Summer Report Card: Harry Potter and Transformers Win The Box Office

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Summer officially ends this weekend as Labor Day signals that kids are going back to school, and that temperatures will begin dropping. This was a big summer for movies, with Harry Potter 7.2, Transformers 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 4 making more than a billion dollars worldwide. Much of the big money titles were franchise starters or sequels, but there were a few surprises. Check out the top ten (sorta) list…

Film Domestic Gross Opening Weekend Worldwide Total
1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
$372,155,000 $169,189,427 $1,295,555,000
2 Transformers: Dark of the Moon $349,759,000 $97,852,865 $1,107,482,760
3 The Hangover Part II $254,325,595 $85,946,294 $581,325,595
4 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides $240,541,782 $90,151,958 $1,039,041,782
5 Fast Five $209,837,675 $86,198,765 $606,887,938
6 Cars 2 $187,478,906 $66,135,507 $522,078,906
7 Thor $181,030,624 $65,723,338 $448,512,824
8 Captain America: The First Avenger * $169,696,000 $65,058,524 $329,153,783
9 Bridesmaids
 $168,175,335 $26,247,410 $277,673,198
10 Kung Fu Panda 2 $164,360,000 $47,656,302 $642,450,741
11 Rise of the Planet of the Apes * $152,224,693 $54,806,191 $312,837,055
*denotes film still in wide release

This should probably be a top ten list, but there’s a number of  questionable things to note. Fast Five came out in April, which would technically make it a spring film, though the summer schedule runs from May through August, so it’s hard to say if it should be disqualified by a technicality if the film’s summer season isn’t the general summer season (June through August). On top of that, Rise of the Planet of the Apes will make more than $12 Million dollars by the end of its run, so it will eventually supplant Kung Fu Panda 2 as the number ten picture (or nine picture if you take out Fast Five). Rise could also keep playing to get as high as the #7 or #8 spot – hard to say at the moment how well it will play against the September fare. For those who wish to see my predictions, I made them on, where I was (as always) mostly wrong.

Let’s break it down:

  • 8/11 were sequels
  • 10/11 were part of a franchise (Marvel counts)
  • No picture made over $400 Million, which two of the film’s previous sequels did (Pirates 2, Transformers 2)
  • 7/11 were in 3-D, with three post-converted. There is no strong evidence either way that post-conversion helped or hurt these films.

What did we learn – if anything – this summer? Looking at these numbers, I would say two things: one is that international is now the name of the game, and two is that a number of movies on this list may not have turned a profit.

With the films that crossed the Billion mark, much of that came from international – at least two thirds of the gross was made outside the U.S., and with Pirates it was more than 75% of the final gross. Domestically, Pirates was a modest hit for what it was, but showed a $70 Million decline from the last film – which would suggest that audiences are either growing tired of the franchise or didn’t much care for this one, but with a Billion dollar worldwide total, Disney would be foolish not to make some more.

And though comedies like The Hangover Part II (listed budget $80 Million) and Bridesmaids ($32.5 Milion) were wildly profitable, they didn’t have as much juice internationally. Low budget comedies seemed the way of the summer, with Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses (along with those two) doing great business, but then came Friends with Benefits, The Change Up and 30 Minutes or Less - all of which either underperformed or flat out tanked. People wanted comedy until they didn’t, but all of those pictures seemed a response to the success of 2009′s The Hangover. That cycle isn’t dead, but it definately took its hits (just as the Judd Apatow rip-offs had their day in the sun).

There were four superhero movies this summer and only two charted. Both had (supposed) budgets around $150 Million, but it’s hard to say if any really made any money. Marvel has been building to making their Avengers movie, and though Captain America was the best of the two, both felt like rush jobs in their game plan to get to their big ensemble picture. Part of this was not so much superhero fatigue, but that these were the second stringers. There was hope for The Green Lantern, but the film itself was not that good, while X-Men: First Class was coming off of two disappointing sequels to that franchise. There may be new life in it, but the second Wolverine film sounds like it’s going to be problematic (it went from having Darren Aronofsky directing and Christopher McQuarrie writing it to less interesting talents). With Christopher Nolan‘s final Batman film coming and the reboots of Superman and Spider-Man coming, we may yet see the end of the superhero cycle of blockbusters.

Which begs the question: What’s the next big thing? Right now studios are so into established brands and sequels, that this summer marks the end of Harry Potter, and Michael Bay‘s involvement with the Transformers franchise suggests were coming to the end of some huge franchises. Of course there’s The Hobbit, and  rumors of a fourth Jurassic Park film, and recently we’ve seen a new Die Hard announced. But while Cars 2 was probably way more successful in toy sales than box office, these numbers don’t suggest a lot more sequels from this pack. Thor 2 has been announced, and they’re going to make more Pirates movies, but even though Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Green Lantern have had rumored sequels, currently the numbers may not justify them (even if Rise has already broken even). One of the few “original” films of the summer that wasn’t a comedy was Super 8, which was as derivative and drawing on previously established works as any of the sequels.

We’re also seeing inflated budgets. Next year will bring John Carter, Battleship and Men in Black III, all of which cost way more than $200 Million. I’ve heard rumors that peg the budgets at more than $300, and possibly a lot more. That’s just the scuttle, and not necessarily trustworthy, but it raises the question: how many of these films have to fail for Hollywood to rethink its current strategies? And will we ever see the rise of original content summer movies again?

What was your favorite blockbuster this summer?