“Summer Box Office Pileup: What Each Studio Has at Stake”

May 28th, 2013 by

Now that summer has begun in earnest, let’s turn our attention to the plight of the major Hollywood studios. And “plight” is an apt description because May-August [typically 122 days long] can account for up to 40% of box office revenues. Which is to say there is a lot riding on how summer movies perform in theaters.

Early indications are this could be a strong summer. May is on its way to breaking its all-time record. But that momentum can change in one weekend depending on if a movie or two fail to connect with audiences.

Here is a list of the key movies from the major studios with current B.O. for the handful that have already been released, both domestic and international:

20th Century Fox

May 24: Epic [$42.6M / 42.9M = $85.5M]
June 17: The Internship
Jun 28: The Heat
July 17: Turbo
July 26: The Wolverine
August 7: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

May 3: Iron Man 3 [$372.4M / $774.8M = $1,147B]
June 21: Monsters University
July 3: The Lone Ranger
August 9: Planes

May 16: Star Trek Into Darkness [$155.8M / $102.1M = $257.9M]
June 21: World War Z

May 24: Fast and Furious 6 [$120M / $197M = $317M]
June 7: The Purge
July 3: Despicable Me 2
July 19: R.I.P.D.
August 2: 2 Guns
August 16: Kick Ass 2

Warner Bros.
May 10: The Great Gatsby [$117.7M / $85.6M = $203.3M]
May 23: The Hangover 3 [$63M / $19.2M = $82.2M]
June 14: Man of Steel
July 12: Pacific Rim
July 19: The Conjuring
August 19: We’re the Millers
August 30: Getaway

Why is this information important for a screenwriter?

1. The financial well-being of major studios is a primary component of the health of the literary acquisition and development market [specifically] and the movie business [generally].

2. Trends emerge which we would be well-advised to pay attention to. For example, normally there are 2-3 animated movies per summer. This year: 6. Is that too much or will they all succeed? If the latter, that could mean more opportunities for writers who focus on animation. Also the record-breaking opening of Fast and Furious 6 has been fueled in large part by the Hispanic audience, representing 32% of tickets sold, compared to that group comprising just 17% of U.S. population. Could this be a factor to consider in how we cast our stories, where we set them, and what type of genres we target?

3. The major studios are in effect our ‘customers’. So it makes sense to understand how they are doing. What types of movies are they releasing? How are those movies doing at the box office? How will the performance of those individual titles affect their acquisition dollars? Right now, for example, there is considerable discussion in Hollywood about how to approach the comedy genre. Some are working [Identity Thief], some aren’t [Big Wedding]. Why? Why not? If you’re writing comedies, you want to pay attention to how The Heat and We’re the Millers do this summer.

These are just a few of the reasons for tracking box office. What trends do you see at work this summer?

For a breakdown of the summer movie slate, THR has a good article here.

6 thoughts on ““Summer Box Office Pileup: What Each Studio Has at Stake”

  1. rojomayne says:

    Thanks for this. It’s great to see it itemized and aggregated like this. Really gets down to the nuts and bolts of what the studios want to invest in. It really is a big help as a screenwriter to see want movies each studio banks on in one of their biggest quarters of the sales year.

    Sales shouldn’t wholly dictate or rudder your imagination as a writer, but it can help polish and prioritize your ideas and concepts. Knowing this info can help you select your best ideas to submit to legit competitions, like The Quest for example :) at least that’s the way I’m receiving it! Thanks again Scott and Wendy!

    1. Scott says:

      “Sales shouldn’t wholly dictate or rudder your imagination as a writer, but it can help polish and prioritize your ideas and concepts.”

      There is no secret formula to success as a screenwriter. And each writer must discover their own way into and through the morass. With two broad paths — give them what they want or sell them your dream — we have options.

      What I’m saying is what you’re saying. We don’t write in a vacuum, rather we are the sellers and they are the buyers. And they have agendas, strategies, and bottom lines.

      Some writers can flourish in writing to the market. Others can’t. It’s important to know where your instincts and capabilities lie. Of course, those can change over time, witness any number of writers and directors who started out doing indie movies, them moved into mainstream filmmaking.

      In general, I believe, the more you know, the better off you are.

      But once you’ve locked on a story to write, go nuts and be creative. Set aside box office considerations — after you’ve developed the story to the point you’re ready to type FADE IN — and let your freak flag fly [as Jimi Hendrix might have put it].

      Thanks for that observation, rojomayne. An apt one.

  2. Despina says:

    Yay! Numbers! I’ll echo @rojomayne’s sentiment in thanking you for breaking it down like this and how it helps focus what’s selling and actually getting made. Very interesting.

  3. TheQuietAct says:

    Thanks for this Scott.
    I’m assuming the figures above are the week on week figures?
    It’s interesting that Iron Man 3’s figures seem to leap upwards in the second week, bucking a general trend of dropping in the second week.
    Likewise Fast and the Furious 6 had a pick up in week two, which makes me think should I be running out the door to see both of these and why? Is it word of mouth, is it the date of release? Are they simply great films that are must go sees?
    Or is it simply that Robert Downey Junior is as charming as ever?

    1. Scott says:

      TQA, the numbers are actually domestic gross to date / international gross to date. Look at that figure for Iron Man. Compare to STID. Granted the latter has not opened in as many foreign markets as IM3, but suggests Star Trek has more limited appeal worldwide than Avengers.

      1. TheQuietAct says:

        Oops I completely misinterpreted that, just as well I’m not in charge of marketing or budgets.
        Just goes to show as well that your domestic market is still pretty huge. But if a film appeals to international markets it’s really onto a winner.

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