fan-driven or frontloaded at best or disliked by audiences at worst. It seemed that these films might not even reach important thresholds like $200M, $300M, or $400M.
But in a stunning turn of events, as the weeks went on, these three sequels seemed to keep on going strong, with sub-50 weekend drops during the majority of their run. Along with summer weekdays, this led to some impressive holds and grosses, with Ant-Man expecting to make somewhere around $215M, Deadpool finished at $318M, and Fallen Kingdom is expected to end at around $417M, becoming the highest-grossing non-Disney release since...Jurassic World. While this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, as Spider-Man: Homecoming followed the same pattern last year, this seems like it could be the new normal for summer tentpole sequels. Perhaps nowadays, a lot of tentpoles get hit with huge upfront demand, in turn resulting in bad second weekends. It isn’t until later on down the road that those who didn’t get to it hear about the good word, resulting in better holds as stragglers arrive to check it out away from all the hype.
Either way, it’s an interesting new development, and I wonder if the trend will continue next summer.
3. Solo’s a megabomb. Is Star Wars dead? Continuing Disney’s Memorial Day losing streak, in spite of being a part of the biggest sci-fi brand of all time, as well as garnering decent reviews, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a gigantic box office failure, grossing $213M domestically and $391M worldwide, failing to even cross $400M, on a gargantuan $275M production budget. The film's failure was due to multiple factors. A muted marketing campaign, a release date too close to The Last Jedi, polarizing responses to the aforementioned film, a ginormous production retool, a gargantuan budget, a severe lack of overseas appeal, and a concept that failed to thrill general audiences all played a part in this film. It was a major misstep in Disney’s attempts at reviving the Star Wars brand, and while this film won’t destroy the franchise or make Rian Johnson or Kathleen Kennedy get fired, or whatever the fuck dumb mouthbreathers are yammering on about, it will certainly cause Lucasfilm to pause and rethink some of their strategies over what to do with the franchise in the coming years. But hey, sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to figure out there’s a problem and learn from your mistakes.
2. Incredibles 2 breaks all the records. Two years ago, Finding Dory was huge. It broke the animated OW record, as well as becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time domestically, thanks to its brand recognition and nostalgia pull, making it something that was exciting to all ages. This year, Incredibles 2 took Finding Dory, and smashed it into the curb, delivering a powerhouse of a gross. Opening at over $182.6M, it earned the highest opening weekend and domestic gross for an animated film, the highest opening for a PG film, the eighth highest opening weekend of all time, and later became the ninth highest grossing film of all time domestically, as well as Disney’s third $600M film this year (fourth in the past 365 days).
Part of its success was due to brand recognition and nostalgia, but unlike Dory, this was one of the few sequels that people really wanted to see happen. Incredibles was ripe with unique opportunities and directions for continuing adventures, and people were demanding to see more of these characters for years. So with a 14-year long wait, and superhero movies becoming the biggest thing in pop culture, it was only natural this film would explode and deliver an opening that seemed impossible, and was another example of Disney’s domination of the box office within the past few years.
1. Infinity War. “BUT IT’S NOT A SUMMER MO--” It counts. We all know it counts. Don’t even try to argue that it doesn’t count. Anyway...do I really need to explain why this is #1? We all knew this was going to be big, but I think it’s fair to say only the craziest of us thought it was going to be this big. $258M opening? $670M domestically? $2B worldwide?
It seems obvious in hindsight, but many of us failed to recognize that when it comes to this film, it was a perfect storm that resulted in jaw-dropping results. 10 years of buildup, inclusion of every character (except Hawkeye and Ant-Man, because the Russos are hacks), marketing that treated the film like a turning point in the MCU, a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that made fans go wild with theories, while the GA was in utter shock, and memes...so many memes. It was truly the event of the summer, and it came out in April.
It not only shows just how massive and important the MCU is amongst moviegoers, but how much of a cultural effect it has created. I’m not sure any new franchise can be as popular, as consistent, or as successful as the MCU for a long while, and Infinity War shows how much pull this franchise has and the franchise’s importance to modern global cinema. Hail Kevin Feige for making this summer one to remember!
And that's it. Think I missed anything? Agree or disagree with my placements? Want to make your own list? Feel free to write about whatever you found interesting about this summer below.