What a difference a month makes. All through June and July, film industry insiders complained about what a lousy season it was at the box office. July 4 weekend: down 43 percent from last year. Ticket sales down almost 20 percent from 2013. And so on.
There was no blockbuster this year to match last year’s “Iron Man 3.” Factor in the competition generated by the World Cup – which attracted its biggest U.S. audience ever – and Tinseltown seemed to have a lot to feel down about.
Then came August. “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” opened to monster business, putting the month on track to be the biggest August ever. Cue joy in Tinseltown.
Not that domestic box office means that much anymore. Overseas business now accounts for nearly 70 percent of all theatrical gross, and that income flow, particularly in Asia and Latin America, is booming.
So shed no tears for the American film industry. It’s not only not hurting, but it’s also looking forward to summer 2015, which will boast a new Avengers film, “Jurassic World,” “Terminator 5” and several other potential megahits.
But as always, this summer had its share of winners and losers.
Mutants: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” has grossed more than $700 million worldwide. It quickly surpassed “The Wolverine” to become the top-grossing X-Men film ever. And let’s not forget those other mutants, the pizza-eating “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Thirty years after they debuted in a comic book, 20 years after their previous film, the boys are still major stars – the latest iteration of the franchise has already grossed more than $100 million.
Film versions of young adult novels: “The Fault in Our Stars” gobbled up an impressive $124 million. It’s just the latest hit in the YA juggernaut, which includes the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series, “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.”
Hasbro Toy Co.: So what if “Transformers: Age of Extinction” received dismal reviews? So what if it was almost three hours long? The film has now taken in more than $1 billion worldwide. Somewhere in its Pawtucket, Rhode Island, headquarters, the folks at Hasbro, manufacturers of the toys the films are based on, are gleefully counting their profits.
Melissa McCarthy: Despite terrible reviews – one called it “vulgar, puerile, unfunny” – “Tammy,” which cost $20 million, has brought in more than $80 million in box office gross. McCarthy’s boorish vulgarity seems immune to criticism.
Caesar: Yep, he’s the biggest simian superstar since King Kong. A $500 million global gross for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” will definitely raise your profile.
Lawlessness: Shot for only $9 million, “The Purge: Anarchy” grossed more than $28 million its opening weekend. Seems a lot of folks wonder what it’s like to be stuck outside during a 12-hour period of legally sanctioned chaos.
Kevin Hart: “Think Like A Man Too,” which has grossed $65 million on a $24 million budget, is just the latest hit for the short guy from Philly. With “About Last Night” and “Ride Along,” two other hits released this year, Hart has become one of the industry’s most reliable box office attractions.
Kick-butt women: From Ripley in the “Alien” franchise to the present day, if you give a strong woman a weapon and let her use it, then that means box office gold. So was it any surprise when Scarlett Johansson threw down on a bunch of bad guys in “Lucy” and the film opened at No. 1? Not really.
Marvel Comics: No one really expected B-level Marvel characters to rack up gigantic box office, but “Guardians of the Galaxy” opened to $94 million, the biggest August debut ever. The fun interstellar romp went on to win the title of this summer’s top-grossing movie. The Avengers and now these. Marvel can do no wrong.
Adam Sandler: “Blended,” which earned a rip-roaring 14 percent positive rating on rottentomatoes.com, bombed. Following the poor box office of “That’s My Boy” and “Jack and Jill,” it looks as if the comic’s core audience is starting to abandon him.
Seth MacFarlane: He didn’t make a lot of friends with his frat boy-like hosting of the Oscars, and his raunchy Western, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. Maybe it’s time for him to just go away? Far away.
Tom Cruise: “Edge of Tomorrow” received excellent reviews but opened to soft business, coming in behind “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Maleficent.” Cruise is still a big star overseas, but he hasn’t had a real domestic hit since “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” in 2011.
Clint Eastwood: Just about everyone thought Eastwood was a strange choice to direct “Jersey Boys,” and the critics weren’t terribly happy with the result (a 53 percent positive on rottentomatoes). Given that the opening weekend was a thoroughly mediocre $13 million, maybe it’s time for Clint to return to making Westerns like “Unforgiven.”
Sex: Well, OK, sex will never go out of style, but the film “Sex Tape” sure didn’t do it any favors. Savaged by the critics – 18 percent positive on rottentomatoes.com – the film opened to dismal business (less than the MacFarlane disaster). Even shots of Cameron Diaz’ naked butt couldn’t save this puppy.
Dwayne Johnson: Maybe casting him as Hercules wasn’t such a great idea after all. And that stupid-looking lion headwear didn’t help.
James Brown: Seems like America couldn’t “Get Up Offa That Thing” for “Get On Up.” Despite respectable reviews and an Oscar-worthy performance by Chadwick Boseman as Soul Brother No.1, the film has struggled to recoup its $30 million production budget.
Aging action stars: The third time was definitely not the charm for Sly Stallone and his “Expendables” buddies.