The 5 Lessons Learned From The Summer of 2012

As the kids head back to school and Hollywood begins its annual dumping of movies they have no hope for into the theaters I think it is just about time to look back at the summer that was and try to see what we have learned.

Lesson #1: When in doubt release a superhero movie.

There was some buzz at the end of last summer when four comic book based superhero movies filled the multiplexes that the world was getting a little weary of men in suits. Obviously we were wrong. This summer’s three big superhero flicks (The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man) grossed over $3 billion world-wide combined. Billion with a “B”! The least successful of the three (The Amazing Spider-Man) grossed nearly $700 million world-wide, or roughly the same as the two biggest comic book movies last summer (Thor and Captain America) combined. Domestically The Avengers, TDKR and The Amazing Spider-Man finished 1-2-3 at the box office and represent 40% of the total box office for the summer of 2012. Any doubt anyone had about comic book superheroes as movie stars has to have been erased this summer.

Of course, that is what we said last summer about adult comedies …

Lesson #2: Adult comedies may not be the sure-fire counter-programming successes we thought they were.

Remember at the end of last summer when all the talk was about the success of the adult (“R” rated) comedy. Last summer there were four “R” rated comedies that grossed over $100 million (The Hangover Part II, Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses and Bad Teacher), this summer, not so much. Ted was a surprise hit, and to a lesser degree Magic Mike was as well, but that was it. The Watch, The Dictator, That’s My Boy, along with The Campaign (a mild success at best) those were supposed to be the four biggest comedies of the summer. Now the “R” rated comedy feels played out and may be relegated to spring and fall and out of future summers.

Of course, maybe we just underestimated how good the summer of 2011 was…

Lesson #3: The Summer of 2011 was kind of impressive.

Last July and August you couldn’t throw a stick without reading some article about 2011 being the worst summer in movie history. Those articles slowed when The Help, Crazy, Stupid, Love and Rise of the Planet of the Apes changed the narrative a little, but still 2011 remained on many people’s short list as the worst. Now that we have a whole year to look back those arguments about how bad 2011 was ring hollow. The summer of 2011 produced 18 movies that grossed over $100 million domestically and two more that grossed over $80 million. No summer has ever accomplished that. The closest was 2003 that had 16 over $100 and a total of 19 over $80. This summer has seen only 11 movies cross the $100 million barrier (The Bourne Legacy will likely get there) and as of now no additional films over $80 million. Looking back at 2011 and all that it was missing was a truly defining “that was the summer of…” kind of a movie.

Of course, I’m not factoring in foreign box office totals…

Lesson #4: More than ever, international box office can save a summer movie.

Battleship, MIB3, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Dark Shadows, The Dictator can all be viewed as successes by their studios and they all owe that success to markets other than the U.S. Even a “hit” like The Amazing Spider-Man made two times internationally what it did domestically. Heck, even a movie like Total Recall has a pretty good shot at getting into the proverbial “black” with continued strong foreign box office results. No movie represents this “new” model better than Battleship. Battleship had already grossed over $200 million internationally before it was ever released in the U.S. The international box office turned many of this summer’s bombs into profitable ventures, particularly big, silly action movies that translate easily.

Of course, maybe we didn’t lear all that we thought we did.

Lesson #5: 2013 will put all of our lessons learned to the test

Iron Man 2, Kick-Ass 2, Man of Steel and Wolverine will provide a perfect test for our first lesson because maybe the Avengers, Batman and Spider-Man aren’t a fair predictor of whether all comic book movies will draw big audiences. The Hangover Part III and Grown Ups 2 (and possibly Anchorman 2) will do their best to prove the”R” rated comedy still has a place on the summer slate. 2013 as a whole looks an awful lot like 2011, without a mega-hit but with a lot of big hits (Star Trek 2, Fast 6, Pacific Rim, Robocop and a bunch more). Not only is 2013 loaded up with would be hits, it is stacked with the kind of movies that translate into any language or have stars that play all around the world (Leo in The Great Gatsby, Pitt in World War Z). If we are right, and hollywood is right, than 2013 should be huge.

Of course, what do I know? I’m fat.