5 Reasons Summer Blockbuster Movies Are Failing at the Box Office

Published 2 years ago by , Updated August 9th, 2013 at 12:13 pm, This is a list post.

5 Reasons Summer Blockbuster Movies Are Failing at the Box Office

Battleship Box Office Lately, it's becoming increasingly difficult for summer blockbusters to make a splash at the box office. What used to be three months of memorable blockbuster moviegoing, the modern summer film season hasn't just become longer (starting in late April and running through August), we're also seeing an increased number of high profile releases vying for box office dollars week to week. Therefore, it's more important than ever that any individual film makes a big splash in its opening weekend - or be doomed to obscurity as the next round of contenders come into the multiplex. 2013 has been especially rough - with several tentpole blockbusters failing to gain traction with critics, and worse yet, audiences. Films on the list include Disney's The Lone Ranger, Columbia Pictures' After Earth, and Universal Pictures' R.I.P.D. which will be lucky to make back half of its $100 million+ budget. Considering blockbusters help provide revenue for smaller art-house films and mid-level studio productions, costly box office bombs can have a serious impact on the upcoming film slate. In order to prevent further costly studio misfires, we've put together a list of 5 Reasons Summer Blockbuster Movies Are Failing at the Box Office. Of course the list is not all-inclusive, so once you've had a chance to read our reasons, share your thoughts in the comments.

Too Many Summer Releases

Summer 2013 Box Office Number 1s The summer film slate, which used to be bookended within the actual summer season (when kids were out of school), has become bloated and over-stuffed. Beginning in late spring and tapering off throughout August, at least one major release punctuates every single box office week - with many weeks now seeing multiple films battling for box office revenue. As a result, plenty of quality (along with a fair share of not-so-great) films are falling through the cracks, and there's less incentive for viewers to return for repeat viewings. Opening weekend has always been a strong indicator of which films are going to turn a profit and which ones are going to have trouble earning back their budgets. However, in a lot of cases, a major factor in box office success is a film's staying power - fueled by casual moviegoers responding to word of mouth along with second (and third) viewings by established fans. In order to secure over a $1 billion total haul ($500 million domestically), The Dark Knight was number 1 at the box office for four consecutive weeks back in 2008. Iron Man 3 only managed to hold the number 1 crown for two weeks, before another major tentpole film, Star Trek Into Darkness, took the top spot. Fun fact: the following week, Star Trek Into Darkness came in at number 3, bested by both Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover, Part 3 (Iron Man 3 was number 5 at that point - four weeks after release). As a result, studios would benefit from spacing out releases - or outright bumping major films that aren't summer season worthy into the fall, winter, or even spring. As it is, the release slate is cannibalizing - stifling potential longterm successes and outright killing-off films that are more difficult to market.

Too Much CGI Not Enough Substance

RIPD Box Office For many years, summer blockbusters have been synonymous with epic, over-the-top, CGI spectacle - driving films like The Avengers on to over $1.5 billion at the global box office. However, as CGI effects have become increasingly less expensive to produce, many studios have fallen into the habit of relying heavily on eye-popping visuals rather than engaging stories and characters to get people in the seats. There's no doubt that memorable action set-pieces and larger-than-life creatures can be a major draw for moviegoers (sometimes it's just fun to be wowed), but with many competing CGI-heavy films in theaters, epic visual effects aren't always enough anymore. Much of the marketing for R.I.P.D. attempted to sell the film on its whacky odd couple setup (with a paranormal twist) along with a host of digital monsters. In spite of a $130 million budget, audiences mostly ignored the film, dismissing the premise and the CGI action as a less-inspired version of Men in Black - one that wasn't worth dishing out money at the box office. Taking the previous page into account, R.I.P.D.'s heavy reliance on special effects were never going to be enough to compete with RED 2 and The Conjuring, not to mention holdovers like Pacific Rim and Despicable Me 2, in a summer movie spot. Even after solid reviews, the muddled ticket sales and subsequent second week falloff for Pacific Rim shows that casual audiences are more discerning about which CGI blockbusters they'll support in theaters - meaning that even giant robots and monsters are not enough to guarantee solid studio profits.

