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Summer wrap: Theaters bounced back to 2013 numbers

September 15, 2018

Despite reports to the contrary, moviegoing has not become the lost art that doomsayers have been predicting. Or perhaps, as others noted, 2018 was merely a fluke spike in attendance, led largely by the on-life-support MoviePass phenomenon.

Either way, theaters bounced back to 2013 numbers with a $4.8 billion haul this summer (which started tracking April 27 and concluded Labor Day weekend). It was one that held many familiar names and titles, and whether the box office take was a trend or fad, there is much to assess. Here is what we’ve learned:

Superheroes (and sequels) still rule

“Avengers: Infinity War” kicked things off a week before the “official” summer season with the biggest opening take of $257 million. Then add “Incredibles 2,” “Deadpool 2” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and you have a good chunk of the summer draw with $1.8 billion. If you add in the lingering crowds for February’s “Black Panther,” you can tack on another $700 million to the tally.

Not much to laugh about

Traditional comedies failed to connect, but other genres mixed with comedic tones seem to hit the sweet spot with audiences. In past summers, films such as “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” would rule charts, providing lighter alternatives to the heavier, louder action films that muscle into most summer screens. Flat-out comedies like “Tag,” “Life of the Party,” and “The Spy Who Dumped Me” all tanked. Yet, superhero and action genre films that embraced their comedic sides (“Jumanji,” “Deadpool” and “Ant-Man”) all thrived.

Audiences may be Star War-n out

The summer’s most distinguished disappointment, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” was not a bad film by any stretch, but it never generated enough interest from die-hard fans to turn it into a hit. In fact, it was the first “Star Wars” film to actually lose money for the studio, and has delayed future plans for spin-offs involving Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett. 

Tom Cruise tempting death is still fun 

The “Star Wars” franchise should take a lesson regarding time spent apart from its audience. It’s certainly benefited the “Mission: Impossible” franchise (it’s been three years since the last one), which featured Cruise once again risking his life for stunts. Not only did the sixth film in the 22-year-old franchise open big, it also went on to become the highest-grossing film of the series ($178 million). 

The Rock and Melissa McCarthy need new agents

Despite both actors’ undeniable on-screen charisma, both Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson and Melissa McCarthy suffered two flops apiece in 2018. Their first were “Rampage” and “Life of the Party,” respectively. They both returned for high-profile thuds: Johnson’s “Die Hard” clone “Skyscraper” and McCarthy’s long-in-development “Happytime Murders.” “Skyscraper” cost $125 million and took in only $67 million stateside. “Happytime” reported a budget of about $50 million (others say it is much higher given the length of time it spent in production) and has clocked in at about $19 million thus far. 

Diversify and document

Some of the top summer films were not what you typically think of as summer films at all. “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again,” (No. 11)  “Crazy Rich Asians,” (No. 10), and “Oceans 8” (No. 8) all managed to take in quite a bit despite not being led by a hunk-of-the-month in spandex. Counter-programming worked for many underserved movie-lovers. Additionally, documentaries made more than usual this summer, led by the Mr. Rogers-focused “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and the Ruth Bader Ginsburg-centric “RBG,” which both ended in the top 30 documentaries of the last 40 years. 

The MoviePass factor

For those who purchased it, MoviePass was like Netflix for first-run films, and it brought many back to the theater, as it made the experience more affordable with its monthly fee and initially unlimited screenings packaging. Unfortunately, much behind-the-scenes drama within MoviePass led them to constantly change their business model and there has since been a mass exodus of subscribers. But as box-office analyst Jeff Bock told Variety: “Hollywood doesn’t want to say it’s a big factor, but it absolutely is. The only reason to deny it is because MoviePass is a rogue entity,” he said. “People were excited because [movie-going] was affordable again.”

Summer 2018 Top 10 films
  • Incredibles 2
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  • Deadpool 2
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout
  • Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
  • Oceans 8
  • The Meg
  • Crazy Rich Asians
  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.