This Summer in Box Office History: Winners and Losers of 2016.
September has been abysmal at the box office so far, especially after a summer of record numbers. How good was the sunshine for summer films?
The summer season is now over, and we’ve got enough data to see how things shook out. A few films will be seeing foreign release dates rolling on into the fall and winter season, but by and large the lay of the land should be pretty clear. Looking back over the last few wrap ups I noticed that several films that looked to be doing fine were actually struggling over the long haul, and several films that you would think were grade “A” duds have actually quietly made at least their budget back.
2016 was off just a tick from last years numbers, slowing by less than a percent. 2016 also had fewer releases than 2015, allowing big films to hang around longer in theaters. While it under performed both 2015 and 2013 by small margins, 2016 did continue the trend of bigger summers, up over 700 million from 2006’s numbers.
The wave didn’t lift all boats evenly, but looking over the numbers shows how forgiving this summer was all around. There were big winners but only small losers. Even some execrable films like Ben-Hur managed to make it out without horrendous losses, due in large part to the burgeoning foreign markets for movies.
So who made it out of the heat with their clothes intact? Here’s a run down.
1. Suicide Squad: 307 US/ 392 foreign; 175 budget.
This film needed to score big to get DC out of the flashing red light warning of failed franchises. While Bats V Supes did make its money back, it did it all up front and largely withered after the first week. Suicide Squad has earned solid money since release and done a great job overseas. A franchise saver.
2. Finding Dory: 484/502; 200 budget.
The Secret Life of Pets: 361/428; 75 budget.
Pixar now has a real challenger to its animated throne. Universal has put together some really big films lately, mostly centered on the Steve Carell driven Despicable Me series. This is their second big hit, and it was huge. In a summer dominated by Dory and Zootopia early, The Secret Life of Pets finished in second place for animated movies, spending less than half of the money dropped on Dory’s budget. That’s a strong season all around for animated films…well most animated features.
3. Bad Moms: 107/44; 20 budget.
This comedy came out of left field and has been quietly made a fortune for STX studios. Starring Mila Kunis and Christina Applegate, this film has done Ted-like numbers and probably reinvigorated both stars’ careers.
4. Sausage Party: 93/20; 19 budget.
Another surprise for animated fare, this raunchy satire about food that rebels against humanity starring Seth Rogen went on to make a ton of money against a tiny budget. Seth Rogen is a comedian who doubles the studio’s money just by waking up in the morning. After all of its super-hero bombs, Sony now at least has two winners: PS4 and R-rated hotdog films.
5. Lights Out: 66/75; 5 budget.
Don’t Breathe: 67/20; 10 budget.
Success for a horror movie generally means making back the budget; these movies are shot so quickly and cheaply they don’t need much to win. These two horror films took it to the bank over the summer when films like Morgan and The Darkness struggled to make slim profits. 141 million dollars on a 5 million dollar investment? You can be damn sure these movies are getting sequels.
1. The BFG: 55/118, 140 budget.
The first kid-friendly bomb of the season was a head-scratcher. Sure, Roald Dahl’s stuff has been fickle at the box office (and frankly terrifying most of the time!) but this year commemorates the beloved author’s 100th birthday. This film got a ludicrous amount of free publicity. How did the studio bungle this so badly? My thoughts: this film didn’t just land in the uncanny valley of terrifying CGI, it fell down the sides of the ravine and lay screaming at the bottom all summer. It’s not easy on the eyes, I’m trying to say.
2. Kubo and the Two Strings: 47/15; 60 budget.
Another CGI film that had an odd aesthetic, I was hopeful that this film would come off as charming and exotic. Instead it ended up feeling generic and did very little with it’s setting. I think these two films really suffered for trying to stand out for their looks, because they ended up being a tad ghastly.
3. Ben-Hur (2016): 26/63; 100 budget.
Ancient epics are box office poison. Can we all just agree on this now? It doesn’t help that this film is a remake of a beloved classic…but other remakes like Ghostbusters and Magnificent Seven have managed to make their money back, and to have a reasonable presence on the overseas’ market while still connecting at home (and both overcame quite a bit of drama and studio hedging.)
4. Nine Lives: 19/0; 30 budget.
Kevin Spacey does voice work as a smug and hateful cat. Can’t see what possibly went wrong here…
(Honestly, I think this is one of those movies a studio does so it can write down a loss for tax reasons. There’s literally no other reason to make this film otherwise.)
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows: 82/163; 135 budget.
I think of this movie more as a market correction instead of a complete bomb. The first movie was so fucking awful, I can’t believe it did as well as it did. Apparently you can’t catch farts in a bottle twice. May this be the end of the Teenage Mutant CG Monstrosities. Please.
