The story of this year's summer movie season is being written as studios spending big money on big flops — White House Down went down, RIP RIPD, Lone Ranger... was Lone Ranger — but after looking at the actual numbers, that narrative may need re-writing.
Variety's Andrew Stewart reported yesterday that summer 2013 is being deemed the best ever for the domestic box office. Meanwhile, Todd Cunningham at The Wrap wrote that in between now and Labor Day, the box office is relying on smaller films like Lee Daniels' The Butler and Kick Ass 2 to push the box office over the current record, set in summer 2011. The current box office is hovering around $4 billion and is doing 12 percent better than last year. "None of the movies debuting in the two weeks after that have blockbuster budgets or aspirations either, but if most can perform as expected — or even just a little better — this will be Hollywood's biggest box-office summer ever," Cunningham wrote.
So if things are looking up, why did this summer seem so depressing? Well, because there were a few high-profile duds, failures like the punching bag known as The Lone Ranger and Will Smith's father-son catastrophe After Earth, in addition to lesser disappointments like Elysium and The Wolverine. But Lucas Shaw at The Wrap reported that the ratio of failures to successes isn't that different from years past. "Given the large number of releases, I don’t see this summer behaving any differently than any other summer," Screen Engine CEO Kevin Goetz told Shaw. And it wasn't like the box office was entirely buoyed by surprise hits like Now You See Me and The Purge. According to Cunningham, the top three films—Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Despicable Me 2—made up more than $1 billion of the box office all by their lonesome.
So was it — after all of that — actually a successful summer? Well, per Shaw, it depends on how you define success. "Optimists note that the box office is on pace for record grosses -- and that fans are embracing Hollywood's expensive event films," he wrote. "Pessimists say the records are empty because tickets are more expensive and sales remain flat."
Whatever your perspective, we'll still have The Lone Ranger to make fun of. No one can take that from us.