BOX OFFICE ROUNDUP: THE SUMMER OF 2016

FROM BOX OFFICE SURPRISES TO BOX OFFICE BOMBS TO NEW LEVELS OFF ONLINE VITRIOL, THIS SUMMER HAD A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING

With Labour Day right around the corner, another movie summer season is officially in the books. So with that in mind, lets take a look back at this summer’s winners and losers at the box office. 2016 was considered a down year for the annual summer spectacle, but among the disappointments and the controversies there were a handful of bright spots.

WINNERS

Animation: Let’s face it, animated films have helped keep Hollywood afloat so far this year. 2016 already had one billion dollar animated blockbuster headed into the summer with last March’s runaway smash Zootopia, but the summer cemented animated films perch atop the box office food chain even further. Angry Birds surprised a lot of observers with an unexpectedly strong performance when it came out in May. Birds had flop written all over it yet managed to gross 107.4 million domestically (346.9 million worldwide) and may even spawn a franchise. But that was just a warm up for June’s Finding Dory and July’s Secret Life of Pets.

The two animated juggernauts combined to hold the top spot at the box office for five consecutive weeks, dominating the Multiplex from Dory’s opening June 17th until Star Trek Beyond premiered on July 15th. Dory was the summer’s highest grossing movie domestically (479.6 million and counting) and second highest global earner (917 million) while Pets 104.3 million opening weekend shattered the record for highest debut by an original property (ironically held by last summer’s Inside Out). And don’t forget the R-rated Sausage Party, which has collected over 80 million so far. Who would have ever thought that an animated movie about talking food that smokes weed and has orgies would do a fraction of that?

Warner Bros.: Say what you will about Suicide Squad (and I’ve said plenty), but the embattled superhero flick is making serious coin. Less than a month after its release, Squad has earned 282.8 million domestically and 636 million worldwide. But that’s only half of the WB’s success story this summer. Warner made a habit out of producing and releasing inexpensive movies that made back their investment and plenty more at the box office. Me Before You, The Conjuring 2 and Central Intelligence had production budgets ranging between 20 and 50 million dollars but they all struck relative gold (Conjuring and Intelligence both broke the 100 million mark).

While the jury’s still out on War Dogs and they’ll probably only break even on the pricey Legend of Tarzan (and they did miss with the criminally underappreciated buddy movie The Nice Guys), the biggest illustration of Warner’s small budget-to-strong box office ratio was Lights Out. Inspired by a viral Youtube video, the James Waan produced horror movie was made for only 4.9 million yet pulled in over 65 million at North American theatres. Its little wonder Warner has essentially given Waan free reign over its horror-verse as well as the upcoming Aquaman movie.

Small Budgets: But this summer’s success of small budgets didn’t end with Warner Bros. Universal produced Purge 3: Election Year for only 10 million, yet it brought in 79 million domestically. SFX’s adult comedy Bad Moms came with a price tag of only 20 million yet it’s currently within striking range of the 100 million dollar mark. Sony had a trio of inexpensive movies hit big, with the aforementioned Sausage Party (budget 19 mill), The Shallows (budgeted at 17 million but brought in 54.5 million) and the horror Don’t Breathe. Breathe was made for only 9.9 mill but dethroned the mega budget Suicide Squad during the final weekend of summer with a 26.1 million dollar opening.

In a summer when so many big budget franchises failed, don’t be surprised to see studios support more small budget projects with the hopes they strike gold at the box office.

LOSERS

20th Century Fox: Riding high on the phenom that was Deadpool (which bucked every trend imaginable and became a super hit despite it’s R-rating and February release), Fox had high hopes for this summer. The first hit to those hopes was X-Men Apocalypse, which received a lukewarm reception from North American audiences at best (fortunately Professor X and his troop were popular enough oversea for Fox to turn a small profit on the ninth film in the X franchise). Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates barely stumbled out of the red ink but nothing could ease the burn that was Ice Age Collision Course. Ice Age was the lone animated flick that didn’t hit this summer and the fifth film in the franchise could only draw 61 million domestically. And while it’s overseas performance was strong, it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome its 105 million dollar budget.

But none of that comes anywhere close to this summer’s piece de resistance of failure. Fox thought it had another galactic blockbuster on its hands with the long awaited sequel to its 1996 hit Independence Day. But when Independence Day Resurgence opened almost twenty years to the day the original did, it was pretty much ignored by audiences. Despite having a 165 million dollar budget (and millions more spent to promote it), Resurgence only scraped together 102 million before vanishing from theatres.

Big Budget Franchises: Independence Day Resurgence. Ice Age Collision Course. Warcraft. Star Trek Beyond. X-Men Apocalypse. Now You See Me 2. The BFG. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. Alice Through The Looking Glass. Ghostbusters. These movies had three things in common. 1) Aside from Warcraft and The BFG, they were all sequels or remakes, each belonging to popular and fan favoured franchises. 2) Their performances ranged between disappointing to disastrous, often resulting in their studios losing money or merely breaking even. 3) And they all had large to massive budgets.

Given how many small budget movies performed so well and how many big budget gambles failed, could we soon see a shift in the Hollywood paradigm? While Warner Bros. seems to have perfected the formula of supporting their tent pole releases with cheaper yet successful films, don’t be surprised to see studios like Fox re-evaluating their business model after Labour Day.

Civility: Quick, jump on a movie site and tell everyone how much you hated Suicide Squad. Maybe venture to a Star Trek message board and inform the world of your undying love for Star Trek Beyond. And if your feeling really brave, visit any corner of the Internet and scream how much you thought Ghostbusters rocked. Then duck. Somewhere along the way, discussing movies online became a more dangerous blood sport then discussing politics, religion and vaccination.

The online flame wars had already been ignited by last March’s Batman Vs. Superman (a battle that had a brief second round when the “ultimate” Blu-ray and DVD editions arrived in June), but this summer saw them hit an all time high.

Easily the biggest example was the ongoing Leslie Jones affair. Jones was singled out by the mammoth Ghostbusters-hating mob shortly after the movie was released and she briefly quit Twitter following a tsunami of racist and sexist abuse (spearheaded by Breitbart writer and alt-right personality Milo Yiannapoulis, who was handed a lifetime suspension as a result). But it didn’t end there. Recently Jones’ phone was hacked and personal information along with selfies, nude pictures and even images of her driver’s license and passport were posted to her website.

All because she was in Ghostbusters.

We’ve seen this tread for the past few years (almost exclusively targeting female performers) but it reached an all time high this summer. And it doesn’t look like its getting better any time soon.

Box Office Round Up returns September 18. In the meantime stay safe  and enjoy your Labour Day long weekend.

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