“Stark Raving Fan” is a column about one man’s love for all things involving popular culture – television, movies, and all facets of pop culture from here to there. Of course, it’s not the kind of love that unite a group of people like a bunch of hippies. More like the kind of love someone has when they’ve blown a gasket and have something to say. After all, aren’t we all just driven mad by fanaticism sometimes? This time we look at the real winners of this summer’s box office – and those who got the cold shoulder.
Winner – Superhero Films (But Really Wonder Woman!)
That’s right, and though super heroes ruled the summer from start to finish, I’m not actually leading off with Marvel Studios in this portion. That should come as no surprise really, since Marvel could lens a film about flying geese and still gross a billion effortlessly. Really, the biggest story of this summer was the wildly successful Wonder Woman, the highest grossing film not just for the growing DCEU but for a female director. The property finally has the right recipe for success – Patty Jenkins as director, Geoff Johns as the creative guru, and Gal Gadot as Diana Prince. Wonder Woman wowed with $103.2 million its debut weekend and clung on for weeks in the top five, amassing $404.1 million domestic and $800.2 million worldwide. And the film’s still playing worldwide too! Sure, distancing the tone from Zack Snyder’s previous entries is an act easier said than done, but the script had to be crafted correctly with the right players involved. And audiences of all sorts responded in kind affectionately. Wonder Woman‘s success bodes well for the future of the DCEU, if the tone is shifted dramatically in a more lighter tone going forward.
Of course, we can’t totally overlook Marvel Studios either. The winner of the summer in terms of overall gross was James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. The wildly popular sequel, distancing further from typical Marvel movie molds and standing apart with Gunn’s unique storytelling and directing, earned $146.5 million in its inaugural weekend at the box office. By the time the film disappeared from theaters across the globe and readying its debut on home video, Volume 2 had reeled in $389.2 million Stateside and a whopping $862.6 million worldwide. Not only is this film’s success a feel-good story for James Gunn (who started off as a Troma protege and now has large pull creatively with Marvel Studios), but also the talent involved. Plus the film’s focus on Michael Rooker makes him shine bright in a rare turn in the spotlight after serving as a character actor for thirty-plus years. I can’t even fathom what Volume 3 holds in store to wrap the trilogy and set up the next 10 to 20 years of MCU stories.
Loser – Warner Brothers
Sure, the studio had a worldwide phenomenon with Wonder Woman but Patty Jenkins’ entry into the DCEU was one of two bits of positive news the beleaguered studio received in the last four months. The other is Christopher Nolan’s World War II opus Dunkirk, a personal project of his, which grossed $396.7 million worldwide against a $100 million production cost. Not too shabby for the famed director, though his movie wasn’t fully embraced by critics. Aside from those two films, however, Warner Brothers had another disappointing season. Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword tripped over its own feet upon release, grossing a laughable $39.1 million Stateside and a dismal $146.1 million altogether. Estimated production budget, not including the marketing? $175 million. Youch. Worse yet, the Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler comedy The House earned a lowly $33.2 million and failed to recoup its production budget. (Probably doesn’t help the trailer was nothing special and the story’s been bludgeoned into the ground.) At least the studio ended the summer on a high note, with Annabelle: Creation managing to surprise and shock audiences, conjuring a wicked $215 million worldwide to date on a $15 million budget. But perhaps if Warner Brothers wasn’t so focused on burying franchises (would it kill them to launch an original film?), maybe all these WB flicks wouldn’t be under-performing.
Winner – Marvel Studios & Sony’s Partnership
When Sony and Marvel’s partnership broke the Internet three years ago, fanboys and fangirls around the world felt their jaws hit their floor in a collective what-the-hell-is-going-on moment. Marvel recovered all merchandising rights to the property from Sony but came to an agreement that would benefit both studios. Depending which studio financed a film with Spider-Man, said studio would keep the profits, a win-win for both studios. More importantly, as part of the property’s inclusion into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios controls the character himself creatively. After an all-too-brief appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man finally got his due this summer with the Fourth of July tentpole Spider-Man: Homecoming. The $175 million produced, fronted by Sony but creatively controlled by Marvel, has grossed an amazing $737 million worldwide to date and still going quite strongly. The film’s domestic cum of $318.8 million is good enough for the third highest grossing movie of this summer, only behind Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and Wonder Woman. Before the film ends its theatrical run, Spider-Man: Homecoming should also be able to trounce Sony’s 2012 reboot as well, squaring the new franchise firmly behind the hailed Raimi films. Suffice to say, audiences have loved Spider-Man’s homecoming to the MCU. Even the stinger at the end, a PSA from Captain America on the virtues of patience, is a sly nod to audiences for their want of the character to return home. And given that both studios are plotting the course of a shared universe together, the question ought to be when 20th Century Fox will be next to want in on the monies that could be earned. (Pfft, probably never.)
