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Monday, August 31, 2015

#BoxOffice Report: August 2015 Sets New Highs for Lows

The worst August in 21 years is fortunately put out of its misery.

Story by Matt Cummings


2015 might become the biggest box office draw ever, but August will go down as one of the all-time worst. Theater owners saw empty lines for popcorn and even more depressing receipts last month, as the industry experienced a perfect storm of unprecedented flops, poorly-timed releases, and a lackluster set of films that kept audiences away in droves. The problem actually began in July, which included the under-appreciated (Southpaw and Self/Less), the dull (Paper Towns), and the just plain awful (Vacation). This set the stage for three nearly-instant August duds, The Fantastic Four, Ricki and the Flash, and The Man from UNCLE, before delving into two of the worst weekends of the year.

In fact, August 2015 has achieved a set of records that theater owners and Hollywood fat cats would just as soon forget. Here are just a few:
  • August 2015 was the worst since August 1994's $375.9m (actual). If adjusted for inflation, it becomes a far lower $194.8m.
  • The month saw a 62.5% drop from August 2014, which was the worst year-to-year drop for the month since record keeping began in 1982.
  • August also saw the worst month-over-month drop, plunging a staggering 68.8% from July 2015's $1.011b take.
  • At just $68.8m, it was the worst weekend of 2015 so far, undercutting March 6-8's tepid $78.3m. That weekend featured a 1-2-3 punch of Chappie, Focus, and Marigold Hotel 2.

  • How Did Things Get This Bad?
    The reasons for such infamy are pretty clear: Hollywood was banking on Fantastic Four to be the next Guardians of the Galaxy, which became the top comic book film that year. Beleaguered with bad press from the beginning, and torpedoed by Fox and Director Josh Trank, people stopped paying to see how awful Four was and just stayed away. It's a story that might become the subject of future film classes, but for all the wrong reasons. However, the more substantive reason is that there just weren't that many good films in the month.

    The other answer is more simple: August featured only 46 new releases, which we haven't seen 2010, with the last three years seeing 67, 63, and 62 respectively. But we've also seen some pretty terrible marketing which has played a huge role in the failures of at least two releases. Although we loved No Escape for its grittiness, it suffered from a serious identity crisis. Was it a prison escape film, or a family survival flick? Competing TV spots probably confused audiences, leaving it with perhaps a fitting third place finish last weekend. Other injuries appear to also be self-inflicted: The Man from UNCLE's lackluster business had everything to do with the proximity of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation; had we seen that its January release date remain (as it was originally intended), I think its numbers would have been far higher. And don't get me started on one of the biggest box office bombs in history We Are Your Friends. Its $1.8m gross last weekend represented the third worst ever for a major motion picture.

    The only bright spots for the industry came with Straight Outta Compton and Rogue Nation. Unfortunately, Rogue was released on July 31st which technically kept it out of August's numbers, even though it made most of its impressive $170.3 in that month. Compton was the clear winner at $134.1m, with the next film Fantastic Four making only $52m. Consider for a moment that one of the worst films of 2015 was the #2 overall for the month. Ouch.

    What Lessons Can Be Gained?
    With that infamy now in the can, Hollywood can lick its wounds as it moves to what should be an impressive Fall run. Still, tough lessons must be taken away from the worst box office month of 2015: domestic moviegoers are growing increasingly choosy about which films they see, so if something doesn't look good, or its experience is spoiled by trailers (see Terminator: Genisys), they will spend their money elsewhere. It's also clear that consumers won't buy crappy films any longer, regardless of who is involved (see Pixels). Finally, studios need to take greater care in placing their films in months where there's either too much competition (2014's May run comes to mind) or not enough. Don't force audiences to choose, because they'll let you down every time.

    Got a thought about our article? Did we miss anything? Join the conversation below!

    Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.
    january 1988 -65.9 feb -37.4 march -32 april 1990 -49.6 may 1987 27.1 june -59.3 july 1986 -46.9 august 2015 -62.5 sept 1988 57.8 oct 1984 -31.9 nov 1997 -38.1 dec 1983 - 49.1

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