Inflated Film Budgets

After Earth Box Office Part of the box office bomb dilemma occurs long before a film is released - when overly anxious executives green light a movie and provide directors with a ridiculously high budget. Admittedly, you've got to spend money to make money, so it's understandable that producers invest outrageous bucks in big name stars and expensive CGI effects to help give their project the best chance at success. Sometimes it works: last year's risky Snow White and the Huntsman made almost $400 million globally on a reported $170 million budget; but other times it doesn't, like with After Earth, which only made $60 million domestically on a $130 million budget. After Earth ultimately earned back its production costs through international ticket sales (bringing in a total of $235 million) but it's still hard to determine where that original $130 million was even spent in the first place. In spite of a few slick CGI sequences, After Earth wasn't particularly grand in scale - meaning that, with careful planning, the studio and director M. Night Shyamalan could have probably reined in the spending without negatively impacting the production (since the final film was still panned by critics and most moviegoers). Many filmmakers and executives put the cart before the horse - assuming that bigger is better. While big-budgeted movies, fueled by an expensive lead and over-the-top visuals set pieces, might make for good pre-release marketing. Once the movie is out, it has to be able stand in the court of public opinion (as mentioned, high production values and recognizable stars aren't a guaranteed formula for box office success). Taking a more modest approach to pre-production - i.e. not trying to turn every script into a tentpole blockbuster - could lower the cost of certain film budgets and deliver more balanced (and better quality) movie experiences overall.

Not With the Times

Lone Ranger Box Office Brand recognition helps drive viewers to movies: thirteen out of the top fifteen worldwide grossing films of all time (unadjusted for inflation) are either adaptations or sequels. Only two entries are entirely original (Avatar and Titanic), indicating that casual viewers are eager to support new installments in established franchises or big screen adaptations of popular book series, among other familiar properties. In fact, despite strong critical support and positive word of mouth, Inception only comes in at number thirty-six on that list - suggesting that many moviegoers respond to branding and name recognition over original (and as a result unknown) movie experiences. It's no wonder that studios are always on the prowl for a new comic book to adapt, a new toy line to resurrect, or a new young adult readership to exploit. That said, for every Iron Man, Transformers, or Twilight, there's a franchise bomb waiting to happen (Green Hornet, Battleship, or Beautiful Creatures). For that reason, not every established IP is going to mean big box office dollars. In the last two years, Disney produced two highly publicized bombs based on known characters (John Carter and The Lone Ranger) - both of which cost over $200 million to produce. On paper, adaptations of either property might have sounded like a good idea (John Carter even secured decent reviews) but their flat box office returns indicate that neither brand was as strong as studio heads assumed. Instead of committing a nine-figure budget to a proposed movie, based predominantly on branding and merchandising potential, Hollywood needs to adjust (especially considering that overstuffed summer movie slate) and show a little more restraint. Executives would benefit from becoming more selective (and a little less naive) regarding which properties will compete at the modern movie theater - or, at the very least, which ones can actually make good on a $100 million+ budget.

3D Burnout

The Wolverine 3D Box Office Ever since Avatar showed how much extra money can be made through added 3D ticket pricing, studios have been pushing unnecessary 3D upgrades onto films that would have been just as good (or even better) in 2D. Previously, we've addressed the biggest misconceptions about 3D, and while the quality of 3D post-conversion has improved (The Avengers) along with a filmmaker's ability to do something interesting with the premium format (Life of Pi), plenty of 3D films do not deliver on the additional investment by consumers. For years, studios have been able to mitigate expected losses on a potential box office underperformer by adding post-conversion 3D - under the assumption that they'll make more money in 3D surcharges than they will be paying to have the film post-converted (increasing their overall net revenue). However, duped by a number of underwhelming 3D experiences, coupled with the already high cost of movie tickets (and concessions), moviegoers are becoming more selective about which films are worth the cost of 3D pricing and which ones will be just fine in 2D. As a result, certain movies are actually losing money on 3D production costs (whether post conversion or native 3D filmmaking), making a potential box office bomb even more costly - should moviegoers overwhelmingly opt for 2D viewings of a film that's already struggling to find an audience (and box office dollars). It's unlikely that 3D filmmaking is going anywhere but there's no doubt that certain moviegoers are beginning to experience 3D fatigue - meaning that, moving forward, there's a greater burden on studios to make sincere decisions about which movies will deliver worthwhile return on 3D investment for both the studio and the consumer.

