Summer Box-Office Winners and Losers: From 'Finding Dory' to 'Ben-Hur'

7:00 AM 9/4/2016

by Pamela McClintock

There were major highs and lows at the box office, while the horror genre made a surprising comeback.

Finding Dory Still 2 - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Pixar

Finding Dory Still 2 - Publicity - H 2016

For the second summer in a row, it was a tale of extremes at the worldwide box office.

Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory — both from the Disney empire — ruled overall in terms of sheer gross. They were immune from the sequelitis virus, but many other franchise installments weren't, resulting in a string of pricey misses.

One of the biggest surprises? Horror films, a genre that had lost some of its luster, scared up big money.

Below is a breakdown of the winners and losers of summer 2016. Grosses are through Aug. 31.

  • Winner: Marvel Studios

    Marvel and Disney's Captain America: Civil War is the top-grossing film of the summer with $1.153 billion to date in global ticket sales. Thanks to featuring more of the Avengers team in the movie — along with the new Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland — Civil War came in 61 percent ahead of the last film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($714.4 million). By comparison, Avengers: Age of Ultron, the last film in that series, grossed $1.41 billion.

    Captain America: Civil War is also the No. 1 earner of 2016 so far, and the best-performing superhero film of the year to date. Warner Bros.' DC Entertainment Universe, however, is trying to up its game: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice earned $872.7 million worldwide following its release in late March, while fellow DCEU Suicide Squad has grossed $640.1 million so far (it's still in active release). Elsewhere in superhero land, Fox's summer entry X-Men: Apocalypse has earned $542.9 million, below the $748 million earned by the last film, X-Men: Days of Future Past ($748 million).


  • Winner: Animated Creatures

    Animated tentpoles Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets played a big part in energizing the 2016 summer box office, which suffered a troubling slump in May and June as a number of films underperformed.

    From Pixar and Disney, Finding Dory — the long-awaited sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo — has earned $931 million at the global box office through Aug. 31, and is expected to ultimately land at $1.2 billion, considering it has a number of major markets yet to open. Domestically, it has earned $479.8 million, making it the No. 1 film of the summer and year-to-date in North America. (Civil War follows with $407.9 million). Secret Life of Pets, from Illumination Entertainment and Universal, stands at $726.2 million through Aug. 31. (Like Dory, it isn't done overseas.) The animated movie is the No. 3 film of summer, and also scored the top domestic opening of all time when debuting to $104.4 million over the July 8-10 weekend. A sequel has been set for July 13, 2018.

    There was, however, one major casualty. Ice Age: Collision Course, the fifth title in Fox and Blue Sky Studios' franchise, debuted to a series low $21.4 million in late July on its way to earning $373.3 million. Much of that, or $311.8 million, comes from overseas. The last Ice Age grossed $877.2 million globally, making it safe to say Manny and his crew will likely be put to pasture.

  • Winner: Blake Lively and the Shark

    Very few expected The Shallows, a survival horror adventure starring Blake Lively as a surfer battling a great white shark, to work at the box office. Shark movies don't have the best track record, even though many have tried to recreate the success Steven Spielberg's classic 1975 summer blockbuster Jaws enjoyed.

    From Sony, The Shallows showed plenty of bite. The film has taken in $93.3 million globally, including $54.8 million domestically, after costing just $17 million to make. The survival tale was directed by well-respected Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra, whose credits include Non-Stop and Unknown.

  • Winner: Fed-Up Moms and Hot Dogs

    After a number of titles disappointed, R-rated comedies are an endangered species in Hollywood. But two titles bucking the downturn are summer hits Bad Moms and Sausage Party.

    Over Labor Day weekend, STX Entertainment's Bad Moms crossed the $100 million mark in North America, becoming the first R-rated comedy of the year to achieve the milestone. It's a needed win for the genre, and an even bigger win for STX (it's the young studio's top-grossing film to date, by far). Overseas, the pic has earned another $28 million to date.

    Besides Bad Moms, the other exception is Sony and Annapurna Pictures' R-rated animated adult film Sausage Party, which will finish the Labor Day weekend with north of $90 million domestically, on its way to soon crossing $100 million. The movie is from producing duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

  • Winner: New Line and Horror

    Sony's The Shallows wasn't the only horror film with sharp teeth. The horror genre overall made a huge comeback this summer in a major boost to the bottom line.

    Toby Emmerich's New Line Cinema — which has always been a bastion for horror — saw James Wan's The Conjuring 2 gross $319.5 million at the worldwide box office, including $102.5 million domestically. Overseas, its spiritual themes made it a big hit in Latin America and other Catholic countries, while it also did well in the U.K., where it is set. The Conjuring 2 is the biggest horror hit of the summer, followed by New Line's Lights Out with $126.1 million to date.

    In regards to horror's summer winning streak, both Conjuring 2 and Universal's The Purge: Election Year ($105.6 million) were able to stave off the sequelitis that struck many other follow-ups this summer. And domestically, Election Year, from Platinum Dunes and Blumhouse, was among only a few sequels to outgross its predecessor ($79 million vs. The Purge: Anarchy's $72 million). Don't Breathe, from Sony's Screen Gems and Stage 6 Films, is another summer horror title winning big. It is currently winning the Labor Day weekend race after debuting to a better-than-expected $26.4 million over the Aug. 26-28 weekend.

