Hollywood owes a big debt of gratitude to a group of oddball galactic heroes and karate-trained turtles.
North American box office revenue for August is up a whopping 17.6 percent so far thanks to the stellar performance of Disney and Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy, followed by Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The two films have helped to narrow an unprecedented 20 percent year-over-year deficit at the summer box office to 15.3 percent. However, that gap isn’t likely to close much by Labor Day, making for the biggest year-over-year decline in at least three decades, if not more.
Revenue from May 2 through Aug. 17 stands at $3.699 billion, compared to $4.367 for the same period in 2014, according to Rentrak. As a result, revenue for the full year is down by more than 5 percent.
It’s unclear whether 2014 summer revenue can cross $4 billion. Even if it does, the season could still be headed for an eight-year low. Many believe chances are slim that the final tally can match the $4.14 billion earned in summer 2008 or the $4.16 billion grossed in summer 2007, the first time total ticket sales hit $4 billion.
Last year’s summer total clocked in at a record $4.75 billion, preceded by $4.28 billion in 2012, $4.4 billion in 2011, $4.22 billion in 2010 and $4.33 billion in 2009.
While there have been no Lone Ranger-size debacles, for the first time since 2001 no summer pic will cross $300 million domestically. To date, Paramount’s Transformers: Age of Extinction tops the North American summer chart with $243.3 million, followed by Disney’s Maleficent ($236.8 million) and 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past ($232.5 million).
Guardians, making history by showing that a superhero tentpole can prosper in August, is widely expected to soon overtake Age of Extinction, having already amassed a domestic gross of $222.7 million since its Aug. 1 release.
Like Guardians, TMNT has also overperformed since its Aug. 8 release, earning $117.6 million domestically in its first 10 days.
“The ups and downs of this summer’s box office truly illustrates the effect that just one or two movies can have on the overall health of the industry,” says Rentrak box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “August alone is the comeback kid of the calendar and this year has enabled the summer deficit to be knocked down by almost 5 percent in just three weeks.”
Adds one top studio executive: “All I know is that we were in a big hole, and now that hole isn’t so big anymore.”
International returns remain strong, making up for some of the damage (case in point, Age of Extinction has earned $1.05 billion globally) but in certain cases they aren’t enough. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 topped out at $708.3 million globally, including $202.9 million domestically. That’s notably behind the $757.9 million earned worldwide by The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012.