What Went Wrong? Explaining The Summer of 2014

There is no nice way to put it, the summer of 2014 was…well, from a hollywood perspective it was abysmal. I know, you may be rolling your eyes, thinking I am overstating things. I mean there was no Lone Ranger or R.I.P.D. this summer, no Turbo or other mega bomb, but guess what else there wasn’t. There weren’t any monster hits. Guardians of the Galaxy has already ‘won’ the summer with a current total that would have placed it fifth last year (yes, Guardians isn’t done and when it is it will likely pass Man of Steel, which finished third last summer). As a whole the summer box office looks to be about $1 billion off of last summer’s pace… ONE BILLION!!! That’s 22% down. You have to go back to 2006 to find a summer that finished with the same box office and the average movie ticket that summer was only $6.50 (no, not for a matinee). The summer was BAD, no two ways about it. But why? What went wrong? Here are a few theories.

Theory #1: Where Was The Fun?

It is too bad Man of Steel didn’t come out this year because it would have fit perfectly into the summer of 2014’s motif. No fun! **SPOILERS AHEAD*** Let’s see, Gwen Stacey dies, Stoic the Vast dies, Maleficent is effectively date raped, Hong Kong is destroyed and Optimus Prime looses faith in humanity, Godzilla is Godzilla, the X-Men were almost destroyed by humanity and then almost destroyed humanity, the apes and the humans go to war and America’s next sweetheart is dying of cancer until she’s not and her boyfriend dies of cancer instead. Those are the major plot points for 8 of the top 12 movies of the summer. If you wanted to escape into a magical world of fun and excitement, this was not the summer for you. If you wanted to be sad, this summer was aces. What were the four movies I didn’t list? Two came out in August (Guadians and TMNT) and two were R rated comedies (Neighbors and 22 Jump Street). That is why Guardians of the Galaxy became a phenomenon, because it wasn’t merely a breath of fresh air, it felt like gail force blast of fresh air. Look at the top five movies from last summer (Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel, Monsters University and Fast and Furious 6). Fun, fun, a little bleak (but nearly a comedy compared to this year’s movies), fun, fun. That’s what we want from our summer fare, right? It can be silly and impossible and absurd but it has to be fun. 2014 had a real fun shortage.

Theory #2: 2013

I wrote about this a lot last summer, but at the risk of repeating myself the summer of 2013 was absurdly stacked. 24 movies released in the 17 weeks that constitute the summer movie season. In the 12 weeks between May 1st and the end of July there wasn’t a single weekend that didn’t have a movie open that would go on to gross at least $100 million. You want to know why there were some huge misses last summer, that’s why. The summer was just too full, so movies like Turbo got crushed underneath the weight of Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University. As a father of a 10 year old I can tell you, if Turbo came out this year it would have been a hit. My wife and I, like many parents, were searching for movies to take our son to. But it was Turbo and Lone Ranger and RED 2 and the rest of the big budget flops that made hollywood over compensate. Instead of weekend full of legitimate would-be blockbusters we had a mid-June weekend that brought us Jersey Boys and Think Like a Man Too. The ONLY big animated movie of the summer was How To Train Your Dragon 2 (unless you want to count Plane Fire & Rescue, and believe me, you don’t). The losses of R.I.P.D. and the rest scared hollywood, and we were left with, well, not very much.

Theory #3: Fast & Furious and other what ifs

Having said all of that, how different is this summer if Fast & Furious 7 is dropped into the middle of it? Fast and Furious was going to be the centerpiece of the summer until the untimely death of Paul Walker. How different is this summer if Pixar didn’t push back its next feature, Good Dinosaur, until 2015 due to a director change? This is the first summer since 2006, when Pixar changed from releasing their films in November to putting them out in the summer, to no
t have a Pixar film. What if Marvel had released Captain America: The Winter Soldier on the first weekend of May instead of the first weekend of April? Amazing Spider-Man 2 moves back to June and along with the Pixar movie that never was bridges the gap between X-Men and Transformers and How To Train Your Dragon 2, F&F 7 ignites the box office in mid-July and the summer still ends in the bang that was/is Guardians of the Galaxy. Would that be enough to match 2013 at the box office? Probably not, but it would be close as those three additions likely add somewhere in the neighborhood of $750 million in receipts.

Conclusion

Theory 1 and Theory 2 are valid, but Theory 3 is really the answer. How different does 2013 look if you take out Iron Man 3, Monsters University and F&F 6? Every summer, every year is only a movie or two away from disaster. Spring of 2012 is considered the greatest spring the movie business has ever had, unless you take away The Hunger Games and then it becomes the spring of John Carter and Wrath of the Titans. 2015 looks like it is stacked with Avengers: Age of Ultron leading the way and films like Jurassic World and a new Terminator and a new Fantastic Four and a new Mad Max and a new Point Break and a list that goes on and on filling out the rest of the season. No doubt 2015 will reverse the trend set this summer and we’ll look back on 2014 as a blip on the radar screen but this year taught us a lesson. If you wonder why hollywood spends so much on sequels, on big, loud action movies that appeal to the whole family and they can sell to everyone in the world, just look at 2014. Without enough of them people simply stop going. The average ticket price is $8.25, we won’t spend that unless we know we are going to get our monies worth.

But hey, what do I know? I’m still fat.