Can Numbers Lie? Is This The Worst August In A Decade?

It May Be Hard To Ague Anything But

Should This Be The
#1 Movie of the Month?

The clock is ticking on August, an August that looks to achieve the worst box office numbers since 1998 (not adjusted for anything, just gross numbers). There has not been a single movie that hasn’t underperformed this month (believe me, they expected more than $85 million at this point of The Bourne Legacy‘s run) and for most “underperformed” doesn’t do justice for how they have done. But does that mean that this month has been a “bad” month of movies? Well, it hasn’t been a great month (and normally I love August movies), maybe even calling it a so-so month is a bit of stretch … So, yeah, it is a bad month, I guess the question is has it been the worst August in the past decade? Only one way to know for sure, let’s take a look.

There are basically three categories by which a month can be judged; box office, big budget quality & depth, indie/cult classics. Think about it, do you view last May as a great movie month? Well, May failed absolutely in the second category (big budget quality & depth) even if one great blockbuster hid the dearth of quality and bolstered the first category (box office) to unprecedented heights. May also didn’t have a great indie/cult classic unless The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has greater legs than I expect it will. So, we have a month that is strong in one category and weak in two, fair to say May was not a great month. Having said that, any month with one of the biggest hits in movie history can’t be considered an awful month either. So May is somewhere in the middle and is destined to be overrated because of The Avengers.

Let’s see how this August stacks up with other August’s …

Box Office:

How much did Batman
steal from August releases

Ouch. That is all I can say about the box office performance of this August. Yes, it is a month with a couple of big excuses. First, the Olympics hurt the box office. Second, The Dark Knight Rises was a strong July holdover that took some box office away from some of the new releases. The problem is, even if you consider those legitimate factors the numbers are still ridiculously low. August 2012 is set to finish nearly $100 million lower than 2008 (the last Olympic year) and that box office includes all of the residual TDKR business. None of these numbers are adjusted for the increase in ticket prices, which only makes this August look even worse (tickets have increased from $5.80 to $8.02 on average in the last decade alone). Adjusted for ticket prices moves this month even significantly lower than 1998, the last August that will have a lower total box office than 2012. No question that if box office is the sole judge of quality that August 2012 is the worst August in more than a decade.

Big Budget Quality & Depth:

Where’s the August hit? The Bourne Legacy is OK. The Expendables 2 was awesome if you like that kind of movie but it failed to cross-over to people that weren’t fans of 80’s action movies. The Campaign is good, but is a long way from joining Anchorman as a cult comedy classic. Here is a look at the top 10 movies from each of the last three August’s:

2012 2011 2010
The Bourne Legacy Rise of the Planet of … The Other Guys
The Campaign The Help The Expendables
Total Recall Final Destination 5 Eat Pray Love
The Expendables 2 Spy Kids: All The Time… Takers
Hope Springs The Change-Up Step-Up 3D
DoaWK: Dod Days 30 Minutes or Less The Last Exorcism
ParaNorman Columbiana Vampires Suck
The Odd Life of … The Debt Scott Pilgrim vs. …
Sparkle Our Idiot Brother Nanny McPhee Returns
Hit and Run Don’t Be Afraid of … The Switch

You may be able to make a mild argument that the bottom half of 2012’s top 10 is better … wait, no you can’t! Where is Scott Pilgrim in 2012? Nowhere. This August had a lot of OK and not enough of that to say that depth can carry it past 2011 or 2010.
Indie/Cult Classic:
Where is 2012’s
Scott Pilgrim?
Compliance, Samsara and Cosmopolis all have some cult ability, as does Nitro Circus, but I don’t think any of them move from cult to cult classic. As I said, where is this August’s Scott Pilgrim? Even a movie like Big Fan, that came out in August 2009, has gained the kind of following that I don’t see any of the small movies released this August achieving. There also aren’t any big budget bombs that have a good chance at a second life as cult classic (maybe ParaNorman will age well, but I think it’s odds of being completely forgotten are equal to its cult chances). August 2012 fails here too.
I find it sad how forgettable this August has turned out to be. Maybe Lawless will save it this weekend (it will have to be amazing to really salvage much of anything). Like I wrote a month ago, generally August is one of my favorite months of the movie watching year, but this year, which looked good on paper, really fell flat. Is it the worst August of the past decade? Yeah, it is. It may even be the worst August of the last 20 years.
But hey, what do I know? I’m fat.