We are now at the end of the summer blockbuster movie season, and so it’s time to look back and see which movies were the winners and losers at the box office.
The summer movie season typically begins the first weekend in May and continues through to August, when the box office typically starts to wind down. It’s known for popcorn movies aimed at broad audiences, including young people out of school looking for something to do. As a result, summer is famous for big blockbusters and big box office hauls.
That was especially true this year. According to the box office watchers, the 2011 summer season saw the biggest domestic box-office haul on record, with revenues of around $4.5 billion expected by Labour Day.
Now, that doesn’t mean that more people actually went to the movies. It only means the theatres got more money from the tickets they sold. Among other things, ticket prices have been jacked up thanks to the large number of 3D movies that rolled out over the summer. The biggest blockbuster movies at the cinemas this summer – the final Harry Potter movie, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and the like – were all in 3D, and there was a huge glut of other ones. And all of these 3D efforts cost moviegoers an arm and a leg to see, upwards of $14 bucks!
I find it hard to believe revenues from ticket sales are actually up this summer. So many moviegoers have complained about the high ticket prices and about all the crap that they get from the Hollywood studios during the summertime, especially these sequels and retreads of familiar franchises (ie. the Smurfs, Kung Fu Panda 2, Fast Five. etc). It was also well-publicized that a lot of 3D movies weren’t doing as well as hoped because so many disgusted movie fans were refusing to pay the higher ticket prices.
Movie fans are right to be mad. Yet here we are in late August looking back at a summer where the box office has set a record, even in this crummy economy.
I think the reason people still go to the movies, despite the economy, is because at the end of the day the movies are still the most reasonably-priced entertainment option out there today. Pro sports cost an arm and a leg, and so does most concerts and other live entertainment. You hear about sports leagues and big musical acts having trouble selling tickets, but the movies aren’t suffering any of those problems. It is because people can still afford – barely -- to pay for the tickets.
Besides, these theatres offer good air conditioning. No wonder revenues are up, then, given how Africa-hot it was all over North America.
Anyway, here are some highlights and lowlights from a summer at the movies, with some domestic box office numbers from screens across North America:
The biggest winner at the box office this summer was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, which opened in mid-July and set all kinds of incredible box-office records. The final installment of the Harry Potter series went out with a bang. It broke the $30 million midnight-movie gross from Twilight Saga: Eclipse by hauling in $43.5 million for the top midnight gross of all time. It set a record of $91.1 million on opening day, topping Twilight Saga: New Moon’s record of $72.7 million. It broke the 3D record for a weekend with a domestic (USA/Canada) haul of $116.1 and its weekend haul of $169 million shattered the record of The Dark Knight by $11 million. Its total domestic haul at last count was $366 million, the highest of the year so far.
Still, for all the money it hauled in, Harry Potter was not at the top for long. It was toppled the very next week by Captain America: The First Avenger. This summer just didn’t produce movies that could dominate the box office for weeks on end this year – there were a lot of big releases and competition for audiences was just too stiff.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon hauled in $97.8 million during the Fourth of July weekend, beating Spider-Man 2’s domestic record of $88.2 million. Overall, it hauled in $348.5 million.
After taking much of last year off, the superheroes were back in full force at theaters this summer with Thor, X-Men First Class, Green Lantern, and Captain America: The First Avenger all winning their weekend box office.
Captain America’s appearance is considered a precursor to the rollout of the Avengers movie series next year. On the other hand, Green Lantern’s showing was considered a disappointment. After opening to $53 million in North America in June, it dropped like a rock, and only ended up with a domestic haul of $115 million for WB. Not good.
The highest domestic weekend debut for a comedy movie, $85 million, was scored by The Hangover: Part II, beating the $74 million haul from 2007’s The Simpsons Movie. Some of the other notable comedies included Horrible Bosses, Friends with Benefits and Bad Teacher.
Cars 2 won the June 26 weekend with a haul of $66 million and a grand total of $187 million, but that wasn’t the reason the movie was notable this summer. Cars 2 became the first movie in the history of Pixar’s animation studio to get a drubbing from the critics. Well, all good things come to an end, and Pixar has had an amazing run of well-received movies. They usually bring their A-game every summer with releases like Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 3 and the like. But with Cars 2, the critics seemed to think Pixar was simply interested in making money off its merchandise.
This summer marked the return of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which opened to $90 million on the May 22 weekend.
I don’t know too many people who thought The Smurfs was any good, and yet it darn near won its weekend, barely beaten out by the $36 million haul of the much-hyped Cowboys and Aliens during its first weekend out. Ultimately, it ended up making more money than Cowboys and Aliens, hauling in $117 million in North America. I have no idea why. I guess a lot of kids still like these blue creatures.
The month of August saw another revival of a great movie franchise as it marked the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Their first weekend saw a $54 million domestic haul and it made $133 million.
Also, in the sci-fi category, Super 8, directed by JJ Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, brought in a domestic haul in $125 million. Not bad for a movie with a budget of $50 million
No column would be complete without mention the success of the Judd Apatow comedy Bridesmaids, which kept on packing them in weekend after weekend, hauling in $167 million domestically. With a female cast and aimed at a female audience, it was billed as a “romantic comedy that didn’t suck”. About time.
I didn’t go see Larry Crowne, and likely, neither did you. The Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts movie hauled in a terrible $35.6 million domestic grand total for its whole run.
Lastly, a critically-acclaimed Dreamworks movie about Southern maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s, The Help, won the weekend box office this month – to the surprise of many. Are you sure this is supposed to be a summer movie? Yes, it is.
That’s our look back at the summer movie season. September is coming and you know what that’s going to mean – a lot less lineups at the theaters and a lot fewer popcorn movies. You know, that might not be so bad after all.