Hollywood’s obsession with remakes, reboots, and sequels may finally be catching up as domestic summer box office receipts have fallen eight percent to date over summer 2016 due to a string of big-budget flops and underperforming tentpoles from major studios this year.
The latest bit of bad box office news came last weekend, when Illumination Entertainment/Universal’s Despicable Me 3 pulled in $72.5 million over the July 4 holiday frame. While far from what could be considered a flop, the final domestic number was short of expectations in the $85 million range and well off from the $115 million opening weekend of Minions in 2015, or the $83 million debut of Despicable Me 2 in 2013.
It’s the latest disappointment in a summer filled with lackluster domestic grosses for established, big-budget franchise fare; in May, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth installment in the Johnny Depp-starring franchise, opened to a weak $62 million on its way to a domestic gross to date of just $166 million. The fourth installment, 2011’s On Stranger Tides, opened to $90 million on its way to $241 million domestic, while 2009’s At World’s End launched with $114 million and maxed out at $309 million domestic.
Faring even worse was Paramount’s Transformers: The Last Knight, which debuted to $44 million in June and has earned just $105 million domestically and $329 million internationally to date, for a global total of $435 million. That is a far cry from Age of Extinction‘s $245 million domestic and $1.1 billion global haul in 2014; in fact, The Last Knight could well become the lowest global earner in the franchise since the first Transformers film pulled in $700 million in 2007.
But it wasn’t just pirates and dueling robots that failed to capture moviegoers’ attention this summer; aliens couldn’t do it (Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant bowed to $36M on its way $73M domestic and just $231M worldwide), and neither could a familiar fantasy tale (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, $15M opening, $140M worldwide to date) or a Tom Cruise-ified reboot of a beloved monster franchise (The Mummy picked up $75M domestic on its way to $350 million total). Overall, this summer’s box office is off eight percent from the same period last year, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Not helping matters were rough openings for the (decidedly lower-budgeted) Baywatch adaptation starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron and the R-rated comedies Rough Night and The House, the latter of which represented one of the worst opening of Will Ferrell’s career ($9M).
comScore analyst Paul Dergarabedian told the Hollywood Reporter that taken together, this summer’s grosses are a kind-of “disruption in the box-office force.”
“Is this a signal that the era of the franchise with sequels that go beyond a second installment is coming to an unceremonious end, or is it more an issue of quality?” he told the outlet.
Two franchise films have done exceptionally well this summer; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Marvel’s irreverent superhero ensemble film that kicked off the summer season with a $146M opening on its way to an $856M global haul, and Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman, which has grossed $350M to date and piled on another $363M in overseas receipts.
But the best-performing movies this summer have been smaller films not based on existing franchises; Edgar Wright’s original heist thriller Baby Driver, the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez On Me, and the indie shark thriller 47 Meters Down.
Hollywood has a few more high-profile test cases coming down the pipeline, including Spider-Man: Homecoming and War for the Planet of the Apes, and STX Entertainment no doubt hopes to launch its own franchise with its sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets later this month. Ditto for Sony/Columbia’s Idris Elba-starring Stephen King adaptation The Dark Tower.
But the real focus will be on the smaller, original stuff coming later this summer; the Charlize Theron-starring Atomic Blonde, Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, R-rated Ryan Reynolds comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard. If smaller films like these can prove there’s an audience out there for original concepts, Hollywood may be able to slap itself out of its franchise fatigue after all.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum