Rampaging dinosaurs, Marvel superheroes and animated emotions powered the US box office to its second biggest summer of all time.
‘I thought that we would hit $5bn. On paper it looked monumental’
Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak
Universal experienced an extraordinary summer in which the studio claimed three of the top five releases and powered the industry to its second biggest summer of all time. Dinosaurs, superheroes and Inside Out generated $4.48bn from May 3 through September 7, trailing the $4.75bn record in 2013 but improving on last year by 10.4%.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron kicked off the season in style on May 1 and burst out of the gates on $191.3m for what was, at the time, the second biggest opening weekend ever, behind only the 2012 original’s $207.4m. Six weeks later, Universal unleashed Jurassic World and changed all that. The $208.8m launch set a new benchmark at the North American box office, as well as complementary international and global records, and established a potentially record-breaking pace for summer. By the time the season was over Universal and Disney together would account for 60% of the box office, with 35 cents from every dollar the industry grossed coming from Universal films.
Hits and misses
It’s safe to say that while Jurassic World and Inside Out played their part in summer 2015, several films did not. “I thought we would have a record-breaking summer and even that we would hit $5bn because, on paper, it looked monumental,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at film research company Rentrak. “But in order to get that number you have to have every wide-release film performing to expectations or over-performing. All it takes is one or two not exceeding expectations.”
The first of the two major summer flops was Tomorrowland, Disney’s high-concept sci-fi write-down starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson that never really took off over the weekend of May 22-24. “That was the movie Hollywood was banking on because of the Memorial Day launch,” says Dergarabedian. “It’s an important weekend in terms of the economic well-being of the summer.”
Clooney et al delivered $33m and overall this year’s Memorial Day weekend session trailed 2014 by 16%, when X-Men: Days Of Future Past arrived on $90.8m. In August, Fantastic Four tanked despite belonging to a well-known franchise. After savage reviews and bad blood with director Josh Trank over artistic expression, Fox executives must be sorely tempted to let the property revert to Marvel Studios.
2015 was a top-heavy summer that saw Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Jurassic World, Inside Out and Minions emerge in the first half and trade on their franchise credentials or brand recognition. This is in contrast to 2014, which saved the best until last when Guardians Of The Galaxy debuted in August and powered that month to more than $1bn. Hollywood did not repeat that singular feat this year.
“It’s still all about sequels,” says Dergarabedian. Yet indies in the shape of Amy Winehouse documentary Amy and Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy prospered too, doing respectable business on $8.2m through A24 and $12.5m via Roadside Attractions, respectively. “When you look at the best five or 10 summers, they’re dominated by franchise movies. Known commodities, known brands that give the customer comfort. They don’t rely on great reviews and audiences don’t use [reviews] — if they know that brand, that’s enough,” Dergarabedian observes.
Bite of the box office
Crowds of all ages answered the call of Jurassic World, which would finish the summer as the hit of the blockbuster season on $649.8m and the third biggest ever release in North America behind only Avatar on $760.5m and Titanic on $658.7m. The film inspired multiple repeat-views — essential business for any film with serious blockbuster ambitions — and showed surprising range in audience demographic.
The under-25 crowd accounted for roughly 40% of the opening weekend gross, a testament to the nous of a Universal team that marketed the film to an audience that had barely been born when Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park opened in 1993. Yet there was a sizeable contribution too from fans of the original, who are now in their 40s and went to see the film with their own children. The dinosaurs attracted women in large numbers, too.
“Female audiences are vitally important to the box office,” says Dergarabedian. “The notion that it’s 18-24 year-old males [who drive box office] is outmoded. We saw Jurassic World and Straight Outta Compton do well with women.”
While the outsize results for Jurassic World, Ultron, Inside Out and Minions delighted studio executives, they were not beyond their wildest expectations. In fact there was no single film that stunned as a breakout like The Fault In Our Stars did last year — although Amy Schumer enjoyed a career boost as Trainwreck surged to $108.9m.
Paying for laughs
‘The way you are going to have to grab an audience is changing’
Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak
Summer crowds tend to be kind to original comedies, as Superbad and Ted have proved in recent years, although Schumer would do well to pack away the Trainwreck characters and move on to pastures new. Comedy sequels can be treacherous. To wit, Ted 2 was a rare mis-step for Universal over the summer and retired on $81.3m — a far cry from the $218.8m North American haul of the original two years earlier.
The fatal Louisiana multiplex shooting during a Trainwreck screening in late July, followed two weeks later with the killing by Nashville police of another lone assailant at a theatre, cast a tragic pall over proceedings. Yet even events as disturbing as these could not slow film-going, which is now more than ever driven by social media.
“The main thing is it’s the movies first and social chatter second that impacts on the box office,” says Dergarabedian. “That’s a big factor in what people decide to go to see. But the world is changing — the way you are going to have to grab an audience is changing and that’s going to affect things down the road.”
Looking ahead to the autumn schedule, the analyst is confident that 2015 will deliver the first $11bn North American box office and the first $40bn international box office. Dergarabedian cites The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, Spectre, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Steve Jobs as a few of the heavy-hitters he expects to push box office past those milestones.
And the scope of the business outside North America is something he finds genuinely exciting. “The worldwide component is incredibly important. In any given years we have noticed [with the] top 10 summer
movies [that] 70% of box office on average is generated outside North America. So everything we’re talking about applies to the global market too.”
|All-time summer pantheon|
|1 2013 May 3-September 2||$4.75bn|
|2 2015 May 1-September 7||$4.48bn|
|3 2011 May 6-September 5||$4.4bn|
|4 2009 May 1-September 7||$4.33bn|
|5 2012 May 4-September 3||$4.28bn|
|6 2010 May 7-September 6||$4.22bn|
|7 2007 May 4-September 3||$4.17bn|
|8 2008 May 2-September 1||$4.14bn|
|9 2014 May 2-September 1||$4.6bn|
|10 2004 May 7-September 6||$3.85bn|
|US Summer 2015 Top 10: May 1-September 7|
|Film title||Distributor||Release date||Rating||Opening weekend||Summer total|
|1 Jurassic World||Universal||June 12||PG-13||$208.8m||$647.4m|
|2 Avengers: Age Of Ultron||Disney||May 1||PG-13||$191.3m||$458.3m|
|3 Inside Out||Disney||June 19||PG||$90.4m||$349.5m|
|4 Minions||Universal||July 10||PG||$115.7m||$329.8m|
|5 Pitch Perfect 2||Universal||May 15||PG-13||$69.2m||$183.8m|
|6 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation||Paramount||July 31||PG-13||$55.5m||$182.7m|
|7 Ant-Man||Disney||July 17||PG-13||$57.2m||$174.1m|
|8 San Andreas||Warner Bros||May 29||PG-13||$54.6m||$154.6m|
|9 Mad Max: Fury Road||Warner Bros||May 15||R||$45.4m||$153.1m|
|10 Straight Outta Compton||Universal||August 14||R||$60.2m||$149.8m|
|Studio market share|
|Rank||Distributor||Total releases||Summer gross||2015 market share||2014 market share|
|4||20th Century Fox||20||$318.3m||7.1%||22.1%|
|8||The Weinstein Company||6||$82.4m||1.84%||1.8%|