Who Survived on Foreign Dollars
1. Warcraft: 47/386; 160 budget.
This movie is the poster-child for the importance of foreign markets. This movie would be a studio-killing bomb if not for the fact that the Chinese went absolutely crazy for this flick. Prior to the last couple of years, you would hear a movie that failed here but did well overseas still called a bomb. The differential takes from overseas’ markets means Hollywood was not keen to make their money there (which is more about how hard Hollywood has your local theater by the balls and less about other markets being stingy.)
Warcraft is now going to be a franchise, and two years ago it would have been road kill. Get used to it.
2. The Legend of Tarzan: 126/229; 180 budget.
Another recipient of a diverse portfolio, this one was not nearly so horrid here in the US…but it still would have been considered a modest failure, and certainly not worth considering for franchise material. Now…who knows? That’s a pretty chunk of change it made elsewhere, I can’t see the studio leaving that money just laying around (and they seem hell-bent on making Alexander Skarsgard into a box office draw, even if that box office is not primarily based in the states.)
3. Alice Through the Looking Glass: 77/222; 170 budget.
Why? Why, world, why would you save this bomb? There’s no justice.
4. Ice Age Collision Course: 34/340, 105 budget.
Why? Why, world, why would you…this movie is telephoning it in as the 5th iteration of a mostly played out series. They’ve broken the rules of time and space to get dinosaurs and humans into the Pleistocene, what the fuck else can they do? Crap out another sequel, based on the bonkers numbers this did overseas. Is Skrat like the Mickey Mouse of Beijing? What the hell is the draw of this franchise. Nobody loves Raymond this much!
5. Independence Day Resurgence: 103/283; 165 budget.
Fox wisely decided to make this prototypical Stars and Stripes hoorah-fest into an international collaboration, and reaped the rewards. The film may have suffered at home from the lack of “America, fuck yeah!” but it sure didn’t mind getting all of the love the rest of the world was willing to bestow for actually diversifying the cast. Who knows? This global market may finally force Hollywood to cast somebody other than “the five white guys who star in every damn movie.™” Well, not for every film, but at least we can get polychromatic for big action fests, and that is progress. Shitty shitty progress.
(Sorry ladies, unless we actually discover a nation of Amazons who inexplicably have a ton of IMAX infrastructure and a bad-ass economy, they’re probably going to keep ignoring you. Fuckers.)
Who Just Barely Covered their Ass.
1. The Darkness: 11/0; 4 budget.
OK, so it’s a bit of stretch. Any horror movie that nearly triples the budget should be a raving success…but horror is starting to really explode. Blair Witch, which has been out for less than a month, made 35 million on a 5 million budget. The two prize winners above made, oh let me try to ballpark this…a billion times their budget. You gotta work harder if you want to get franchised, and Kevin Bacon is just not holding up as a bankable horror star (though kudos to him for staking out his territory like a rabid pit bull with a squeak toy.)
2. Ghostbusters (2016): 127/100; 144 budget.
The definition of modest success. It will be interesting to see if the home release does good numbers, possibly allowing purity freaks to swallow their pride and actually watch it in secret. Do it. It’s actually a pretty funny comedy.
3. Mechanic Resurrection: 21/36; 40 budget.
Modest success? For Jason Statham, this is a goddamn bonanza! He, like other actioners like JVCD and Steven Seagal, mostly live on the margins of home release. To have made his budget back plus change before landing on Redbox means he might be back. (not really.)
4. The Light Between Oceans: 12/5; 20 budget.
I’m calling this one a marginal failure, but it has some room for growth. It has a strong chance of being on people’s lists for Oscar season, and that would keep it alive at art-house theaters. It just might have landed too soon. I don’t see a lot of places re-upping this flick unless it gets a ton of nods…which based on the cast it could very well do. I think come February this will have moved into the category of modest success instead of modest failure.
5. Morgan: 4/4, 8 budget.
Sorry, Morgan, if you’re not winning, you’re losing. A horror movie has got to turn some profit, and I don’t think this one can really hope to reap huge rewards on the home market. The unfortunate thing is that this could really abort the careers of both leads. Kate Mara has had a rough time lately, failing to really make good on her early promise. If she has too many black marks next to her name, she’s done. Anya Joy-Taylor is an up and comer, and though I didn’t love The Witch, I did think she was a fantastic talent. She needs at least modest success to keep her career on track.
This summer has been very kind to marginal movies. Of the many movies that would normally have died a terrible death under the old “American market only” model, most movies got a second wind…and many times did much much better overseas than domestically. Only Ben-Hur and Nine Lives could really be counted as actual disasters for their studios. Everyone else managed just fine.
Thematically, we saw that domestic audiences were particularly hard to nail down. We didn’t particularly reward new properties…unless they were horror movies. We also didn’t bite when it came to franchises that tried to reboot or that tried to revive themselves after a long dormancy. I would imagine studios, eager to have a back-up for the lucrative super-hero market, will start to invest some more in horror and continue to try to establish footholds in the exploding animation market.
Now that the foreign market is on the rise, it will be very interesting to see how next summer plays out. We may find that tastes are starting to diverge, and not always in favor of Western audiences.