Conclusion: Be Pro-Moviegoer

Pacific Rim Box Office Of course, the biggest box office challenge facing movie studios is getting potential viewers to leave the comfort of their home theater in favor of seeing a film on the big screen. As mentioned, a trip to the multiplex is more costly than ever - and most industry insiders expect prices to rise (not fall) in the coming years. Certain theater chains have been able to incentivize audiences with in-theater food service, premium seating (such as D-Box), as well as premiere formats (RPX and IMAX, among others). However, as HD consumer electronics, syncing with at-home services like Netflix and RedBox, are now able to provide a reasonable substitute for certain theater experiences, it's easy to understand why many film lovers are holding-off on an expensive trip to the theater - and becoming more choosey about which films they will spring to see on the big screen. Needless to say, with an increasing number of box office bombs over the last few years, studios cannot afford to have fewer and fewer people attending films in theaters. Of course, the primary way that studios can combat the stay-at-home trend is to become more consumer-friendly. Instead of raising ticket prices, slapping on unneeded 3D conversions, or wasting money on nine-figure franchise tentpole flicks (that no one asked for), producers and distributors need to up their game and deliver films that audiences are willing to invest in - and can't wait to see. Again, our list is not all-inclusive, so be sure to share your thoughts in the comments. ___ Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews and editorials, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
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  1. We need less 200m bloatfests, and more 40-100m movies. This is the only way to reduce risk, as other factors (established property, “bankable” actors, glorious effects work, audience screenings, formulaic plotlines and character arcs, hell even a great script) are poor predictors of a film’s financial outcome.

    The problem is, these films HAVE to perform extraordinarily at the box office to make up these budgets. However, the budgets aren’t going into improving the film, just lining production and studio pockets.

    And when a film does hit, they have to recoup costs from the 10 other 200 mil movies that didn’t do well this year.

    Not every film CAN perform this well, and not every film should have to – even summer blockbusters. Lower costs, increase profits, win!

    • I know, it’s funny how Watchmen and 300 have almost less than half of The lone Ranger.

  2. I agree with the 3D burnout point, the rest is debatable at best. The 3D fatigue especially hits hard in markets that do no longer offer the choice between 2D and 3D screenings. Apart from CGI family films like Pixar or Dreamworks stuff, blockbusters are available in 3D only in Germany these days, driving away flocks of potential audience who simply can’t stand 3D…

    I’m not sure about the “chosing the wrong brands” to adapt aspect… It’s not only that some of their choices our outdated, not popular enough, too niche… This might apply to The Lone Rangers, Dark Shadows, John Carter etc… but I’m afraid it’s worse… far worse… General audience seems to be locked up in a limited world of pre-existing franchises. While Iron Man, Star Trek and Fast’n’Furious still sell – despite a lack of quality and originality – people simply don’t embrace any new stuff… Potential first parts of upcoming franchises bomb time and again, while mediocre rehashes like Transformers were making billions…

    It’s NOT a lack of quality, too much focus in CGI etc… that’s not the reason. If so, none of those Transformers films, none of the POTC sequels etc. would have made any money. Is Pacific Rim a perfect film…nope…but is it a gazillion times better that ANY of the Transformers movies…check! But still, people stick to the pre-established stuff, ignoring the superior alternatives…Same with RIPD…may not have been the best flick ever, but a better idea than MIB4 or Ghostbusters3…

    I guess there is nothing that Hollywood can do. People want more of the same and they shall be served with countless Marvel sequels, dozens of Star Wars movies etc… It’s okay with me, since I’m a huge fan of these franchises. But yeah, I want NEW franchises to arrive as well… My hopes are with Ender’s Game now…

    • I agree that people are more attracted by stuff they already know… But even this stuff they already know was new at some point. Star Wars wasn’t a franchise in 1979.

