Fantasy was kind to Paramount Pictures this summer. With the help of a green ogre and his equally chartreuse wife as well as an army of battling alien robots, the Melrose Avenue studio underwent a reversal of fortune.
Last summer, Paramount, in the midst of an executive makeover, was relegated to the middle of the pack in terms of studio market share, placing fourth overall. Its top-grossing film was DreamWorks Animation’s “Over the Hedge,” which collected $155 million.
But this summer, Paramount shot to the top of the pack, taking a commanding lead by selling $727.3 million worth of tickets at the boxoffice. With DWA’s “Shrek the Third” (the second-highest-grossing film of the summer with $320.7 million) and the DreamWorks/Paramount co-production “Transformers” (third overall with $310.6 million), Paramount was the only studio with two $300 million-plus winners, which handily put it in the lead.
Universal Pictures also experienced something of a boxoffice resurgence — even if its pricey comedy “Evan Almighty” came up short. Universal moved from sixth to second in the market-share race, and it did it the hard way: It fielded no $300 million megahits, but by summer’s end, its critically applauded spy saga “The Bourne Ultimatum” inched beyond the $200 million line, and it sported two solid $100 million-plus movies in the comedies “Knocked Up” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.”
Even though Walt Disney Studios took a carbon-copy approach to summer ’07, again releasing a new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie as well as an animated feature from Pixar Animation Studios, its boxoffice tally was about $200 million less than the previous summer as it slipped from first to third in market share. The reason was simple: “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” ($308.7 million) just wasn’t as buoyant as “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (which had grossed $414 million by the end of last summer), and “Ratatouille” ($201.2 million), though the critics’ darling, didn’t prove as much of a high-octane boxoffice draw as “Cars” ($242 million).
Warner Bros. Pictures, on the other hand, improved its standing, moving from fifth last summer to fourth this time around because its featured tentpoles stood higher than those it erected in 2006. Last year, its “Superman Returns,” stood just below the $200 million mark as the season came to an end, while such titles as “Poseidon” and “Lady in the Water” tanked. This summer, Warners had a lot more luck with its fifth Harry Potter movie, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” ($286.8 million) — only the second film in the franchise to be released during the summer months — as well as “Ocean’s Thirteen,” which took in $117 million domestically.
Leading off the summer with the record-setting “Spider-Man 3” (the summer’s top-grossing movie with $336.5 million), Sony Pictures started strong. But it suffered through a string of underperformers until the August release of the teen comedy “Superbad,” which is on its way to crossing into $100 million territory. Still, Sony couldn’t match last summer — when its “The Da Vinci Code” unlocked $217.5 million and the comedies “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Click” each posted numbers in the $100 million range — and so the Culver City-based studio slipped from second to fifth in the market-share standings.
Similarly, 20th Century Fox couldn’t match its 2006 winnings, when its biggest film, “X-Men: The Last Stand,” grossed $234.3 million. This summer, the studio’s most popular title was “The Simpsons Movie,” which has collected $178.5 million. But Fox could lay claim to two more films in the $100 million-plus fraternity, “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” as it downshifted from third to sixth place overall.
In terms of market-share ranking, New Line Cinema might not have significantly improved its position; it was eighth last summer but moved to seventh this year. But its batting average improved dramatically. Last summer, New Line went to bat three times, but its top-grossing movie, “Snakes on a Plane,” grossed just $31.6 million. This summer, it released only two movies, but “Hairspray” and “Rush Hour 3” both hit it into the $100 million stands, and as a result the studio’s cumulative ticket sales increased by nearly $190 million.
Although again at the bottom of the pack, MGM, which is more of a distributor than a producer these days, also saw its overall performance improve. Last summer, the studio’s biggest-grossing release, “Clerks II,” attracted $24 million. This summer, MGM distributed two horror hits for the Weinstein Co. — the PG-13 “1408” ($71.1 million) and the Labor Day weekend breakout opener “Halloween” — that scared up significantly more business.
Par revels in a dreamy summer
Films tracked: 8 | Summer total: $727.3 mil | Market share: 17.4%
For all the sibling rivalries that have broken out between Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks since the Viacom-owned Paramount acquired DreamWorks in late 2005, the reconstituted Melrose Avenue studio emerged as the summer market-share leader. It’s familiar territory for DreamWorks, which bested the surrounding studios in 2004 (thanks to “Shrek 2”) and in 2000 (with a boost from “Gladiator”). But it’s new territory for Paramount, which during the past decade rose no higher than third — once in 1998 and again in 2005.