Loser – 20th Century Fox
Tom Rothman no longer helms the studio ship, yet 20th Century Fox had a summer so festering even incessant waves of flies avoided their film slate. Things started off on a sour note way before the summer movie season began, as Alien: Covenant slogged its way through theaters without putting up much of a fight. The $97 million production, not including the heavy marketing for the sequel, limped out of the gate with a $36 million debut weekend, then crashed and burned with an $74.2 million domestic haul. Worldwide Covenant earned $232.7 million but didn’t become profitable for Fox at all, leaving the studio hoping the home video market makes up the difference. Then, once summer finally arrived, Fox kept on sinking. Their flavor of the week, Amy Schumer, saw her second headliner movie release Mother’s Day weekend and flop as fast as a soccer player in the World Cup. The $42 million production grossed a meager $45.8 million domestic and $60.1 million overall, solidifying temperaments that Schumer’s fifteen minutes of fame may finally have expired. The third strike, however, was the soft reboot of its venerable Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise. The latest entry, which I’m certain no one in this country even asked for and recast every single character, is entitled The Long Haul. Welp, that haul didn’t go very far, as the movie earned a weak $20.7 million domestic and just $18.6 million overseas. The only thing being hauled here is this film, along with Fox’s other summer offerings, to home video oblivion in short order.
Winner – Edgar Wright
Finally, audiences dug a movie by Edgar Wright and flocked theaters for one of his films! Easily the most original movie to be released this summer, let along the entire year, Baby Driver was shot on just a $34 million budget down around great Atlanta. Wright tirelessly choreographed every second of the movie to an expansive and eclectic soundtrack with some of the most talented actors in Hollywood right now. As they say, to the victor go the spoils. The little movie that came rocketing out of obscurity earned a whopping $103.2 million here at home – over three times the production budget – and another $90.9 million overseas for a total gross of $194.1 million. Wright’s previous highest earning movie? The middle movie of his prized Cornetto Trilogy, Hot Fuzz, with $80.5 million worldwide. Now, Edgar? Please, don’t let the studio machines bully you into making generic films and keep masterminding these wildly pop culture-fueled and gooey comedy/action hybrids that stand out way head of any kind of a crowd. Besides, as I made mention in my review, Baby Driver is easily my favorite movie of this summer and possibly of 2017.
Loser – Tom Cruise
Congratulations, Tom Cruise. Not only is the production on Mission Impossible 6 delayed because you demand you do your own stunts – you broke your ankle yourself buddy boy, can’t blame no one but yourself – but your ego cost a movie a healthy return. Bad enough that the trailers for The Mummy painted the reboot as anemic and avoidable, but somehow the reboot earned $327.7 million overseas but just $80.1 million here at home. There’s little doubt Cruise still has some drawing power in foreign markets but here in the United States, audiences seem a bit tired of his same-stuff, different-day films. Run towards the camera, perform a audacious stunt, run towards the camera, fight scene, rinse, repeat. Oh, Tom. We’ll never know what was planned for this reboot either, as Cruise reportedly had the last word creatively behind the scenes. So, a movie about a mummy ended up being a movie about Tom Cruise. Aye. Maybe Xenu can assist in recapturing your box office glory days?
Loser – Luc Besson
I refuse to waste a lot of writing time on a hailed director who trashes other movies because he can’t admire the charm about them. (James Cameron, you’re on the list now too.) But let’s take a quick moment to acknowledge the box office disaster known as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Besson spent decades trying to perfect a way to lens the French comic book and breathe life into the panels. Unfortunately, even a slick trailer serenaded by Because (a daydream-ish song by The Beatles) could save his sinking ship. Produced on a whopping $176 million budget, most of which was financed by upstart STX Entertainment themselves, the science fiction opus could only manage $39.4 million here in the States. The film is somewhat of a hit across the pond, adding another $93.4 million. Maybe next time before you go calling the kettle black, the pot should evaluate its claims first. Thanks to Besson, STX’s stock value nearly derailed too. Luckily, they managed to avoid total failure.
