After the performance of Transformers 4: Age of Extinction in its opening weekend, it would be easy to assume that the box office is booming this summer. After all, Age of Extinction earned a whopping $100 million in its opening weekend, becoming the first film to open above $100 million this year while experiencing record numbers overseas. But any of the optimism that the film’s initial performance disappeared over the 4th of July holiday weekend as the reality set in: this summer is poised for record box office lows.
The 4th of July holiday weekend is often considered the mid-point of the yearly box office — a time when studios begin to run their projections to try to get a sense of where they might stand by the end of year. But while the 4th of July is usually the time when movies explode at the box office, it was shockingly quiet this year. After an incredible start, Age of Extinction saw its box office drop by 63 percent to $37 million — the kind of drop-off that would mean certain doom if it wasn’t for the film’s stunning overseas box office. The three new films opening over the holiday weekend — Tammy, Deliver Us From Evil, Earth to Echo — earned a combined $40 million. Overall, the holiday box office amounted to a paltry $131 million.
When the damage is tallied up, this year’s July 4th box office was the worst box office performance since 1999 when Wild Wild West and Big Daddy led the pack to $116 million. When inflation is taken into account, you’d have to go all the way back to 1987 to find a lower 4th of July box office weekend — a weekend when Dragnet, Spaceballs, and Innerspace were leading the box office to an estimated $92 million when adjusted for inflation.
According to the numbers, the summer box office was already down 15 percent from last year before the holiday weekend; now, the number has ballooned to 19.3 percent. When it comes to the overall numbers, it can look downright terrifying if you’re a studio executive. For the summer period — normally considered the first Friday in May through the Labor Day Weekend — 2014 is currently sitting at $2.03 billion. That makes the prospect of catching last year’s record-breaking $4.8 billion for the same period seem more unrealistic by the day.
However, even if the box office can’t make it to last year’s numbers, there’s hope that this year’s summer box office still has some fight in it. This Friday, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set to be released and 20th Century Fox is likely hoping that the film can replicate the surprise success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011. Then, August will see the release of the biggest of all the summer wild cards: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. While Boxoffice.com is currently projecting a $68 million opening and $187 domestic total for the film, Guardians of the Galaxy is the kind of film that could easily break out at the box office and become the kind of film that sticks around week after week due to word-of-mouth.
Along with Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s also Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Lucy, and plenty of other small films that could potentially boost the summer box office. But if there’s one thing this summer has shown, it’s that no film is safe from a potential whiff at the box office.