Of course, the Paramount team, led by chairman Brad Grey and production president Brad Weston, depended heavily on DreamWorks forces, under CEO Stacey Snider and production head Adam Goodman, to scale the mountain. DreamWorks and Paramount joined forces to co-produce “Transformers,” one of four films this summer to cross the $300 million mark. (That pact actually took place before Paramount’s acquisition of DreamWorks.) Michael Bay’s battling robots dominated the Fourth of July weekend. Additionally, DreamWorks’ March comedy “Blades of Glory” and April teen thriller “Disturbia” contributed additional coin as their runs played out in May.
Paramount’s market share also benefited from “Shrek the Third,” which banked more than $320 million to become the summer’s second-highest-grossing film. Produced by the publicly owned DreamWorks Animation, the film was released through Paramount, which takes home an 8% distribution fee.
Bourne-again Uni shifts into gear
Films tracked: 7 | Summer total: $609.5 mil | Market share: 14.6%
Universal Pictures achieved its second-place ranking in the market-share race the hard way. The studio, under the leadership of chairman Marc Shmuger and co-chairman David Linde, didn’t field any of the season’s $300 million-grossing behemoths. But it scored solid results with a trio of veritable brand names: fictional spy Jason Bourne, comedy cleanup hitter Adam Sandler and Hollywood’s new king of raunch, producer-director Judd Apatow.
Paul Greengrass’ propulsively paced “The Bourne Ultimatum,” starring Matt Damon, was one of those rare things this summer — with $202.8 million in its domestic account, it was a threequel that managed to outgross its two predecessors. While Sandler’s “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” waded into the culturally contentious issue of gay marriage, its mainstream instincts won over audiences. Having grossed $116.6 million, it’s the eighth Sandler comedy to crest $100 million.
Apatow’s “Knocked Up” was the summer’s long-distance runner. The comedy about an unplanned pregnancy, starring Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen, never commanded the top spot at the boxoffice, but with minimal declines, it held on from week to week until it grossed $148.2 million.
The studio’s major misstep was attempting to spin off the R-rated 2003 hit “Bruce Almighty” into the PG-13 sequel “Evan Almighty,” starring Steve Carell. Try as it might, the expensive, $175 million movie stalled just short of the $100 million mark.
A Disney repeat: Pirates and ‘toon
Films tracked: 19 | Summer total: $583.7 mil | Market share: 14%
At Walt Disney Studios, which is phasing out the Buena Vista moniker that used to accompany its releases to the marketplace, summer 2007 smacked of deja vu. The Burbank-based studio, headed by chairman Dick Cook and production president Oren Aviv, again depended heavily on a gang of pirates and a new gang of animated characters from Pixar Animation Studios.
Gore Verbinksi’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” — following the last “Pirates” movie, “Dead Man’s Chest,” by less than a year — predictably triggered a boxoffice tidal wave during the Memorial Day weekend. With producer Jerry Bruckheimer reuniting all the familiar faces, led by Johnny Depp, while also making room for new players like Chow Yun-Fat, the movie commanded $308.7 million to become the season’s fourth-highest grosser — though it didn’t come close to equaling the most successful film in the series, “Dead Man’s Chest,” which unearthed $423.3 million domestically.
Brad Bird’s food-obsessed animated fantasy “Ratatouille,” however, was a bit of a tougher sell. Although it was greeted by some of the best reviews of the summer, the Pixar tale of a rat with a taste for the good life wasn’t quite as cute and cuddly as previous Pixar offerings. By summer’s end, its gross hovered slightly above the $200 million mark; by contrast, last summer’s Pixar film, “Cars,” grossed $244 million.
Having hit two-for-two, Disney chose not to flood the market with product. In August, it sent out the live-action “Underdog” with modest expectations.
‘Harry’ magic does trick for Warners
Films tracked: 14 | Summer total: $547.2 mil | Market share: 13.1%
At Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Entertainment president Alan Horn and production president Jeff Robinov showed a knack for turning out winning sequels, but the studio’s original titles were more problematic.
