While studios continue to place tentpoles throughout the calendar, the summer movie season is still a warzone where every weekend new films vie for supremacy at the box office. It’s easier to be a film in February or March and make a splash rather than one that’s released from May through August. Furthermore, summer 2017 wasn’t great for the domestic box office as theaters reported declining sales, and rather than look at how to revitalize their business, whined about Netflix and shorter release windows. Nevertheless, summer 2017 had its share of success stories among the flops.
I’ve gone through wide-releases from the six major studios (Disney, Warner Bros., Sony, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Paramount) and looked at their worldwide grosses for their major films. That’s not to disrespect the work of mid-range studios like STX, Lionsgate or Open Road, or subsidiaries like Fox Searchlight. Additionally, if a mini-major like New Line or TriStar had a wide opening weekend release, I grouped it under its parent studio.
The other challenge is trying to gauge success beyond raw dollar figures. For example, Transformers: The Last Knight made far less than the previous installment, but it still probably accomplished its primary mission, which is to sell Transformers merchandise. By the same token, a movie like Girls Trip may not have made $600 million worldwide, but breaking $100 million off a budget of less than $20 million is a huge return on Universal’s investment.
So with all that in mind, there’s a bit of a tilt here, since we also have to consider when a film was released, how many territories it has hit (for example, Spider-Man: Homecoming still hasn’t opened in China), and other factors. You can argue with the rankings, but here’s my take on how each studio fared over the summer.
[Note all figures are via Box Office Mojo]
- Baywatch – $177 million
- Transformers: The Last Knight – $604 million
Paramount’s kind of in a weird place right now with regards to its slate. Although it’s ostensibly a major studio, their biggest successes right now are dramas like Arrival and Fences with tentpole stuff like Baywatch and Transformers underperforming. Transformers should have raked in the dough like it does every time a new one is released, but it’s become clear that audiences have grown tired of what director Michael Bay is pushing. In 2014, Transformers: Age of Extinction made $1.1 billion worldwide; three years later, and The Last Knight barely scraped past $600 million. While we’re bound to get more Transformers movies, it will be interesting to see if a different director can revitalize the series (as Travis Knight tackles the first spinoff, Bumblebee) or if audiences are tired of space robots.
5) 20th Century Fox
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul – $39 million
- Snatched – $60 million
- Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie – $101 million
- Alien: Covenant – $232 million
- War for the Planet of the Apes – $359 million
It would be a stretch to say 20th Century Fox had a “bad summer”; more accurately, they had a summer where their tentpoles simply underperformed. Snatched wasn’t the summer’s runaway R-rated comedy. Alien: Covenant, a film that was seemingly made to get back people who were unhappy with Prometheus, ended up making almost $200 million less worldwide than Prometheus. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul didn’t cost a fortune to make, but it made less than the first three entries. Captain Underpants did fine, but it wasn’t the runaway success you’d hope for when it comes to a kid’s film. And while War for the Planet of the Apes was great, so far it has made less than Rise and Dawn.
That all being said, I think 20th Century Fox is still doing some great things as a studio. The fact that they were willing to back “downer” films like Logan and War for the Planet of the Apes helps them stand apart from their competition, and with three X-Men movies lined-up for 2018 (New Mutants, Deadpool 2, and Dark Phoenix), they’re probably not too worried.
- Rough Night – $46 million
- The Dark Tower – $88 million
- The Emoji Movie – $144 million
- Baby Driver – $193 million
- Spider-Man: Homecoming – $737 million
So, The Dark Tower wasn’t the franchise starter that Sony hoped it would be (don’t count on that TV series happening), and Rough Night also was not the R-rated comedy of the summer. It didn’t really matter because Baby Driver and especially Spider-Man: Homecoming were two gambles that paid off big. Baby Driver, an original film, turned out to be the biggest hit of Edgar Wright’s career by far, and the studio was wise enough to cut its losses from The Amazing Spider-Man series and relaunch with Marvel’s help to make a new Spider-Man series that people absolutely loved. While I’m not sure how all of their Spider-Man spinoffs will pan out, when it comes to this summer, Sony did pretty well, although the less said about The Emoji Movie the better (yes, it did well relative to its budget, but it’s trash and they should never make a sequel).
- Atomic Blonde – $81 million
- Girls Trip – $120 million
- The Mummy – $407 million
- Despicable Me 3 – $975 million
Universal quietly flew under the radar to have an amazing summer. While they didn’t reach the dizzying highs of 2015 where it seemed like every movie they released made over a billion dollars, they still did incredibly well. While The Mummy looked like it would be a major flop, the movie found success overseas and rocketed to over $400 million. Girls Trip was the R-rated comedy of the summer and has likely given birth to a new franchise for the studio. Atomic Blonde didn’t explode, but it did fairly well for a summer action film. And yet, it all came back to (as it so often does), those darn minions. Despicable Me 3 grossed almost a billion worldwide because kids cannot get enough of those gibberish-speaking yellow beans. Go figure.
- Cars 3 – $325 million
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – $791 million
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – $862 million
This is where it kind of becomes a toss-up. Disney had an amazing summer as they almost always do. They just have all the franchises, and while we all expected Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Cars 3 to do well, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was not DOA as many had predicted. That being said, it still fell far shy of the previous installment, On Stranger Tides ($1 billion worldwide), so the studio may not want to rush into a Pirates 6. Additionally, Cars 3 was the lowest-grossing of the trilogy thus far, although I’m sure it still pushed a lot of Cars merchandise as these movies always do. That being said, the purposes of a Disney movie is to always push other enterprises, whether it’s merchandise or theme parks or some other extension of the IP. Guardians 2 outgrossed the original by almost $100 million and showed that the Marvel brand is unstoppable when people like the characters.
1) Warner Bros.
- The House – $33 million
- Everything, Everything – $55 million
- King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – $146 million
- Annabelle: Creation – $217 million
- Dunkirk – $413 million
- Wonder Woman – $806 million
So how does a studio with flops like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and The House along with a non-entity like Everything, Everything come out on top? Because where they succeeded, they succeed in a massive way and against expectations. Wonder Woman won the summer box office domestically, and pretty much saved the DCEU. If that film flops, then it throws the entire DCEU into disarray. Yes, they’re still going to make Justice League and Aquaman, but they have to go back to the drawing board on how to approach their superhero movies. Instead, Wonder Woman showed a way forward by blending thoughtful subtext with an uplifting character.
Then there’s Dunkirk, which was pretty much being sold on the strength of Christopher Nolan’s name and shows why he gets to do whatever he wants. A triptych World War II movie shouldn’t be one of the biggest hits of the summer, and yet here we are. Additionally, Dunkirk (along with Wonder Woman) could be headed to some Oscar love on top of their box office success.
Finally, Annabelle: Creation showed that there’s always a market for horror if it comes at the right time during the summer. Movies like Wish Upon and It Comes at Night couldn’t make a splash, but Annabelle: Creation has grossed over $200 million worldwide off a reported budget of only $15 million.
Not everything went Warner Bros’ way, but they made some of the biggest gambles of the summer, and those gambles paid off huge.