Box-Office Woes: Age and Gender Gap Helping Fuel Summer Decline

Optimus Sword - H 2014

Optimus Sword - H 2014

The new rule? Women are dependable, while men and younger moviegoers aren't.

This story first appeared in the July 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

For years, Hollywood studios have catered to young males in building their summer slates. But as the demo takes fewer trips to the multiplex, distributors are scrambling amid a 20 percent decline in summer revenue in North America. It's one of the worst year-over-year drops to date, putting increased pressure on global returns.

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According to the MPAA, frequent moviegoers between the ages of 18 and 25 plunged 17 percent in 2013, the largest drop of any age bracket, while those between 12 and 17 fell by 15 percent. Some blame video games, YouTube or a disconnect between studio tastes and what today's kids like. Regardless, in 2007, nearly 65 percent of opening-weekend ticket buyers for Spider-Man 3 were under 25. This summer, only 51 percent of The Amazing Spider-Man 2's initial audience was 25 and under.

Adding to the problem, many male-skewing summer tentpoles are luring fewer females. That's an issue because the women demo is wielding more influence. Moms and girls helped turn Frozen into one of the biggest successes of all time ($1.27 billion), and they have powered Disney's Maleficent to nearly $670 million, including $222 million in North America -- more than any other summer film aside from X-Men: Days of Future Past. Fox's The Fault in Our Stars also mobilized younger girls (82 percent of the opening audience was female; 79 percent was under 25).

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By contrast, females made up only 39 percent of Amazing Spider-Man 2's debut audience, compared with 42 percent for 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man and 46 percent for Spider-Man 3. The same trend applies to Transformers: This summer's Age of Extinction skewed 64 percent male during its first weekend, more than the previous two films, and it played the oldest. While the Paramount pic is doing huge business overseas, it is destined to be the lowest-grossing Transformers in North America. The same is true for Amazing Spider-Man 2, which has topped out at about $705 million worldwide, including a franchise-low $201 million domestically.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which bowed to a stellar $72.6 million domestically, has bucked the trend in playing younger than its predecessor, even as it has skewed more male. During opening weekend, 45 percent of moviegoers were under 25, versus 41 percent for 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Strong reviews helped. Says Rentrak analyst Paul Dergarabedian, "I don't know if the audience is changing, but the movies that have the ability to rise above the noise will stand out."