    Outside of horror, New Line has delivered two other key wins for parent company Warner Bros., which has seen its fortunes improve this summer: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart's comedy Central Intelligence ($212.6 million) and tearjerker Me Before You ($197.3 million.) Warners/New Line partnered with Universal on Central Intelligence, while Me Before You is a New Line/MGM co-production.

  • Loser: Remakes and Reboots

    Where to begin? Fox hoped to revitalize its long-dormant Independence Day franchise, but Roland Emmerich's reboot failed to become a planetary phenomenon on a grand scale like the first film did 20 years ago. One major hurdle: Will Smith, who remains on the short list of major movie stars, decided to sit the sequel out. It remains to be seen whether Resurgence will lose money after grossing $383 million on a $165 million budget.

    The summer's highest-profile remake, of course, was Sony and Village Roadshow's Ghostbusters. Director Paul Feig and Sony insisted from the start it wasn't a sequel, as Insurgence was, but a reimagining of the classic 1984 film featuring all-female leads. Ghostbusters, sporting a net production budget of $144 million, has grossed about $218 million (it's about done with its run). Sony insiders say the movie needed to make $300 million to break even, so it's sure to lose tens of millions.

    When it comes to sequels to more modern properties, this summer was littered with casualties (sequelitis quickly became Hollywood's favorite buzzword, including Universal's Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, which made $107.9 million compared to $270.7 million for 2014's Neighbors.)

  • Loser: Steven Spielberg

    Steven Spielberg's The BFG, based on Roald Dahl's beloved children's book, is one of the lowest-grossing family films of the storied director's career, at least in North America, when accounting for inflation. The movie topped out at $54.4 million domestically, but ended up at $160.4 million globally, thanks to an international haul of $106 million (it did big business in the U.K., Dahl's native country).

    Still, the film, costing $140 million to make, is one of the summer's biggest bombs financially, although the pain will be spread among partners Disney, Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Participant Media. Disney can certainly withstand the hit — along with losses from summer miss Alice Through the Looking Glass — thanks to Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory. And Disney and Spielberg certainly aren't going to break up: The Disney-owned Lucasfilm is plotting another Indiana Jones movie for Spielberg to direct.

  • Loser: Paramount and MGM's 'Ben-Hur'

    After failing to rally faith-based moviegoers and fans of ancient epics, MGM and Paramount's Ben-Hur looks to be the biggest bust of summer 2016 at the global box office.

    Opening in mid-August, the faith-minded reimagining of Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has earned a dismal $42.9 million to date, including $24.3 million domestically, after costing nearly $100 million to make. It has yet to open in a handful of major markets overseas, but Ben-Hur, from director Timur Bekmambetov, could have a hard time crossing $100 million worldwide. Some analysts put the film's loss between $100 million-$200 million, but insiders close to the pic suggest it will be in the $75 million range. MGM will take the biggest hit, since it put up more than 80 percent of the budget and also helped pay for marketing. Summer hit Me Before You is certainly a nice plus for the studio, but Ben-Hur is a major blemish.

    Sources say Paramount's loss from Ben-Hur could be $13 million or more. The studio has had a tough summer overall and has fallen to last in market share among the six majors, prompting parent company Viacom to demand a sit-down with Paramount chairman-CEO Brad Grey. The studio's summer sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which grossed $242.8 million compared to $493.3 million for the previous 2014 effort, resulted in a loss, while the verdict is out on Star Trek Beyond, pending its continued foreign rollout, including China.

  • Loser: Matthew McConaughey

    Matthew McConaughey — once the go-to actor for romantic comedies — revitalized his career when starring in critical indie darlings Mud and Dallas Buyer's Club, the latter of which won him the Oscar. This summer, however, his impressive winning streak suffered a setback with Civil War drama The Free State of Jones. The movie only made $20.8 million in North America, where STX Entertainment handled distribution duties. STX's financial exposure on Free State of Jones might have been minimal, but in the months leading up to the movie's release on June 24, the company certainly touted the film as one of its major summer releases.

    More recently, Gus Van Sant's The Sea of Trees, also starring McConaughey, rolled out in select theaters while simultaneously being made available on VOD. The indie film is making its debut in only a few venus more than a year after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival. A24 is handling domestic distribution duties and opened Sea of Trees in two theaters over the Aug. 26-28 weekend. The movie earned $1,877 for a dismal location average of $939. (The VOD play is no doubt cutting into its theatrical prospects.)

    McConaughey will next be in theaters in Gold on Dec. 25, followed by The Dark Tower on Feb. 17.

  • Loser: Andy Samberg

    Few could believe it when Andy Samberg's R-rated musical mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping bombed at the U.S. box office, taking in a total of $9.5 million. Universal and producer Judd Apatow were convinced Samberg's fan base — he launched his Lonely Island comedy troupe fame as a castmember on Saturday Night Live from 2005-2012 — would turn out in force, but no such luck. Some box-office analysts questioned whether a friendlier PG-rating might have helped.

    Popstar is the summer's lowest-grossing nationwide release from a major Hollywood studio (it never opened overseas).