Summer 2013 Recap: Mainstream Brands, Sequels Surged as Original Content Disappointed


The Summer Movie Season of 2013 officially ended on Labor Day weekend and there was great news for making money, but mixed results for overall quality. Since Iron Man 3 was the first movie to be released, by default, it had an advantage to be the highest grossing movie of the season. It sums up the summer: alot of money with little substance and nothing memorable. When three different critics on this site agree about a movie, we have a conscious.


Let’s break down some statistics via Box Office Mojo: An estimated $4.76 billion money was made during the Summer, the time that begins on the first weekend of May through Labor Day weekend. These numbers are up 11 percent from the year before. This is up eight percent from the previous record (which was 2011’s gross of $4.4 billion). What astounds me was about 583 million tickets were sold during the season. This is the most since the record-breaking year of 2007!


The Well Known Brands Did Well…: No shock: sequels and brands knocked it out of the park from Iron Man 3, Fast & Furious 6, Star Trek Into Darkness were the solid May performers. This is a time of year where moviegoers get excited. The animated Despicable Me 2 and Pixar’s Monsters University had their fans of young ones and adults who were equally excited to attend. Even the front loaded comic book adaptations Man of Steel performed very well as did The Wolverine. World War Z grossed over $500 million globally, which technically makes it a winner, but is open for debate. These movies are the meat and potatoes and bread and butter of the summer season. With these grosses, we are reminded why this is the case. Robust foreign markets added bang to the buck.


…While The Original Movies Struggled: “Original” movies could have done better…or worse. As much as this stings, the best summer blockbuster of 2013, Pacific Rim BARELY grossed $100 million domestically yet performed strongly in Asian markets. This is still a let down (though based on previous material, this was unfamiliar to most audiences). Original sci-fi Elysium and buddy action comedy 2 Guns could have performed higher considering the stars and how they were sold. But there were some bombs: Selena Gomez Getaway, DreamWorks Turbo (too bad, it’s a cute movie), Channing Tatum’s White House Down, the geeky, awkward comedy (or whatever it was) The Internship all drastically underperformed if not bombed! And what the heck was R.I.P.D.? I would argue that The Lone Ranger was a re-sell to audiences, but no one will argue that it didn’t connect with people. An exception to this summer season rule was Now You See Me, which grossed around $120 million and had an unique coalition older moviegoers attending matinee screenings as younger audiences packed the evening showings. Ditto for Lee Daniels’ The Butler uniting a coalition of older adults, African Americans, and church attenders.


Expensive Budgets Hindered: With budgets out of control (up 15% from last year), the reliable Return on investments were cheaply made movies. Hollywood hinders their bottom line spending out of control. If they want to justify a high budget keep a few things in mind. An audience, market appeal, branding awareness, and Asian appeal.


Summer: A Time to Laugh…: Though quality comedy was at an all time low, people still want to laugh. The Heat, Grown Ups 2, The Hangover Part 3, This Is The End, and We’re The Millers did well…even though the quality was overall low. To my shock, the funniest wide release comedy of the summer was (by default) The Heat, a female twist on the buddy cop comedy action genre. I laughed a lot despite Melissa McCarthy’s female Chris Farley shtick and Sandra Bullock’s typical prude, uptight librarian character. If you enjoy laughing, you’ll like it. We’re The Millers was overpraised and lacked genuine gut busting laughs. It wasn’t as good as Ted or Horrible Bosses, but took advantage of no competition. At least the marijuana plot and Denver location were amusing (Kudos for this year’s Denver Restaurant Week poster featured in the background). I want to forget Hangover 3 and wouldn’t consider Grown Ups 2. Ten jokes in last year’s divisive comedy The Campaign (which was very good) had more wit than every summer comedy released this year combined.


…And A Time to Scream: The big surprise of the summer was horror. This is the autumn brand that made big bucks in the summer months. This began when the $3 million The Purge utilized social media and packed people into theaters…in early June? Final domestic gross was $65 million. Contrast that with The Conjuring, which embraced old-fashioned scares and one creepy trailer (a girl being thrown across the room by her hair peaked the interest of this non-horror fan). Grossing $135 million on a $20 million budget was earth shattering an an R-rated horror movie in summer. Horror performed so well this season even the disappointing You’re Next was profitable with a low budget of $1 million!


Few Indies Surged…: Out of nowhere, Mud competed with Iron Man, Great Gatsby, and Star Trek to become the highest grossing limited release of the year (by end of summer date). Though Blue Jasmine surpassed Mud in the fall, it was an escape to the under-served older adult market. Fruitvale Station performed like a stale summer blockbuster: surged its opening/expanding weekend and then stalled ($15 million). The Way, Way Back did decent, but if Fox Searchlight paid $10 million for it at Sundance, they probably were expecting more than a $20 million gross. Both Much Ado About Nothing and Frances Ha quietly amassed $4 million, which is stunning for a tiny Black and White indie. 20 Feet From Stardom surpassed other summer limited release documentary smash hits Buck and Searching For Sugar Man. Finally, the success of Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain and Instructions Not Included reminded Hollywood not to ignore minorities. Hollywood must not ignore segmented audiences.


…while Most Others Disappointed: As an indie movie fan, this is messy to dissect. Before Midnight should have done better than $8 million considering the fan base, reviews, the peak release (900 locations) and lack of competition. This is debatable. So is Stories We Tell, which grossed $1.5 million at 50 locations. The WOM just couldnt do the trick. The Spectacular Now had promise but dramatically cooled as it opened wider. The Bling Ring struggled to achieve $6 million (biffing the curb with a $20 million budget according to while The Kings of Summer miserably failed to live up to its breakout potential. Other summer indie losers were An Unfinished Song, Aftershock, The East, I’m So Excited, Closed Circuit, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Girl Most Likely, Only God Forgives, The To-Do List, Prince Avalanche, and the widely mocked The Canyons all bombed. There were too many indies released this summer and few did well.


There were winners and losers this summer a the movies. The studios made a lot of money (and were victorious) while the consumers rarely got their money’s worth (and lost).


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About Kenny Miles

Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.

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