Heading into summer 2012 it looked like it could be one for the record books. With two of the biggest cinematic events in years releasing within the same 3-month period - one of which was the follow-up to 2008's top-grossing film - it appeared as if 2012 wasn't just going to surpass previous summer records - it was going to smash them.
However, now that the dust has settled on the 2012 summer season, we are disappointed to report that it was actually nearly a record low year - one that was only kept out of the proverbial basement by several highlights, chief among them The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.
When we say that the box office was at a low, though, that isn't in reference to revenue – earnings were actually the second-best ever at $4.27 Billion – but rather the amount of tickets sold between the first weekend of May and Labor Day. In that time, only 532 million tickets were sold - a tally that is 4 percent less than 2011, and that year arguably didn't have the type of product 2012 did.
As fans know, The Avengers ($620M) kicked the summer off right, demolishing opening weekend records and paving the way for what should have been a fantastic summer. Unfortunately, mid-level box office fodder failed to perform even on a minimum level; movies like Battleship ($65M) and Total Recall ($56M) couldn't get their genre-specific audiences into the theaters.
Along the way there were several highlights: The Amazing Spider-Man ($259M) far exceeded our expectations, and Seth MacFarlane's Ted ($216M) made for a very strong R-rated debut – but beyond those few examples, it was a lot more disappointments than successes. Films like Prometheus ($126M) and Men in Black 3 ($178M), while successful at the outset, couldn't sustain the type of box office attendance needed to keep 2012 from trending downwards.
Aside from The Avengers, Spider-Man, and reliable animated staples like Pixar's Brave ($232M) and Madagascar 3 ($214M), only Dark Knight Rises ($433M) managed to deliver some truly blockbuster-worthy numbers. Catching Avengers' tally was going to take some work, but before TDKR's release it seemed possible. At the end of the day, though, Nolan's Batman Trilogy finale delivered an impressive opening weekend haul, and is continually climbing up the highest-grosser list.
Since 1993, when the tracking of tickets sold began, there hasn't been a number as low as 532 million - though 2010 comes in at a close second (536 million). Revenues were looking very solid early in the year – with films like The Hunger Games breaking their own records – but by the time tallies are finalized, it will be the first time revenue is down in seven years.
But what of the summer of 2012 – why was this year a record low? While it's hard to be certain, the easiest route would be to blame the product available. DVD turnaround times, rising ticket prices, and general blockbuster fatigue certainly contribute to a stalling box office, but 2012's revenue - which was only down 3 percent from last year's record-breaking haul of $4.47 billion - proves the summer season can still make its mark.
Next summer has several exciting films to look forward to – most importantly Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel – but the odds of an Avengers repeat are highly unlikely. Still, if there's enough (consistent) product to fill up the theater seats, it would make for an improvement over this year.