    • RIPD, although good in principle, was badly executed. Here’s what I see and I’ve even asked some co-workers about it. One, they will be curious about a movie and want to check it out, (i.e. Pacific Rim, RIPD) but will back off when they know a friend who comes back and says it was bad. When the “word of mouth” from people they know with the same taste comes back to say it wasn’t all that good and “it’s a wait for the Blu-ray movie” then they won’t go. I have at least 15 people that tell me that every time I ask about PR. “My friend or my brother saw the movie and they didn’t think it was that good so I will just wait until it comes out on DVD”. Word of mouth is huge, especially coming from the general public, i.e. The Conjuring.

      • I could not agree more!! As a movie critic,I have become fully aware that “word of mouth” is a powerful tool to draw audiences or not to a movie theater. I always try to be fair when rating films and don’t believe and follow what some “test screening” write on the internet. Case in point, The Green Hornet. According to the test screening,after the ratings cards were tabulated, the movie had scored a 93 rating in what is known as the top two boxes (the percentage of people saying the film was either excellent or very good) with 83% of the moviegoers saying they would “definitely recommend” the film to their friends. When in fact,this movie SUCKED EGGS!!! big times. The other example I have is, KICK-ASS. I rated this movie 5 stars over 5. Peppering an action film w/ comedy is hardly original,but the mocking tone and off-kilter vibe set this film apart.

        • The whole “word of mouth” is just interesting because it seems it all depends on who it’s coming from. We as fans of a certain film might try to get the word out that a movie is awesome, i.e. Dredd, but it seems most moviegoers(general public) will wait until they hear it’s good from more than one person(family members, friends, co-workers) which is why I always felt a film like a PR, although a great sci-fi action film, it didn’t appeal that much to the general audience. Overseas I could have seen it at being a success due to the familiarity with the story but most of the general audience in the states from what I gathered felt like it was another Transformers movie with no likeable characters. This is something that has always made me think that we would never get an “all Transformers, no humans” movie as it would not do good at the BO as the general public wouldn’t have something to relate to. It’s unfortunate but that’s the vibe I get

  3. Technically, Titanic is an “adaption” of a historical event/disaster.

    • With the amount of about 8 years of research that James Cameron has done writing the script to put the audience into the movie alongside a fictional romantic tragedy, I would say otherwise

      • Hence the word “adaptation” dumb ass!

  4. I agree with the crowded Summer movie season format.
    The 3D burnout is something to watch out for also. For directors to film their movie in 3D would probably be the best bet (ex. “The Adventures of Tintin”, “The Hobbit”). Any post-production conversion would be a sign of trouble.
    The bloating of the production budgets shows that the studios only care more about the people heading production, and not if the actual storyline of the film will turn out of a profit.
    Most American audiences mainly want to work with what they know from the movies and franchises, and that is why I can’t remember something original out of Hollywood in a long time.

  5. maybe its cause they are no good?

  6. Maybe if they go back to relying more on story and creating characters your really connect with and care about. CGI has become a crutch and they need to go back to doing things more old school to help hold budgets down. Remember when you would read Starlog or Fangoria to find out how they did the special effects. Yes CGI has a place but is used way too much.

    • Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy used very little CGI for what they were, and those are amazing special effects wise and in general. Practical effects still look better than CGI. I’ll take a rotating hallway to wires in front of a green screen any day.

      • Yup, and practical effects help the actors.

        Of all the things I dislike about the Star Wars prequel trilogy and there’s a lot, the biggest is the CGI overload.

        Even with the awful script, Ewan and Natalie are much better actors, if they had proper stages, sets and location to work on, something to help them get into character instead of all that green screen work they would at least be watchable.

        Episodes 1 and 2 are so cringe worthy I can’t watch them anymore, I have a go every couple of months see if I can make it all the way through but after about 40mins I’ve had enough and I end up turning them off.

  7. Calling any film a blockbuster before it is released and makes any money just helps spur the high hopes that end up getting dashed. As the article stated there is too much of the same thing and at a point people are not going to go see movies that are almost the same over the course of three months no matter how much they shill them online and in other media outlets.

