This weekend, “Straight Outta Compton” enjoyed a three-peat atop the box office chart, easily defeating three new wide releases. Which means that the end of summer is, sadly, finally here. So it’s time to assess what will probably be Hollywood’s most lucrative summer ever. Here are the winners and losers of the season.
Winner: The Overall Domestic Box Office
As of Sunday, the total summer take stands at $4.72 billion. That’s up 14 percent from last year at this time, and slightly ahead of the $4.63 billion earned by August 30 of 2013, the previous record-holding summer.
Loser: Movie Stars
Arguably, only one of the summer’s top 10 movies (Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation”) depended a lot on star power to sell tickets. The rest (including “Jurassic World,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Minions,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” “Ant-Man,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and “Straight Outta Compton”) were sold based on their ensemble casts or their premises. Meanwhile, stars like George Clooney (“Tomorrowland”), Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone (“Aloha”), Mark Wahlberg (“Ted 2”), Adam Sandler (“Pixels”), Channing Tatum (“Magic Mike XXL”), Reese Witherspoon (“Hot Pursuit”), and Meryl Streep (“Ricki and the Flash”) found they weren’t big enough draws to sell tickets to movies that viewers didn’t otherwise care about.
Winner: Strong Female Characters
Yes, more overt girl-power movies did well this summer (“Pitch Perfect 2,” “Inside Out”), but so did the ones that wrapped female-empowerment ideas inside more traditionally masculine genre conventions. Think of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa essentially stealing “Mad Max: Fury Road” from its ostensible hero. Or Melissa McCarthy proving she could be a butt-kicking secret agent and not just a buffoon in “Spy.” Or Sandra Bullock’s women-can-be-lovable-supervillains-too performance in “Minions.” Or Amy Schumer, proving that even a woman with a history of self-sabotaging life choices can be a romantic comedy heroine worthy of love in “Trainwreck.” Or spy Rebecca Ferguson, whose character subverts the genre’s “damsel in distress” conventions by saving the hero from peril at least twice in the film, while also operating on the same level as Ethan Hunt in terms of tradecraft. She even takes care to remove her high heels (unlike Bryce Dallas Howard in “Jurassic World”) whenever she engages in action-movie feats.
Loser: Lazy Feminism
By which I mean movies that seemed to be empowering to women but were marred by lackluster writing and poor execution. (We’re looking at you, “Hot Pursuit.”) “Magic Mike XXL” was supposed to be eye candy for the female gaze, but unlike the first “Magic Mike,” the story lacked some cohesion, and it was hard to care about the characters. A more cynical pundit might conclude that female-driven movies won’t achieve true parity with male-driven ones until they can be just as lazy and poorly made and still succeed at the box office, the way half-assed guy flicks often do. But it’s actually a good sign that moviegoers have discerning tastes and are forcing filmmakers to up their game.
Winner: Nostalgia, Especially for DinosaursReboots, remakes, and sequels worked, but only for those projects harkening back to a very specific window in time, from about 1988 to 2001. So, that encompasses “Jurassic World” (essentially a sequel to 1993’s “Jurassic Park” that urged audiences to forget the previous two sequels), “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” (best thought of as a continuation of the franchise Tom Cruise launched in 1996, not as a follow-up to the very different 1960s TV spy series), spring holdover “Furious 7” (sequel to a franchise dating back to 2001), and “Straight Outta Compton” (biopic of rappers whose heyday was from 1988-91).
“Mad Max: Fury Road” seems like an outlier, since it’s the sequel to a series whose last installment came out in 1985, but the movie so thoroughly revised and reinvented the franchise that it seems nostalgia was hardly a factor in its success, unless it’s nostalgia for a pre-CGI era of action filmmaking.
Loser: Nostalgia for All Other Things
Movies that tried to resurrect titles from before 1988 — notably, “Vacation” (a near-remake of the 1983 franchise launcher), “Poltergeist” (a remake of the 1982 movie), “Pixels” (inspired by early 1980s video games), and “The Man From UNCLE” (based on a nearly forgotten TV spy series from the 1960s) — failed. So did movies drawing upon more recent fare: “Terminator: Genisys,” “Entourage” (based on the HBO series that launched in 2004), “Fantastic Four” (a reboot of a franchise last launched just 10 years ago, in 2005), and “Hitman: Agent 47” (reboot of a franchise that wasn’t even a hit the first time, in 2007).
