Summer box office curves upward

  • Film-Review-Avengers-Infinity-War

    Josh Brolin's Thanos dominated the galaxy and the summer box office in 'Avengers: Infinity War.'

    Marvel Studios

  • As the film season known for being loud and action-packed, 2018’s summer of movies has been quiet and mostly dull.

    A Star Wars film disappeared from most theaters in less than 45 days, Melissa McCarthy headlined a pair of comedy misfires (Life of the Party, The Happyland Murders), and the Rock sank not just once (Skyscraper), but twice, if one considers the giant-monster flick Rampage, which opened April 13, to be an early summer release. And why not, since Avengers: Infinity War opened the summer two weeks later?

    The good news for Hollywood is that this year's summer box office revenue is up significantly from last year's: $4.23 billion and counting to $3.7 billion. More importantly, the increase ensures that 2017’s dramatic slip in numbers, a 14 percent decline from 2016, wasn’t the beginning of a trend, though it’s not an aberration, either. Year-over-year summer box-office declines are becoming a pattern, with 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2017 as down years. (All numbers are from

    BLADE BRIEFING: Kirk Baird on summer films

    What was particularly troubling about 2017 wasn’t so much that it was down, but by how much it was down — 14.2 percent from the summer before. (For the record: 2014 was even worse in its year-over-year summer performance from 2013, down 14.4 percent).

    So clearly the film studios learned their lessons from last year and made those changes necessary to win back movie-goers, right?

    Well, not necessarily, particularly in this age of the mega franchise. In fact, there are enough similarities in the big releases for both summers to suggest that the Hollywood film calendar is based on routine if not formula.

    The top 15 films at the box office for 2018 and 2017 each featured 11 movies that were/are either sequels or the latest installments in a franchise. Both summers included a trio of live-action superhero films, one sci-fi/space adventure (Solo this year and Alien: Covenant in 2017), and one non-Pixar animated film in the top 10: 2018’s Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation and 2017’s Despicable Me 3.

    There are differences: 2017 featured a prestigious war film-turned blockbuster by an acclaimed director, and this year we have the mid-August surprise hit Crazy Rich Asians, a charming romantic comedy that reminded audiences of — if not introduce them to — the sex appeal of Asians onscreen, like the cropped camera shot that fixates on the chiseled torso of actor Pierre Png as he emerges from a shower).

    Critics were equally favorable, too. On the film review aggregate site, 11 of the top 15 box-office hits in 2017 and 2018 received a “fresh” rating.

    Perhaps film audiences are an unpredictable and fickle lot whose choices in big-screen movies are a slightly more thoughtful process than their choices in house-cleaning attire.

    Actually, that’s not necessarily accurate, either.

    In addition to offering a film’s overall favorable standing with critics with its “Tomatometer,” Rotten Tomatoes features an “Audience Score,” which is “the percentage of users who have rated this movie 3.5 stars or higher.”

    The average audience score for the top 15 films for this summer is 74.

    The average audience score for the top 15 films last summer is 68.

    Both numbers reflect an audience approval that is above Rotten Tomatoes’ fresh-rotten threshold of 60 percent or more positive to be considered fresh. But if this were high school, summer 2018 would graduate having eked out a D, while 2017, having failed, will spend its summer in summer school. (I say this not from personal experience, I assure you.)

    Also, using CinemaScore’s audience polling results for the top 15 films for both summers finds an overall audience score of 95.3 for 2018 and 92.6 for 2017. If those were grades in a Toledo Public School class, student 2018 would have an A. Student 2017 could have an A as well, depending if the teacher would round up that 92.6 to a 93. (Again, I don’t speak from personal experience.)

    So what does this really mean? Well, that audiences are consistent in their tastes, that they give high marks to almost everything Hollywood does, and that an A is not always an A. (That, I can say, I do speak from personal experience.)

    Contact Kirk Baird at: or 419-724-6734.