    The budget issue is another thing that is going to kill movies in the next few years. Special effects driven movies aside, some of the budgets for other movies that fall into other categories sound ridiculous to an outside observer, and just because Hollywood has millions to spend to make bad to mediocre products does not mean the average movie goer has the disposable income to spend to watch them.

    • Yeah the term blockbuster originates from people waiting in line around the block of a theater to see a movie. While that isn’t possible anymore with online pre-sale tickets. You cant call a movie a blockbuster nobody goes to see.

  8. Don’t forget, Movie Theaters that feel it’s ok to charge $15/ticket+$10-$20 for food and then offer crappy seats, terrible ambiance, no enforcing of the “shut up/cell phone” policies, and a general lack of friendliness from every employee (except the poor guy/gal who still manages to kick ass and be really helpfull dispite earning poverty level wages)

    Yeah, movies suck, horray piratebay!

  9. It okay, when 2015 comes along everything will be okay again 😉

  10. How about “Tired of seeing the same actors over and over” (Johnny Depp, Ryan Reynolds), or “tired of seeing the same crappy movie concepts but repackaged” (RIPD the Ghosty Men in Black, Lone Ranger the American Zorro without a sword).

  11. John Carter reviews weren’t that bad. All they had to do we insert a CGI Hulk over top of John Carter they would have had World War Hulk. That would have raked in some money.

  12. Big stars are no longer a big draw. Every other Bruce Willis movie hits Netflix instead of theaters. The ones that made it to the cineplex were a sequel and an adaptation. We need RDJ to try to launch something new so I can test my theory. The Lone Ranger helped.

    • That’s not true, boogieman. All of Bruce’s movies have theater releases.

    • Well World War Z managed to make decent money considering how many issues they had in production and I can almost guarantee that it was Brad Pitt that saved that movie from flopping hard.

      • I agree. Had it been someone other than Pitt, it probably wouldn’t have done as good.

  13. I’d Say Ticket Prices is the main reason, I recently went on holiday to my hometown in the philippines and the ticket price is only around $5 for 3D, I went every week and the cinema was always packed.

  14. I laugh at the critic’s opinions. Just look at who gets the oscars every year. How many high action, slasher or freaky flims ever get considered much less win.
    Everyone is their own critic. It seems now days every flim that is enteraining in anyway are the ones they don’t start pushing on the morning & afternoon talk shows. Just think of the movies that really made money. How hard did the actors come on the talk shows to push em? Only after the movie was out did you hear how great it was.

  15. It’s because they suck!!!

  16. They’re failing beacause they suck!!!

  17. Hollywood should stop assuming that the majority of movie-goers will see any ol’ slop put up on the screen. They need to get with the times and realize that people are more discerning, more cautious, and–dare I say it– a little more jaded than previous generations. Hollywood is presumptuous and does not know its intended audience

    ALSO: there’s QUALITY over QUANTITY

    No one gives a crap how many CGI cities/ landscapes/monsters you can create. We need to have a vested interest in the CHARACTER’S DEVELOPMENT! That’s something CGI cannot create, only accentuate. CGI should be seen as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

    Lasty, we (movie-goers) can tell when a movie crew has completely exhausted its creative bank: Conversely, when we DON’T see that effort put forth and a film is obviously creatively bankrupt, then there’s no incentive FOR US to dish out hard earned money for their finished product.

  18. I disagree with this article entirely. The movie experience is so expensive that, simply put, I can wait for the blue ray on 95% of theatrical releases. For me it’s a money issue. I can’t go to matines. I work. Lower the cost of movies and I will see more movies.

    • Wow,you work seven days a week? Man,that must suck that you can’t see the matinee.

      • Most theaters only offer one marines … its still $$$$. Check out consession prices on their GMO treats!

        • One matinee’s

  19. Not sticking to canon (Iron Man #3): this is what hurts some movies. Dumb birds on heads (like Lone Ranger’s Tonto) and the idiot under the bird is another good reason some movies have trouble (if the bird has to do a pooparino, at least it is perched opn the right place!). Big name directors or actors that are over-rated and have bad scripts, special effects, etc. and each thinking they have “THE” idea of the century is another reason so many are failing. Let’s give the viewers something they want to see!