The “Harry Potter” franchise, taking to the screen for the fifth time, showed no signs of slowing. With new director David Yates at the helm, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” became the third-highest-grossing film in the series. With a boost from Imax theaters, where the showdown between Dumbledore’s Army and Lord Voldemort was projected in 3-D, “Phoenix” grossed $286.8 million, just behind “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” ($290 million) and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” ($317.6 million).
“Ocean’s Thirteen,” which saw George Clooney and his crew return to the Las Vegas setting of 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” was applauded for recapturing the spirit of director Steven Soderbergh’s first outing. Commercially, though, the film found itself in the shadow of the previous two, with “Thirteen” grossing $117 million, while “Eleven” took in $183.4 million domestically and “Twelve” rang up $124.5 million.
Warners deserves points for attempting a number of counterprogramming maneuvers: It tried, unsuccessfully, to seduce female moviegoers with films as varied as the Vegas-set drama “Lucky You,” the tween-appealing “Nancy Drew,” the wacky comedy “License to Wed” and the more traditional romantic comedy “No Reservations.”
Spidey kicks off season for Sony
Films tracked: 8 | Summer total: $515.1 mil | Market share: 12.4%
Sony Pictures bookended the summer with two movies, the high-flying “Spider-Man 3” and the low-down “Superbad” that distinguished themselves by each holding on to the top spot in the weekend listings for two frames in a row.
“Spider-Man 3,” with Sam Raimi again directing the super-hero face-offs, kicked off the summer in high style. In May, the movie grabbed the title of biggest opening weekend of all time — $151.1 million — away from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” which established the $135.6 million bar last summer. Fighting off competition later in the month from “Shrek the Third” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” “Spider-Man 3” swung to $336.5 million to become the summer’s top-grossing movie, though it fell short of the original “Spider-Man’s” $403.7 million and “Spider-Man 2’s” $373.6 million.
In mid-August, the studio, led by Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal, staged a final surge when “Superbad,” the Judd Apatow-produced ode to teenage hormones, opened to an unexpectedly strong $33 million and then grossed $92.7 million by the end of the Labor Day weekend.
In between the two movies, though, Sony rested. The animated penguins movie “Surf’s Up,” from the studio’s own Sony Animation, was a major disappointment, stalling at $58.9 million. “I Know Who Killed Me,” and “Daddy Day Camp” simply made a pit stop at theaters on the way to the DVD rack.
Homer moves to big screen for Fox
Films tracked: 9 | Summer total: $480.7 mil | Market share: 11.5%
20th Century Fox made a virtue of recycling this summer. It turned an 18-year-old TV series into a big-screen, animated blowout. And it concentrated on sequels, reviving one of its storied franchises after eight years on the shelf.
Preceded by arguably the most inventive marketing campaign of the summer, which saw a dozen 7-Eleven’s across North America transformed into Kwik-E-Marts, “The Simpsons Movie” rewarded a longtime fanbase that responded with a $74 million opening. Demonstrating that 2-D animation still can compete with flashier 3-D projects, the movie eventually grossed $178.5 million domestically.
The Fox team — co-chairmen Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos and president Hutch Parker — also dusted off “Die Hard,” which first exploded in theaters in 1988. With Bruce Willis returning as beleaguered Detective John McClane, this time facing Internet terrorists, “Live Free or Die Hard” traded in R-rated expletives for PG-13 action and found a receptive audience. Its $133.6 million domestic haul was a new high for the series, whose previous peak had been “Die Hard 2’s” $117.5 million in 1990.
The results weren’t quite so upbeat for “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” arriving just two years after the original “Fantastic Four.” Where the original grossed $154.7 million, the sequel checked in with $131.6 million. And the apocalyptic “28 Weeks Later,” with $28.6 million, failed to equal 2003’s specialty films hit “28 Days Later,” which collected $45.1 million.
New Line revives with proven titles
Films tracked: 4 | Summer total: $254.0 mil | Market share: 6.1%
New Line Cinema virtually sat out summer 2006, when its top film, the infamous “Snakes on a Plane,” grossed just $34 million. But this season, the studio, overseen by co-chairmen and co-CEOs Bob Shaye and Michael Lynn, lurched back to life.
The company’s long-standing involvement with John Waters — it released his “Pink Flamingos” in 1972 — paid off in a big way: Waters’ 1988 “Hairspray” begat the 2002 Broadway musical (which New Line was involved in producing), which then bounced back to the big screen as a new, candy