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Summer 2016 #BoxOffice Wrap-Up

Although up from last year, 2016 was a largely creative disaster.

Story by Matt Cummings

As Summer 2016 wrapped up with a distinct and impending thud last weekend, many studios are licking their wounds as the final numbers were released by sites like BoxOfficeMojo. What began with so much promise quickly descended into a blood bath for nearly 20 blockbusters (those movies with budgets of over $100m), leading many in the business to wonder if their tried (and perhaps) and true formulas for sequels, reboots, and prequels might be running out of steam.

The finally numbers aren't great. For the season, the domestic box office was down nearly 2.8% from the previous year, with last weekend delivering just $74.5m. To put that last number into perspective, consider that the last time we saw a return like that was the weekend of Feb. 5-7 ($82m). That horrible number at least brought with it an excuse: a savage Northeast snowstorm closed many theaters. But no such excuse exists for last weekend, painting an interesting picture about a Summer that many would like to forget - more on that in a minute.

But that's not the biggest story from this Summer's box office. In a 122-day period, Hollywood witnessed no less than 20 high-profile collapses of blockbuster films, many of which can be neatly placed into one of three categories: Sequels No One Wanted, Reboots No One Supported, and Poorly-Considered Remakes. And while Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory bucked those trends, far too many suffered perhaps franchise-ending hits. What does this spell for the future of an industry that's used to big profits from a frankly tired formula?

We've written many times about the cannibalization that is the weekly box office, as too many films - many within the same genre and therefore aimed at the same audiences - compete for the same dollars, reducing core profits and eroding potential fan bases. That trend repeated itself throughout the Summer, as even Civil War took in high profits, only to be cannibalized by The Angry Birds Movie just two weeks later. The film made less than Avengers: Age of Ultron, which in 2015 was deemed a critical failure. The narrative was different with Civil War, and yet it suffered from cannibalization.

Digging deeper, we also see that audience attendance numbers were a problem: about 518m people went to the movies this summer, which was down from Summer 2013 (585m) and 2012 (539m). Should that number hold up, it would be an increase from 2014 but down from 2015. These declines fall in line with studies taken at the beginning of the year, which showed less than 10% of the moviegoers see 90% of the movies. But it was those 20 blockbuster that dragged down the market, resulting in one of the lowest creative periods for Summer films in recent memory. The names read like a who's-who of mediocrity: Alice Through the Looking Glass ($77m globally/$140 million budget) MGM and Paramount's Ben-Hur ($25.5m/$100m), Sony's Ghostbusters ($126/$144m), Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows ($82m/$135m), Legendary and Universal's Warcraft ($47m/$160m), and Steven Spielberg's adaptation The BFG ($55m/$140m).

Even well-regarded films like Star Trek Beyond ($156.5m/$185m) failed to generate interest, which could kill that franchise. But others like Independence Day: Resurgence had no audience interest from the start and should never have produced, bringing in a paltry $100m on a $165m budget.

Where does this leave the reboot/remake/sequel plan? In the short term, this won't mean very much to studios, who already have another round in production and several nearing shooting in the coming year. But it's long term where Hollywood might have genuine worry. Even the success of Civil War comes with a caveat: not even an Avengers 2.5 film couldn't bring in the crowds, coming in lower than many were predicting. Some reports thought the film would take in a global number of $1.6b, but the best it could muster was $1.2b. That's a lot of money left off the table.

For many studios the path is clear: find genuinely new properties to cultivate, reduce their intake on sequels and reboots, and strongly reconsider such a tightly-packed release calendar, which might be the single biggest impedance to a healthy box office.


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