Sony Pictures is on a really bad losing streak
Sony Pictures Entertainment has had an abysmal year at the box office so far. The studio, which is still living in the shadow of last year’s hacking scandal, has released only six movies in the first eight months of 2015, not one of which it can call an actual hit.
Rival studio Universal has already declared itself ruler of the summer box office, based on North American receipts of $1.3 billion, fueled by “Jurassic World” and “Minions.” Walt Disney is a close second with $1 billion, thanks to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and Pixar’s “Inside Out.”
Both studios had their wet firecrackers. Universal’s “Ted 2” grossed $81 million and Disney’s “Tomorrowland” grossed $93 million; both performances that were considered disappointing. Still, those movies made more money than anything Sony trotted out this year.
Sony faces long odds if it wants to reverse this trend. There’s little time to turn things around and few potential blockbusters to do it with.
Perhaps former co-chairperson of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Amy Pascal, said it best when she wrote in all-caps in an email between herself and colleague Doug Belgrad: “THERE ARE TOO MANY DRAMAS/NOT ENOUGH TENTPOLES/NO OBVIOUS BREAKOUT HITS.”
Fortune presents a list of five of the six movies that Sony has released this year. Its sixth movie, the Meryl Streep vehicle “Ricki and the Flash,” just opened on August 7. During the opening weekend, it earned $9 million, so it seems unlikely to do much to change Sony’s dismal trajectory. All data comes from Box Office Mojo unless otherwise noted.
Domestic gross: $21 million
“Aloha” is a romantic comedy starring Bradley Cooper, who was hot off of his star turn in “American Sniper” when it was released on May 29. It only earned $21 million against its $37 million budget, despite coming from otherwise crowd-pleasing “Jerry Maguire” director Cameron Crowe.
It was stymied by bad reviews and was the subject of controversy for its casting of the 100% white actress Emma Stone as a woman of Chinese and Hawaiian heritage. However, none of that hurt movie’s potential as much as the leaked e-mail written by Pascal, in which she said of it, “I’m never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous and we all know it.”
Domestic gross: $32 million
“Chappie” is a science fiction movie directed by Neill Blomkamp of “District 9” and “Elysium” fame. Although it was one of the films green-lit during Pascal’s tenure, she never got around to talking smack about it in an email, or at least not in one that got leaked.
Sadly, the absence of smack didn’t do much to help its box-office performance. Blomkamp, who had originally said that “Chappie” is the first part of a trilogy, is now talking about working on the next installment of the “Alien” franchise instead, quite possibly due to “Chappie’s” lackluster performance.
Domestic gross: $58 million
“Pixels” is a 3D science fiction comedy starring Adam Sandler. It was the closest thing Sony had to a summer blockbuster in 2015, but it never had a chance. It was savaged by critics and it inspired online reviewer Filmdrunk to describe it as a “Fart-By-Numbers S**t Painting.”
Its weak performance may have permanently damaged Sandler’s reputation as a box office draw, but he has a chance to salvage that in the fall. He and Sony both have “Hotel Transylvania 2” coming out then, and during its production, Pascal sent an e-mail in which she described him and his team as “such a**holes.” Here’s hoping the artistic tension between both parties results in box office magic.
2. “The Wedding Ringer”
Domestic gross: $64 million
In one of their e-mail exchanges, Pascal and film producer Scott Rudin jokingly speculated about the movie tastes of President Obama. They guessed that he is fond of such films as “Django Unchained” and “12 Years a Slave,” and such actors as Kevin Hart.
Hart is the star of “The Wedding Ringer,” which was released in January, the time when studios give theaters those movies that they hold in slightly greater esteem than those they release directly to video. Even with that less-than-stellar vote of confidence behind it, “The Wedding Ringer” became the second-highest grossing Sony movie of 2015, a title that it proudly retains to this day. President Obama’s opinion of the film remains unknown at press time.
1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
Domestic gross: $71 million
If anyone at Sony was unsure about whether or not the original “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” needed a sequel, they can rest easy. With a domestic box office take of $71 million, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” is the highest-grossing movie to bear the Sony imprimatur in 2015.
This state of affairs is unlikely to last the year. On November 6, the studio will release a movie that, like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” is a sequel in a bankable franchise. That sequel is “Spectre,” the new James Bond movie, and barring some unforeseen catastrophe, it’s likely to make Sony royalty Kevin James hand his crown and scepter over to Daniel Craig.
Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.