While the summer box office recovered in dramatic fashion this year in the US after a disastrous 2017, it has been a different story in several key international markets.
For years now, the big global box-office story has been one about admissions plateauing in the US domestic market, while international territories — especially in Asia — surged ahead. That story intensified last summer when the US box office saw a 14.6% drop year on year, delivering a total for the period that was the lowest since 2006. Overall for the whole year, the 2017 US box office was down 2.55% against 2016, but worldwide those numbers flipped, with global grosses up more than 3% year-on-year, powered by giant international hits such as Fate Of The Furious and Wolf Warrior 2.
While nobody is predicting a permanent reversal of those long-term trends, summer 2018 has provided a rather different narrative. In the US, box office has recovered in dramatic fashion. In Europe, cinema takings have been battered by a heatwave and by the wrinkle in the release calendar that occurs in football World Cup years.
“This is the summer we definitely needed after last summer’s abysmal performance,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data gatherer comScore of the US market. “Avengers: Infinity War set the tone in a really profound way. It was the perfect kick-off. We’ve had other summers that kicked off really strongly, but then didn’t build any momentum off of that. The good news for this summer is that it’s been momentum, momentum, momentum. Mind you, it’s like comparing to the worst of anything — we’d better be ahead.”
For the 15 weeks following the last weekend of April, when Avengers: Infinity War opened, the US box office is 18.2% up on 2017 — more than making up for the shortfall that occurred last year. Last summer’s biggest hit at US cinemas was Wonder Woman, with $413m. This time around, Avengers: Infinity War delivered $678m and Incredibles 2 $586m — the latter is the biggest animation of all time at the US box office.
Disappointments have been few, although Solo: A Star Wars Story ranks as one of them. Even so, Dergarabedian reckons the negative analysis of the outcome was overdone. “If it was any other movie, without those grand expectations that are always placed on Star Wars films, $213m in the US and the number five film of the summer isn’t a bad result,” he says. “There’s a different level of scrutiny and expectation placed on a movie like Solo.”
One notable feature this year is the lack of any original IP in the line-up of hit films. While last year’s top 10 summer titles in the US included original stories Dunkirk and Girls Trip, with Baby Driver in 11th place, this summer the top 11 titles are all sequels, and the best-performing film with original characters is Book Club, in 12th place.
One of the few major films with original IP that was expected to do well, Dwayne Johnson actioner Skyscraper, underperformed in the US with $65m — albeit making up some of the ground in international markets. Its arrival in cinemas just three months after Johnson’s Rampage now looks like a hubristic mis-step. “If there was more breathing space between those films, they would have done better,” says Dergarabedian. “It was too much, even for Dwayne Johnson.”
US box office Summer 2018 (April 27-August 8)
|Title (country of origin)||Distributor||Release date||Gross ($,m)|
|1||Avengers: Infinity War (US)||Disney||April 27||678|
|2||Incredibles 2 (US)||Disney||June 15||586|
|3||Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (US)||Universal||June 22||407|
|4||Deadpool 2 (US)||Fox||May 18||318|
|5||Solo: A Star Wars Story (US)||Disney||May 25||213|
|6||Ant-Man And The Wasp (US)||Disney||July 6||199|
|7||Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (US)||Sony||July 13||139|
|8||Mission: Impossible - Fallout (US)||Paramount||July 27||139|
|9||Ocean’s 8 (US)||Warner Bros||June 21||138|
|10||Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (US)||Universal||July 20||97|
|11||The Equalizer 2 (US)||Sony||July 20||83|
|12||Book Club (US)||Paramount||May 18||69|
|13||The First Purge (US)||Universal||July 4||68|
|14||Skyscraper (US)||Universal||July 13||65|
|15||Tag (US)||Warner Bros||June 15||54|
|16||Life Of The Party (US)||Warner Bros||May 11||53|
|17||A Quiet Place (US)||Paramount||April 6||51 (eligible period only)|
|18||Overboard (US)||Lionsgate||May 4||50|
|19||Sicario 2: Day Of The Soldado (US)||Sony||June 29||50|
|20||Breaking In (US)||Universal||May 11||47|
While US cinemas have enjoyed a steady flow of strong product this summer, internationally and especially in Europe it has been the same strong product but without the steady flow. “Every time there is a World Cup, there is a tendency to release films before and after,” says Tim Richards, chief executive at Vue Cinemas. “Films are either delayed or they’re accelerated, so there’s a greater likelihood of them cannibalising each other.”