There’s also the curious case of “Tomrorrowland,” which, despite its forward-looking title, was also a nostalgic throwback to the shiny, space-age, Sputnik-era utopian futurism of 1950s sci-fi, “The Jetsons,” and the Disney theme park attraction that gave the movie its title.
Winner: Jason Blum
The low-budget horror producer spent about $20 million total to make “Insidious Chapter 3,” “The Gallows,” and “Sinister 2,” but he earned back $165 million worldwide. “The Gallows,” whose reported budget was an absurdly meager $100,000, earned back $38 million around the world, making it the most profitable movie of the summer — and probably the last several years.
Loser: John Green
Last summer’s “The Fault in Our Stars” seemed to launch Green as a new one-man young-adult novels-to-movies franchise. But with the Shailene Woodley-free “Paper Towns,” lightning failed to strike twice. Also a flop: faux-John Green, in the form of Sundance hit “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
Winner: The Marvel Cinematic Universe
The “Avengers” sequel wasn’t as big as the 2012 original, but it was still the second biggest movie of the summer, with $457.5 million domestic and a total of $1.4 billion worldwide. “Ant-Man” was the summer’s seventh-biggest movie, with $169.2 million here and another $196.5 million abroad.
Loser: Other Marvel
Fox’s “Fantastic Four” is proof that maybe only Marvel should do Marvel. Apparently, ticketbuyers can smell the difference between Disney’s M.C.U. movies and everybody else’s Marvel pictures.
Winners: Universal and Disney
Universal had the summer’s top movie (“Jurassic World,” which grossed $643.1 million at home), four of its top 10 films (the others were “Minions,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” and “Straight Outta Compton”), and six of its top 15 (including “Trainwreck” and even underperformer “Ted 2”). It’s boasted a 28 percent market share this summer, suggesting that more than one out of every four tickets sold went to a Universal movie. No studio has dominated the box office like that since Disney in 1999.
Disney, of course, had a very good summer as well, with its two Marvel movies, Pixar’s “Inside Out” (the summer’s third biggest movie), and even “Tomorrowland” ending up in the top 15.
Losers: All Other Studios
Sony in particular took it on the chin with “Aloha,” “Pixels,” and “Ricki and the Flash.” Paramount had only “Rogue Nation” and “Terminator: Genisys” this summer. Fox succeeded with “Spy,” but stumbled with “Paper Towns,” “Fantastic Four,” and “Hitman: Agent 47.” Warner Bros. boasted top 10 finishers “San Andreas” and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but also underwhelming “Magic Mike XXL” and duds “Hot Pursuit,” “The Man from UNCLE,” and “Entourage.”
Winner: Underserved Audiences
Key to Universal’s success this year has been a strategy of catering not just to young white male ticketbuyers, but to women, older viewers, and ethnically diverse viewers. And there are other underserved demographics also hungering for movies targeted toward them; witness the success of this weekend’s “War Room,” a film for Christian audiences that outperformed expectations by opening in second place with an estimated $11.0 million.
Loser: Domestic Audiences
Once again, foreign ticketbuyers saved the bacon of several movies that would have been flops if not for the international box office.
“Terminator: Genisys” made less than $90 million here, but it earned an astonishing $320.1 million abroad. “Pixels” made just $71 million here, but $114.8 million in other countries. “Magic Mike XXL” grossed $65.8 million in North America, but foreign grosses pushed its worldwide total to a healthy $117.6 million. “Vacation” took in just $55 million here and a total of $81.5 million around the world.
Even “Fantastic Four,” which eked out just $52.7 million here, took in nearly twice as much overseas, for a planetary total of $146.2 million. So, even those these movies were considered critical and commercial flops here, they all probably earned enough worldwide to generate further sequels. Thanks a lot, rest of the world.