Box Office: 2013’s Record Breaking Summer

     September 2, 2013


Labor Day brings an official end to Hollywood’s busiest season which means it’s time to parse the numbers. If you’ve been following the box office for the past few months it won’t surprise you to learn that 2013 was the most profitable summer of all time with over $4.6 billion in domestic earnings. That’s a jump of almost 8% from last summer: a figure that is especially impressive when you recall that the 2013 lagged 14% behind 2012 in yearly earnings before the season started.

As expected, summer’s giant blockbusters closed that gap, but Tony Stark didn’t do it alone. Hit the jump for a breakdown of summer’s most notable box office moments.

Even from a distance, the top five films of any summer are pretty easy to call. Long before 2013 started it was obvious that Iron Man 3 would be a monster – the overwhelming success of Marvel’s The Avengers was as close to a guarantee as you can get. Big things were also expected from Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel and Monsters University and each one lived up to their potential.

With that, here are the top ten movies of the summer:

 Title Domestic Total US Opening Worldwide*
1.  Iron Man 3 $408,800,000 $174,144,000 $1.214 billion
2.  Despicable Me 2 $355,662,000 $83,517,000 $823.1
3.  Man of Steel $290,327,000 $116,619,000 $657.3
4.  Monsters University $263,478,000 $82,429,000 $715.1
5.  Fast & Furious 6 $238,660,000 $97,375,000 $787.4
6.  Star Trek Into Darkness $228,261,000 $70,165,000 $462.4
7.  World War Z $200,265,000 $66,411,000 $532.2
8.  The Heat $157,416,000 $39,115,000 $214.6
9.  The Great Gatsby $144,840,000 $50,085,000 $331
10.  The Conjuring $134,157,000 $41,855,000 $243.6

*estimates as of September 2nd with many titles still in international release

the-conjuring-posterClearly, there were no big surprises at the top. The interesting action came at the tail end of the top ten – and below. Here’s are some of the highlights:

  1. The Conjuring: There is no overstating the success of this summer’s breakout horror hit. The feature opened in first place back in July, setting a new record for an original horror film and topping other R-rated summer offerings like The Hangover Part III and The Heat. The Conjuring also impressed beyond its debut (rare for its genre) thanks to excellent word of mouth and an unusually warm critical reception (86% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). In a season dominated by pricy blockbusters, The Conjuring easily ranks as the most profitable top ten title – earning back eleven times its reported $20 million budget worldwide as of Labor Day.
  1. World War Z: Looking at where World War Z ended up – at over $500 million in worldwide grosses – it may be hard to remember that this zombie adaptation seemed fated to wind up on summer’s misfire list. Despite the popularity of zombies and the global appeal of producer/star Brad Pitt, production on World War Z experienced some highly publicized ‘problems’ – rewrites, reshoots, overages – that caused the film’s budget to soar to a reported $200 million. Making things worse, the Paramount release was rejected by China’s censors – keeping it locked out of the world’s second-biggest movie market. In the end, World War Z did just fine with the international markets it had. Better than fine, all things considered.
  1. Now You See Me: Though it ultimately missed the summer top ten, the fact that this late-May release came so close ($116 mil. domestic/$308.2 mil. global) is enough to mark it as one of the season’s biggest successes. Released between Fast & Furious 6 and Man of Steel, Now You See Me was expected to play like a second-tier counterprogrammer – under $200 million global, in other words. Considering the film’s $75 million budget, that would still have made it a financial hit. But Now You See Me went much higher – and added a big asterisk to the dismal history of magic-themed box office releases in the process.

great-gatsby-poster-leonardo-dicaprioHonorable mention also goes to:

  • The Great Gatsby: Baz Luhrmann is one of those directors that people always claim to love but whose box office receipts told a different story – until this year.
  • We’re the Millers: This $37 million R-rated comedy was barely on the radar back in May but ended up edging out The Hangover Part III in domestic box office grosses.
  • Instructions Not Included: You’ve never heard of it and that’s precisely why it makes this list. This Spanish-language comedy debuted over Labor Day weekend in just 347 locations but left a major impression.
  • Simon Pegg: OK, so he’s not a feature film. But he still deserves credit for having the good taste to star in the two most critically acclaimed wide releases of the summer: Star Trek Into Darkness (87% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and The World’s End (90%).

This summer also had its share of misses, naturally:

  1. The Lone Ranger: Disney spent years adapting the Western classic for modern movie audiences. From the same team that made Pirates of the Caribbean one of the most successful franchises of all time (including star Johnny Depp), there was reason to hope that The Lone Ranger would break Hollywood’s streak of under-performing westerns. It did not work out that way. The Lone Ranger cost a reported $215 million but earned just $88.4 million in the US. Its numbers were slightly better overseas ($150 million) but not nearly good enough to avoid the inevitable Wild Wild West comparisons.
  1. After Earth: For a time, Will Smith was known as the “king of summer” due to his incredible resume of seasonal blockbusters (the aforementioned Wild Wild West not among them). Even MIB 3, which started off slow last May, ended up with an impressive $624 million worldwide. But After Earth may find the king permanently deposed. The sci-fi release opened to a disappointing $27.5 million in May (behind Now You See Me) and ended with just $243.6 million worldwide.
  1. R.I.P.D.: Qualifying as 2013’s most ill-advised comic adaptation, R.I.P.D. crashed and burned in mid-July. With a pricetag of $130 million, R.I.P.D. earned a global total of just $64.6 million – representing the low point of an otherwise incredible summer for Universal.

iron-man-3-international-posterWinners and losers don’t always break down by movie title, so here are some larger trends the summer revealed:

  1. China: In 2012, China overtook Japan to become the largest international market for Hollywood films and, by the end of this decade, could even surpass the US in terms of grosses. No film this summer underscored China’s growing influence more than Iron Man 3. The fact that Disney/Marvel created a special version of the blockbuster for Chinese audiences was widely publicized – as was the fact that those audiences were not impressed by the pander. Still, there is no denying how important China has become to US studios. In the end, China contributed more than 10% to Iron Man 3’s incredible $1.2 billion global total.
  1. Universal: Though R.I.P.D. was a definite low point, the studio had nothing to complain about this summer. Since 2009, Universal has ranked at or near the bottom of summer grosses among major Hollywood studios. This summer, however, they came close to knocking perennial leader Warner Bros. out of first, thanks almost entirely to Despicable Me 2 and Fast & Furious 6. In fact, Universal is now nearly even with WB in terms of market share in 2013 and could even pull ahead if Riddick becomes a hit in September.
  1. Apocalypse/Action: Back in May, it looked like these two genres (or both genres combined) would constitute a considerable chunk of box office earnings this summer. Along with World War Z and After Earth, movies like Elysium, Pacific Rim and White House Down were all projected to do solid business. Instead, all three managed to disappoint in their domestic debuts. Pacific Rim went on to break $400 million globally (though its budget of almost $200 million diminished that success) and Elysium is still expanding internationally; but White House Down is an unmitigated miss. While the same premise found success in Olympus Has Fallen this spring, White House Down earned just $138.2 million worldwide at a reported cost of $150 million.

And with that we say a sad farewell to 2013’s record-breaking summer box office. Now we can all commit ourselves more fully to debating the merits of 2015’s summer schedule

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