Hollywood's dismal summer season is set to limp to a close this weekend with a Labor Day slate that features exactly zero major new domestic releases.
While Labor Day weekend is rarely a haven for big studio releases, Hollywood really could have used a strong finish to a summer that has been extremely short on hits. Media tracking company comScore expects the North American box office to finish the traditional summer season with a nearly 16% decline in revenue for the period, more than 2014's huge 14.6% drop-off, to become the industry's biggest year-over-year domestic revenue decline in "modern times," according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Once known for providing a plethora of box-office topping blockbusters, Hollywood's summer box office has cooled down a bit in recent years, as the glut of expensive action movies, sequels, and franchise reboots has pushed more big-budget films outside of the traditional summer movie season. But, even taking Hollywood's shifting release schedule into account, this summer was particularly disappointing, especially with regard to the large number of high-price sequels and reboots that fell flat with audiences over the past few months.
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Movies like Warner Bros.'s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword ($146 million in total box office gross on a $175 million production budget) and EuropaCorp's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets ($172 million global gross on a $177 million budget) highlighted some of the summer's biggest flops, according to Box Office Mojo. But, Hollywood also suffered from disappointing performances by franchise stalwarts such as Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Paramount's Transformers: The Last Knight, both of which fell well short of the performance of previous franchise installments. Universal Pictures also stumbled out of the gate with The Mummy, the Comcast-owned studio's first attempt at a monster-based cinematic universe, which made only $80 million domestically despite starring A-list actor Tom Cruise.
The summer of 2016 also had its share of big-budget flops—Fox's Independence Day: Resurgence reboot and Paramount's attempt at a Ben-Hur remake come to mind—but, last summer also saw a fair number of bonafide box-office hits. Disney led the way last year with mega-hits Finding Dory and Captain America: Civil War, while Universal also scored with the animated The Secret Life of Pets.
This year's summer movie slate did feature solid hits such as Warner's Wonder Woman and Sony's Spider-Man: Homecoming reboot, while Disney kept up the superhero goodwill with another strong turn for the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. But, as of yet, none of those movies managed to top $900 million in worldwide ticket sales (Universal's animated sequel Despicable Me 3 is the only summer movie to do so, at more than $970 million), whereas two summer movies (Finding Dory and Civil War) made more than $1 billion in 2016.
Hollywood's saving grace this year has been the international box office, where revenue is up slightly over 2016. Movies like the latest Pirates of the Caribbean ($620 million in foreign ticket sales, or 78% of its total haul) and The Mummy ($327 million and 80%, respectively) were able to salvage their theatrical runs somewhat by pulling in enough money overseas to prop up what were otherwise disappointing domestic releases.
To date this year, Hollywood's domestic box office is off almost 6% from last year, which means the movie industry will need an especially strong fall slate to top last year's record box office performance. Box office revenue has ticked upward to record levels in each of the past two years, thanks partly to rising ticket prices, as physical movie ticket sales have begun to shrink slightly as the rise of streaming movies and TV has been a boon for at-home entertainment at the expense of theaters and studios.
There is hope for the 2017 domestic box office on the horizon, though, led by new installments from two huge Disney franchises: Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok hits theaters in November, and the superhero movie should follow in the footsteps of its Marvel brethren to become a box-office success. That same month, Warner unleashes its first DC Comics film since the success of this summer's Wonder Woman, as its Justice League team-up movie should also score big at theaters as long as it avoids the toxic reviews earned by predecessors like 2016's Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad.
But Hollywood's real savior might not arrive until Dec. 15, when Star Wars: The Last Jedi soars into theaters. The latest sequel in the space opera franchise has been the subject of non-stop buzz since its predecessor, 2015's The Force Awakens, broke box-office records as the highest-grossing domestic movie of all-time ($936 million). A similar showing from The Last Jedi, along with some more help from the rest of Hollywood's fall movies, could help erase the stink of what has been a summer to forget at the box office.
CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to show that France's EuropaCorp produced the film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (which was distributed in the U.S. by STX Entertainment and in the U.K. by Lionsgate).