Winner – Atomic Blonde
Somehow, despite a tepid start at the domestic box office, Charlize Theron’s dream project has actually wound up becoming a quiet hit for Focus Features/Universal. David Leitch’s spy thriller has actually accumulated $80.39 million since the film’s release back on July 28th. Atomic Blonde has grossed $49 million Stateside and just $31.9 million across the pond. However, with a scant $30 million production budget, this summer surprise actually captured a target audience. While I had my own issues with the film – more about the pacing and plot, far less about Theron taking charge – Atomic Blonde actually has warmed on me quite a bit. And before you ask why I consider this a winner, let me answer that one for you. The marketing billed this in the same vein of 2014’s John Wick. Two tough cookies who dish out senseless violence, two actors who do virtually all of their own stunt work, two directors who worked together on John Wick. (Literally. They co-directed the action opus.) However, Atomic Blonde bested John Wick‘s $43 mil domestic haul. Though I doubt we’ve seen the start of a new franchise (technically the Cold War-set thriller didn’t exactly blow the doors off of theaters), for a passion project the film performed quite admirably. Kudos to Theron who, for five years, spent her spare time developing Atomic Blonde and not giving up on her vision.
Bonus Points – Netflix and The Hitman’s Bodyguard
This is the kind of schlocky movie released in the doldrums of the summertime, just when all hope seems lost. The Patrick Hughes-helmed movie has grossed all of its $39.6 million worldwide here in the United States – and that’s because the Millennium Films production is actually streaming on Netflix worldwide! Little did I know that, when I wasn’t able to watch it opening weekend (and I kicked and screamed like an angry child in a toy store – temper tantrum and all), that I would be able to find it quite easily. Okay, I live in southeastern Pennsylvania, so I may have discovered all of this by accident via Showbox. My bad. Still, overseas the film was released strictly on Netflix whereas here in the United States the film launched nationwide. Sure, the Ryan Reynolds/Samuel L. Jackson action comedy has been atop the box office for two straight cumbersome weekends but audiences are clearly loving what Reynolds is offering these days. All box office receipts from this point onward are nothing but positive bank for both Netflix’s investment and Millennium/Summit’s production cost so, congratulations! The little film whose trailer lit up YouTube is actually proving to be one of the safest, cheapest victories at the summer box office this year.
Biggest Loser – Hollywood
For the first time in years, the summer box office didn’t actually take off full steam ahead. Instead, the box office tried to play catch up. Oh, and totally failed. This summer movies grossed a combined $3.52 billion this summer against $4.45 billion the year before in 2016, down a sharp 20.6 percent. Granted, last summer’s overall take was down a whole -.02 percent, which I would liken to grabbing my large popcorn and dropping a few kernels onto the floor. This past weekend at the box office (August 25 to 27) the top ten grossed a meager $66.9 million, the lowest weekend haul in 16 years. Part of the top ten? The Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor fight in ninth place with $2.4 million, which screened in select theaters nationwide. Oof. Audiences are tired of the same movies, the same franchises, the same shenanigans. Transformers missed the mark and grossly under-performed at the domestic box office. Pirates of the Caribbean too. I mean, I could go on all day long but, with Netflix purchasing film distribution rights and now Amazon entering the crowded space, what did theater owners believe would happen? Everyone would be happy? Clearly audiences are rebelling and waiting for home video to see movies. On the flip side, per a fascinating column by Forbes, this summer saw smaller hits but fewer bombs. And, while I agree with that, maybe if studios were focused on quality over quantity, there wouldn’t be small hits. There’d be mega hits.
Still – only eleven films this summer have grossed the $100 million milestone at the domestic box office. That’s embarrassing. Movies that should crossed the finish line were forced to attempt to recover production costs overseas, where most studios place their trust these days. Maybe American audiences are just fickle. Maybe they’re worn out with franchise fatigue, if that’s an actual feeling anyway. Regardless, studios need to step up their game. Take notes from the real winners this summer. Movie fans crave freshness. Originality. Fun. Stop trying to milk your golden geese or cows or what have you. Just give us something fun, c’mon already. Besides, my real question now lies on this fall. Will Blade Runner 2049 be a winner? Can Thor: Ragnorak buck the trend of poorly performing Thor installments? Is Justice League the real deal? But, finally, just how much will Star Wars: The Last Jedi earn? Until next time Fan Fest fam you keep reading them, I’ll keep writing them, and I’ll save you the agony of watching the most unwatchable films in theaters and home video.
[All figures are brought to you by the tireless efforts of BoxOfficeMojo.]