COMMENTARY

How weak was this summer's movie box office?

The No. 1 hit this summer would have ranked No. 4 last summer.

And summer's overall domestic box office was 15 percent below last summer's numbers. That is especially tough news for Hollywood because summer is traditionally the year's most profitable season, bringing in 40 percent of its annual take. It was the worst summer box office since at least 2006.

Easing the pain were the unusual number of solid hits this year before summer began. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" at $259.7 million, "The LEGO Movie" at $257.7 million and "Divergent" at $150.9 million have helped close the overall box office gap for the year to just 5 percent below 2013.

Also, just when things were looking pretty bleak, two August openers - "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" - partially saved the summer with a stronger-than-usual finish. Typically, the biggest summer openers arrive before mid-July. "Galaxy," in its fifth week, finished No. 1 at the box office again over Labor Day weekend.

The top 10 list for summer's North

American box office totals looks like this, according to Box Office Mojo:

1. "Guardians of the Galaxy," $280.4 million.

2. "Transformers: Age of Extinction," $244.4 million

3. "Maleficent," $238.7 million

4. "X-Men: Days of Future Past," $233.3 million

5. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," $205.5 million

6. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," $202.8 million

7. "Godzilla," $200.7 million

8. "22 Jump Street," $190.3 million

9. "How to Train Your Dragon 2," $173.4 million

10. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," $166.4 million

The "Turtles" could eventually rise to No. 9 as final numbers are tallied.

While the number of movies surpassing $200 million this summer was seven, exactly the same as in 2013, last summer's top two finishers were megahits: "Iron Man 3," at $409 million, and "Despicable Me 2," at $368 million. "Galaxy" will likely cross the $300 million mark before its run ends.

But the number of movies likely to rise above $100 million this summer (final figures are not in for some summer hits) was just 14, compared with 19 the year before. They include the crude Seth Rogen comedy "Neighbors," at $150 million; teen weeper "The Fault in Our Stars," at $124 million; Scarlett Johansson in surprise-hit "Lucy," at $118 million; and Tom Cruise in "Edge of Tomorrow," right at $100 million.

This summer's top 10 list includes six sequels and a remake, and five movies come from popular comic book series. Another is based on a 1980s television hit ("22 Jump Street").

That might suggest that some fresh ideas are needed to goose the cash register. None of the top 10 this summer was a story based on characters unfamiliar to moviegoers. "Guardians of the Galaxy," based on comic book characters, and "Maleficent," back-story of the timeless fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty," come closest.

What were the breakout hits of the season? "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Maleficent," for sure. "Lucy," in which Johansson played a sci-fi warrior able to use maximum brain capacity, and "Neighbors," which pitted homeowner Rogen and frat president Zac Efron against each other, made the grade.

Minor sleeper hits: "The Hundred-Foot Journey," in which Helen Mirren played a haughty French restaurateur confronted by an Indian restaurant across the road, drew well at $41 million. "Million Dollar Arm," starring "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm as an egocentric sports agent who recruits cricket players from India, also beat expectations at $36.5 million. Jon Favreau's "Chef," just re-released after an early May opening, generated good buzz at $30 million.

Pulling small numbers but generating a bit of Oscar talk: director Richard Link-later's "Boyhood," shot over the course of 12 years so audiences literally watch a child grow up; "Belle," a British costume drama with racial and romantic themes; and "Calvary," getting attention for Brendan Gleeson's performance as an Irish priest facing a death threat.

Box office underachievers included several expensive digital-effects-heavy stories. Big sequels like "Transformers" and "Spider-Man" sold big but dropped far below their earlier chapters. Cruise's pricey "Edge of Tomorrow" was a heavy disappointment. "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson, pulled in just $71 million. Seth MacFarlane's "A Million Ways to Die in the West" topped at a disappointing $42.7 million. "The Giver," based on a popular young-adult book, has earned only $33 million so far.

Disney-Pixar's animated sequel "Planes: Fire and Rescue," at $57 million, didn't come close to past hits from the cartoon-making giant. Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys," a blockbuster musical hit on Broadway, did so-so business at $46 million.

Melissa McCarthy, popular in several recent gross-out comedies, managed to pull in a respectable $83 million starring in "Tammy," but critics and audiences alike were underwhelmed. "Sex Tape," another R-rated comedy that starred Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, drew less than half that at $38 million.

An underachiever that got better reviews: sci-fi thriller "Snowpiercer" settled for an anemic $4.5 million take.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1269, bob.fischbach@owh.com

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please keep it clean, turn off CAPS LOCK and don't threaten anyone. Be truthful, nice and proactive. And share with us - we love to hear eyewitness accounts.

You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.