While there have been a number of good — and some very good — movies to open this summer, the box office hasn’t reflected the quality. This summer is down nearly a whopping $1 billion in box-office dollars from last summer, according to Box Office Mojo, and last summer wasn’t exactly a great year, either. In fact, Summer 2017 is shaping up to be the worst summer since the summer of 2005, when Revenge of the Sith opened. Why? There were fewer movies released, for one. A number of those movies severely underperformed, for another. There are also more entertainment options these days, so the box office has to compete with streaming services (and their own movies) plus Peak TV and even Donald Trump. This is not, as some might argue, audiences giving up on movie theaters. After all, the spring of 2017 was the best spring in box-office history thanks to big draws like Beauty and the Beast, Logan and The Fate of the Furious, while 2017 also had a very strong winter led by the likes of Get Out, Split and The LEGO Batman Movie. The summer 2017 is more likely an aberration than a trend.
There was, however, as much to rejoice as to grouse about in 2017. Here were the summers winners and losers.
Winner: Female-Led Movies
It was a huge summer for female-led movies, beginning with the biggest movie of the summer, Wonder Woman, which has put up $406 million since it opened in June, giving Patty Jenkins the record for the highest grossing live-action movie ever from a female director. It also quelled any fears the major studios might have about female superhero movies, as long as those movies are good. Girls Trip — starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and breakout star Tiffany Haddish — was also the sleeper hit of the summer, quietly earning $108 million on a $19 million budget. Even more quietly, Charlize Theron’s $30 million Atomic Blonde earned $48 million, or $2 million more than John Wick.
It wasn’t all great news, however. Amy Schumer’s $42 million Snatched earned only $45 million after a critical drubbing (35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and Rough Night fared even worse, scoring only $22 million despite an all-star comedy cast led by Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon. The latter movie, however, suffered from poor marketing and an uneven tone. It tried to be a dark comedy but it too often pulled its punches. It deserved a (slightly) better fate.
It was a bad summer for movies trying to launch new franchises and/or cinematic universes. Tom Cruise’s The Mummy got Universal’s Dark Universe off to a rocky start with only $80 million domestic; The Dark Tower’s tepid $45 million gross does not bode well for the planned television series based on the Stephen King novel; and Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was DOA at the box office with only $39 million domestic.
Marvel absolutely refuses to fail. After showing slight signs of weakness with Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel put Marvel back into gear. It’s $389 million take made it the second highest grossing film of the summer and solidified Marvel’s hold on the first weekend in May. The combination of Marvel and Sony also resurrected the Spider-Man franchise by injecting a little Tony Stark into the proceedings, making Spider-Man: Homecoming the third highest-grossing film of the summer with $318 million. One slightly concerning note, however, is that while enthusiasm for Spider-Man surged in the United States, Homecoming has so far failed to top Andrew Garfield’s first entry The Amazing Spider-Man internationally, losing the match-up $757 million to $737 million. However, Homecoming‘s grosses do not reflect the box-office from China, where it hasn’t opened yet (and will likely add $200 or $300 million).
Loser: Long-Running Franchises
It was a weak summer for several long-running franchises, as franchise fatigue clearly settled in for several summer entries. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales earned $69 million less than its predecessor. The final Planet of the Apes movie in the trilogy earned $66 million less than the second entry. Transformers: The Last Knight saw a whopping $115 million drop-off. Alien: Covenant couldn’t get anything going, either, earning $50 million less than Prometheus.
Winner: Worldwide Box Office
All of those franchise movies that failed domestically still managed to earn massive profits thanks to international box office. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales still earned $791 million worldwide; War for the Planet of the Apes did just fine with $359 million worldwide; Transformers: The Last Knight mustered $600 million once international box-office was accounted for; and even Alien: Covenant more than doubled its domestic run and ended up with $232 million on a $97 million budget. Likewise, The Mummy ($400 million) was salvaged thanks to international audiences.
With international box-office, investment from studios is relatively safe — even domestic bombs like Baywatch ($59 million) can turn a profit with worldwide totals ($179 million on a $69 million budget). At least two movies, however, still managed to earn less than their production budgets once worldwide box office was tallied: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets ($172 million worldwide on a $177 million budget) and King Arthur ($146 million on $175 million budget).
Loser: Fall Movies Opening in the Summer
Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River ($10 million, so far), Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky ($14 million, so far) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit ($16 million) all received very good marks from critics, but all three would have been better suited to awards season in the fall. All three also opened in August, and it has been a dreadful month. In fact, it’s shaping up to be the worst August at the box office since August 1991, when Michael J. Fox’s Doc Hollywood led the way.
Winner: Diversity and Original Films
Girls Trip ($108 million on a $19 million budget), The Big Sick ($39 million on a $5 million budget) and even Everything Everything ($34 million on a $10 million budget) prove once again that diverse leads have no problem selling a film. Meanwhile, Dunkirk ($170 million), Baby Driver ($108 million), Girls Trip, 47 Meters Down ($47 million on a $5 million budget), and The Big Sick prove that it is still possible to turn a healthy profit with original properties, so long as those movies are good. (Logan Lucky, sadly, is an exception.)
Winners: Kids; Losers: Parents
The summer illustrated once again that kids will watch almost anything. That’s not always good for the parents who have to take them, because it’s been a fairly lousy summer for animated films, even those that have been successful: Despicable Me 3 ($972 million worldwide), Cars 3 ($325 million), and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie were fine movies. The Emoji Movie ($144 million worldwide) and The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature ($24 million) were not. That said, despite the fairly bland animation of Leap! ($4.7 million domestic, so far) I thought the movie itself was fairly sweet and inspirational, but the last week of August is no time to release an animated film.