Iron Man 3 led the Summer box office with over $408 million.
September 3, 2013
It's official—Summer 2013 was the highest-grossing Summer ever, by far.
Overall domestic box office earnings came in at $4.76 billion during the Summer, which begins on the first weekend of May and goes through the end of Labor Day weekend. That's up 11 percent from last year, and up eight percent from the previous record (2011's $4.4 billion). Even taking in to account ticket price inflation, Summer 2013 was still very strong: an estimated 583 million tickets were sold, which is the most since 2007.
That's a massive improvement that seems to contradict the narrative that this Summer was a disappointing one at the box office.
The strong earnings were spread across the entire season. Three of the four months this Summer—May, June and August—set all-time monthly records, while July 2013 was the second-highest-grossing month ever behind July 2011.
Year-to-date box office is at $7.68 billion, which is up slightly from last year's record pace. If the momentum from the Summer can carry in to the Fall, there's a very good chance that 2013 winds up beating 2012's $10.8 billion.
R-rated horror also had a banner Summer. In early June, The Purge set a new opening weekend record for an original R-rated horror movie. A month later, The Conjuring crushed that record, and, thanks to strong word-of-mouth, it has since gone on to earn over $134 million. That makes it the highest-grossing supernatural horror movie in over a decade.
Meanwhile, expensive original movies mostly struggled. Aside from World War Z and The Great Gatsby—which aren't even all that original to begin with—the Summer was riddled with one costly original failure after another. The Lone Ranger, Elysium, White House Down, After Earth and R.I.P.D. all cost over $100 million to produce, and all of them fell short of $100 million at the domestic box office. Pacific Rim barely got to that level, though its very strong foreign total goes a long way towards making up for that.
Family movies also had a tough time this Summer. This audience segment only has so much money to spend, and over $600 million of that went to two monster franchise titles (Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University). As a result, the remaining titles (Epic, Turbo, The Smurfs 2 and Planes) underwhelmed to varying degrees.
This Summer also appears to be the one in which audiences finally rejected 3D in a meaningful way. 3D shares for early Summer releases were consistently below 40 percent, with some even dipping below 30 percent. By late July, most studios were no longer reporting 3D shares at all, which is a trend that will likely continue indefinitely (except, of course, in the case of the occasional major 3D title like Gravity).
With record overall grosses, what explains the general negativity surrounding the box office this Summer? It's likely a combination of ballooning budget figures and slower-than-expected foreign growth. This Summer, a whopping 18 movies cost over $100 million to produce. In comparison, last Summer only had 13. Unfortunately, just because studios are spending big bucks doesn't necessarily mean audiences are going to rush out to theaters—of those 18 movies, only 11 will earn over $100 million at the domestic box office.
The inflated budgets would be okay if the foreign box office was still growing at a relentless pace. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case. Last Summer, the Top 10 earned $4.85 billion overseas; in comparison, the Top 10 has only grossed $3.98 billion so far, and probably won't wind up much higher than $4.2 billion when all is said and done. Obviously, this data isn't perfect—outside of the Top 10, there could be enough growth to make up for this—but it's still indicative of a foreign box office that isn't quite as explosive as many expected.
Next Summer, it does look like the studios are reigning in their spending a bit: while official figures aren't yet available, it's unlikely that more than 15 titles cost over $100 million.
Check back tomorrow for a list of Summer's Winners and Losers, and check back Friday for a breakdown of how accurate (or, in many cases, inaccurate) Mojo's pre-Summer predictions were.