Summer Box-Office Revenue Hits $4.48B Against the Odds: "It's Tough Out There"

Hollywood's sequel strategy often backfired, but domestic revenue ended in a virtual dead heat with 2015's near-record $4.48 billion. "You're seeing a widening out of the haves and have-nots," says one analyst.

Mixed messages abounded at the 2016 summer box office.

Domestic box-office revenue for the season clocked in at $4.483 billion, virtually on par with summer 2015's near-record $4.484 billion and the second-best showing ever behind 2013's $4.75 billion, according to comScore. And 2015 had the advantage of an extra week, since the first Friday in May, the official start of the summer box office, fell on May 1 versus May 6 this time around. 

Many had hoped this year could beat 2015, but a slew of misses got in the way. Moviegoers feasted on sequels but, in many instances, halfheartedly embraced or outright snubbed franchise installments, remakes and reboots. R-rated comedies flopped one after another, then Bad Moms hit $100 million. Family films ruled, but Steven Spielberg's kid-friendly The BFG bombed big-time. What's a nervous studio chief to take away from this summer?

"It's tough out there. I don't think the competition for people's time and attention has ever been more intense," says Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, who knows all about hits — and misses.

The summer's two biggest revenue drivers were both from Disney: Marvel's Captain America: Civil War, the only summer title to cross $1 billion on its way to earning $1.15 billion worldwide, and Finding Dory, from Pixar. Dory has earned $945.1 million to date, but will soon be inducted into the billion-dollar club as well, considering it still has a number of major markets in which to open. And in North America, Dory out-swam Civil War to rank as the summer's top earner ($482.9 million versus $408 million).

Other top revenue drivers were Universal/Illumination Entertainment's The Secret Life of Pets ($766.9 million to date) and Warner Bros.' much-debated Suicide Squad, which has grossed $678.2 million to date worldwide and will help deliver a record August in North America.

"The summer turned out better than I thought it would," admits BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield. "But you're seeing a widening out of the haves and have-nots. What's happening now is that a few mega-blockbusters are driving the overall box office."

Another reason summer 2016 managed to end up OK: A slew of horror titles overperformed. The genre made a comeback in a major way, led by New Line/Warner Bros. pics The Conjuring 2 ($319.5 million) and Lights Out ($126.1 million), Universal's The Purge: Election Year ($105.6 million), Sony's The Shallows ($93.3 million) and Sony/Screen Gems' Don't Breathe, which has earned an impressive $55.1 million domestically in its first 10 days.

And while such R-rated comedies as Neighbors 2 (Universal), Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (Fox) and The Nice Guys (Warner Bros.) failed to find audiences, STX Entertainment's Bad Moms was joined by Sony/Annapurna Pictures' animated Sausage Party as highly profitable.

Among studios, Disney must be declared the winner of summer 2016 (just as it won the winter with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the spring with The Jungle Book and Zootopia). It dominated in market share with an estimated $2.62 billion globally, but it wasn't immune to major flops. Alice Through the Looking Glass, the follow-up to 2010's $1 billion-plus hit Alice in Wonderland, failed with $295.1 million globally. And The BFG, which grossed a shocking $160.8 million worldwide, will go down as one of the biggest misses of Spielberg's career.

Other major titles that will lose tens of millions include MGM and Paramount's Ben-Hur update, Sony's Ghostbusters reboot and Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel. Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore says many of the summer's failures could be a matter of bad reviews or, rather, aggregated scores. "Ben-Hur had a 22 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. Critics definitely compared it negatively to the classic 1959 film," he says. "This was definitely a tough summer for remakes and sequels."

Among the six major Hollywood studios, Paramount fell to last place in market share. Its summer films have collected an estimated $611 million to date, including $283 million in North America. The verdict still is out on Star Trek Beyond, since it has only just opened in China, but it is pacing behind the last film in the series.

Warner Bros. greatly improved its standing over summer 2015, and ranks second in market share with an estimated $1.92 billion, including $867 domestically. Last summer, the studio ranked No. 3 with $1.35 billion globally, including $606 million domestically.

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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