Summer box office blues
In case you haven’t heard, summer 2014 is some weak-ass sh*t at the box office. We’re two-thirds of the way through the summer movie season and domestic tickets sales are down over 19%—that’s a staggering drop in revenue, especially since we were actually up nearly 10% over last year going into May. With the wheels coming off and the car headed for the ditch, everyone is asking what’s going wrong and why, suddenly, are once-reliable titles failing to repeat previous successes. The Hollywood Reporter thinks they have the answer: Women.
2013 was a record-setting year, breaking the record previously set in 2012, but given how poor summer has gone so far, 2014 will not be continuing that win streak. What’s the difference? Well, THR thinks that female audiences, increasingly having the option of female-centric tent poles, are skipping out on movies like Transformers: Age of Extinction in favor of Maleficent—the #2 movie of the summer (domestic) so far. Why bother with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, in which Gwen Stacey is relegated to the sidelines and disappears for the entire middle of the movie, when you can go see Maleficent kicking ass?
The statistical evidence supports THR’s theory—female audiences are dwindling for franchises like Spider-Man, but women are definitely still going to the movies in droves. They’re just going to the movies that actually star women. Two of the biggest hits of the summer, Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars, are female-oriented movies, and Maleficent really isn’t any better than middling fare like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but it’s performed well because of its female audience.
There’s something to this theory, but the other side of the argument is very simple: This summer has had a number of truly sh*tty movies. Transformers: Age of Extinction is awful, just three hours of this, and that franchise has never been great to start with. Audiences weren’t exactly thrilled with The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, so it’s not surprising the profits shrank for #2. And while the summer box office for mainstream releases has been rough, the specialty box office is booming, churning out hit after hit (Chef, Belle, Snowpiercer and Begin Again are all crushing it and Boyhood is shaping up strong as it widens its platform).
But the statistics are compelling. Almost across the board, franchises that once demonstrated decent-to-strong female demographics are down, yet female-lead movies continue to perform well. Late in 2013, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug saw diminished female audiences (despite openly courting them with Evangeline Lilly’s made-for-the-movie elf character and a love triangle subplot), yet Gravity and Frozen were making bank in the same frame. There’s a quality component for sure, but the lesson, increasingly, is that diversity is good for business.