  20. It’s really a lot simpler than this. Hollywood makes movies that no one wants to see with huge budgets and ineffective advertising. Disney is one of the major offenders (look at John Carter and The Lone Ranger for starters), which is probably why they keep absorbing studios that are a bit more sound (Pixar, Marvel Studios, LucasFilm). Don’t spend $250 million on a movie based on a book that 80% of people have never heard of. Spend less money, give franchises a chance to establish themselves before expecting them to bank half a billion dollars. The same exact thing is happening with video games, where big publishers like Square-Enix considered the new Tomb Raider selling 3.4 million copies (at $50+ a pop) a “relative failure.” Reel the budgets in…

  21. How about they do a little research before spending $200+ mill on a movie that nobody has been asking for. Honestly The Lone Ranger is such a joke to me. Who the hell was asking for that?

  22. Very much agree with all the points raised in this article. Personally, I prefer to spend the $31 for two tickets (plus all the extra’s), on one or two Blu-ray’s instead.

    Having a quality home theater that has taken me years to complete, means the only reason to attend a cinema screening, is if I can’t wait for the Blu-ray.

    And I can’t of late which, if any, movies I couldn’t wait see…

  23. What about “Most of these movies are sh*t.”

    I hardly ever go to the theater anymore, but it’s due to my having a home setup that rivals theaters and theaters being full of a**holes. So I just wait a few months and rent most of the movies.

  24. One of the reasons I don’t go to the movies anymore is that the people in the theater suck. People texting or even talking on their phones during the film. It’s incredibly annoying to be watching the movie and get distracted by cellphone screens lighting up all over the theater. God I miss going to the movies when people actually went there to watch the movie.

    • Yep, that too.

  25. well put replies, guys. ticket prices weigh heavily for me, in addition to the fact that many of these films just aren’t that good. the same actors are shoved down our throats. the five points the writer introduced are big factors.

    the movie theater just isn’t doing it for me. I go at best twice a year, maybe once every other year. there is little variety in the material presented, and in casting. watching original cable shows serves as a better option nowadays.

  26. Lone Ranger was just another excuse to put makeup on Johnny Depp.

  27. It’s a combination of factors, the major one being cost.

    Hollywood need to understand that there’s a global economic downturn and as such audiences can only support so many blockbuster films.

    I’ve had to make a decision this year as to which films to go and see.

    I wanted to see most of the biggies (IM3, STID, MoS, FF6, PR, Wolverine, Despicable Me 2, Red 2, Thor 2)

    So far I’ve seen IM3, STID, PR and Despicable Me 2… I couldn’t afford to see the others.

    It’s about £15-20 just for a 3D IMAX ticket, let alone travel cost, a standard 3D ticket is about £12-15 and regular 2D is about a tenner, plus concessions plus I always go with the wife so double everything.

    A night at the cinema can be almost £50quid and I’m sorry I can’t do that for every film, much prefer to go out for a meal.

    The 3D thing is about vision and execution. Avatar’s 3D was awesome because it was immersive, all the flowers and bugs and things floating in the foreground, made you feel you was in the jungles of Pandora, same with Avengers to a degree and Pacific Rim

    Then you get nonsense like Clash of the Titans where the 3D effect is minimal at best (early post conversion work = GARBAGE) or the director just uses it to chuck stuff at the audience every 5 seconds.

    There’s been lots of very good cinema on off this summer, but there’s been too much, too close together and audiences have had to prioritise.

    • ** offer


  28. Why do big blockbusters have to be limited to summer, I know there are some big movies that come out earlier and later, but big movies competing for the summer is ridiculous. Not only would having big movies spread out through the year make the year better for movie fans but it also allows more movies to be seen rather than choosing between two or three.

    • Kids are not in school during the summer.

    • They tend to limit blockbusters to the summer because most people are out of school, taking vacations, off work, etc. Biggest bang for the buck. I’d say the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays would probably be the next largest, at least here in the U.S.

  29. well i just looked at RIPD’s trailer and assumed it was stupid and M Night cant make a good movie to save his life