Words like disappointing, dismal and other disparaging words beginning with the letter “d” have been used to describe the summer’s box office yield.
In movieland the summer season is defined as the first Friday in May through Labor Day Weekend, a period that saw revenues fall to an eight year low, down 15% from 2013.
There were some very big hits, like Guardians of the Galaxy and Transformers: Age of Extinction, but even their multi-million dollar grosses weren’t enough to compete with last year’s $4.75 billion overall take.
“We’ve seen this before,” says Michael Kennedy, Executive Vice President, Filmed Entertainment at Cineplex. “Right now everybody’s binging. After a while they will get tired of binge watching TV and say, ‘I’m really tired of being in my house. I want to go out.’”
Kennedy adds that the summer slump could also be attributed to several high profile absences.
“Pixar was originally scheduled to go in the summer with a film that got moved back and Fast and Furious was supposed to go but after Paul Walker’s accident they moved the movie back and nobody replaced it. One or two movies move and millions disappear.”
So how does it work? How do studios and distributors determine a release schedule? Mongrel Media’s Director of Marketing Danish Vahidy says studios put “down the tent pole for flagship properties one, two or sometimes three years in advance. With the success of sequels studios feel more secure planning in advance for franchises rather than an unknown entity.”
That means the wannabe blockbusters from this summer, the X-Men, Godzilla and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles et al, probably had release dates attached to them before Prince William walked Catherine Middleton down the aisle at Westminster Abbey.
Kennedy says counterprogramming is one of the keys. “They look at what everybody else does and if they see a Fast and Furious sitting on the second week of July and they have an action movie, they’re staying away from that weekend.”
Mongrel Media took a risk and counterprogrammed a movie that went on to become one of their biggest hits of the summer. “Boyhood was released in July as the summertime nicely captured the notion of childhood set in the film,” Vahidy says. “It was also a great way to counter program with the Hollywood blockbusters and offer movie goers a smart original film as an option.” The critically acclaimed film was aimed at a different audience than the other two big releases that week, Disney’s kid friendly Planes and the raunchy Cameron Diaz comedy Sex Tape. “That move paid off for us as Boyhood is one of our most successful releases ever with a theatrical box-office of over $2.3 million in Canada and growing.”
So why didn’t it work for the big releases this summer? Suggested reasons for the downturn range from a lack of family movies, which traditionally pull in big numbers, too many sequels and superhero movies and even divided attention from the World Cup.
Kennedy adds one more reason. “Everybody has busy lives,” he says. “The one thing we’ve always found is that people always come back. It’s not the price of the movie ticket or the popcorn, it’s putting aside the time to go. People want to go out and we offer the most affordable out-of-home experience there is.”