Why 2017’s Summer Box Office Was So Terrible

This summer was a great time to be a movie enthusiast. Like every blockbuster season, it had its fair share of turkeys to tolerate, but by and large we were treated to a fascinating and diverse array of films. For every superhero offering that subverted genre expectations or created new icons, there was an indie treat waiting to be discovered. You could take in the spectacle of DC's long awaited Wonder Woman, then be gripped by the cinematic triumph of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, and still have time to check out a top notch rom-com like The Big Sick or a dazzling reimagining of the age-old heist tale like Edgar Wright's Baby Driver or Steven Soderbergh's return to cinema, Logan Lucky. In a season that offered unnerving horror – It Comes At Night – uproarious comedy – Girls Trip – and Southern gothic melodrama – The Beguiled – 2017 truly offered something for everyone.

Things may have been great for moviegoers, but for the studios releasing these films and the movie theaters screening them, 2017 was a decidedly bleaker summer. Indeed, it was one of the most financially disappointing summers of the modern cinematic age. Both attendance and revenue were down, and the box office took a major hit as a result. In America, July's numbers were down 12.2% from the same month last year. By 18th August - generally considered the last big date for movies to open in the country - the month was stumbling at a whopping 34% behind August 2016. While the last weekend of the month is usually a write-off - no big new releases, historically lower attendances - this year still managed to make it the worst weekend at the box office in 16 years. The last time the box office suffered this much was the weekend following 9/11.

All of this meant bad news for the major multiplexes. The share prices for both AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment took a real hit this season, with AMC alone seeing 35% shaved off their market value last month. This problem came to a climax of sorts last month with the announcement from MoviePass that they would be dropping their subscription price to $10 a month - something that AMC are trying to opt out of, due to what they deem unsustainable economics.

Wonder Woman Gal Gadot London

This problem wasn’t limited to America’s box office. The ever-important market of the Chinese box office, something Hollywood has become increasingly reliant on, failed to elevate previously reliable blockbusters to the heights they’d become accustomed to. Take, for instance, Transformers: The Last Knight. The franchise's success has been heavily dependent on its popularity in China (hence the sheer amount of Chinese specific product placement in the most recent two films). Upon the release of the fourth film, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Chinese audiences propelled it to a total gross of $320m, making it the highest grossing film of all time in the country and helping its international box office profits soar past $1bn. By contrast, The Last Knight took in less than $230m in China, and its international numbers have stalled at just over $600m. That's nothing to sniff at, but for the Paramount it just wasn't enough.

This summer was full of blockbusters that failed to meet expectations or flopped spectacularly. Every studio is on the hunt for that billion dollar gross, preferably tied to something they can spin into a multi-movie franchise, and we saw the mixed results that can create all summer. No matter how hard they try, Universal is still struggling to turn their iconic Monsters franchise into a sustainable shared universe, as the Tom Cruise starring action-adventure The Mummy failed to connect with audiences. International numbers did help push the film over $400m international gross, but that won't stop the studio from losing a projected $95m on the project.

Warner Bros. faced a similar problem with Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a critically mauled fantasy action-drama that failed to make back its $175m budget and could lose the studio upwards of $150m. It also killed their dreams of a six-film Arthurian saga stone dead. Few blockbusters, however, sank as hard as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. France's most expensive film ever, and one of the priciest indie productions on record, held no sway for American audiences unfamiliar with the comic series it was based on, and it debuted as a sluggish 5th place at the box office upon its release.

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