For example, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which was released in the US on June 22, had reached 42 international markets by June 8, posing extra competition for major titles already on release.
Vue operates in 10 markets, and is particularly strong in football-playing nations the UK, Germany, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands. Not all of those countries made it through to the World Cup finals this year, but the tournament nevertheless commanded viewer attention. And then there was the weather.
“The World Cup was not a surprise,” says Richards. “The weather was a surprise. When we get caught out as an industry is when there is something that is not contemplated that happens. The weather has been absolutely unprecedented. It’s breaking records everywhere, and all of our markets have suffered at different levels.”
Richards points to Germany and Italy as having suffered disproportionately, and comScore data backs this up. For the months of June and July, Italian box office is down 21% on 2017. In Germany for those two months, box office is down 33% on 2017, exacerbated by poor local product. World Cup winners France, where Vue does not operate, has also suffered: June and July admissions are down 20% on 2017.
“The German market this year is going to be one of the weakest for admissions in 40, 50 years,” says Richards. “And it’s a very important market — it’s always in the top five globally. There are no infrastructural issues in Germany. This is simply a perfect storm of great weather, and German films that just didn’t deliver commercially.”
Despite the torrid times for some European markets, the international box office for the summer period Screen is measuring — the 15 weeks beginning with the last weekend of April — is up 3% on the same period of 2017. In China, there has not been anything this summer that matches Wolf Warrior 2, but there are six Chinese titles in the international top 20 (see chart below), collectively delivering $1.25bn. (Last summer, three Chinese titles made the equivalent chart.)
Richards, for one, remains confident. “In our business, you need to look at quarterly and annual trends, and not weekly and monthly ones,” he says. “Despite what we saw with the compression of titles before and after the World Cup, the bigger picture is that the studios have become a lot more sophisticated in their release schedules than they were 20, 30 years ago. The studios are, both internationally and domestically, looking at the release calendar now genuinely as a 12-month period, and not just fits and starts at different periods. And the relationship between exhibition and distribution internationally is probably the strongest it’s ever been. We’re all out there working together trying to promote films and get as many people to see those films as possible.”
International box office Summer 2018 (April 27-August 9)
|Title (country of origin)||Distributor||Gross ($)|
|1||Avengers: Infinity War (US)||Disney||1.29bn|
|2||Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (US)||Universal||788m|
|3||Incredibles 2 (US)||Disney||456m|
|4||Dying To Survive (China)||Alibaba||454m|
|5||Deadpool 2 (US)||Fox||378m|
|6||Hello Mr Billionaire (China)||Alibaba||290m|
|7||Ant-Man And The Wasp (US)||Disney||216m|
|8||Us And Them (China)||Huaxia||212m|
|10||Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (US)||Sony||207m|
|11||Mission: Impossible - Fallout (US)||Paramount||177m|
|12||Solo: A Star Wars Story (US)||Disney||171m|
|13||Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (US)||Universal||145m|
|14||How Long Will I Love U (China)||Huaxia||139m|
|15||Ocean’s 8 (US)||Warner Bros||119m|
|16||Hidden Man (China)||Huaxia||85m|
|17||Rampage (US)||Warner Bros||79m (eligible period only)|
|18||Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (China)||Huayi Brothers||76m|
|19||Animal World (China)||Huaxia||76m|