Strong performances from superheroes and a talking teddy bear won't save the summer box office.
The Avengers brought in big bucks on the big screen , and raunchy comedy Ted broke out as a surprise hit. But alongside the summer successes came a number of flops. After six consecutive increases, summer ticket sales in the United States and Canada are running 5 per cent behind last year's record, according to the box office division of Hollywood.com.
The recent slide dragged down a year that raced to a fast start and had studio executives salivating over the prospects of even bigger bonanza during the summer, a season that accounts for 40 per cent of yearly box office.
This year, it was a summer of extremes. Big blockbusters such as the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises performed well while films such as the Adam Sandler comedy That's My Boy did not match industry expectations .
Despite the summer results, studio executives stressed, domestic box office sales since January are higher than at the same point a year ago.
Summer sales suffered from competition from the Olympics, which drew record TV ratings, and nervousness after a mass killing at a Dark Knight Rises premiere in Colorado, studio executives and industry analysts said.
Domestic receipts for Dark Knight Rises reached $422-million through Sunday, making it the year's No. 2 film behind Avengers. "It's a strong result given the circumstances," said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of theatrical distribution for Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc.
But with just one summer movie weekend remaining, overall domestic sales will fail to pull even with last year's $4.4-billion record, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com. As of Sunday, the summer tally stood at $4.0-billion. The last time summer sales decreased from one year to the next was from 2004 to 2005.
"We have seen more films weaker than expected," said Tony Wible, industry analyst for Janney Montgomery Scott. "A fewer number of films accounted for the upside."
Early in the year, movies such as Universal's Denzel Washington thriller Safe House and Sony's Channing Tatum romance The Vow blew past their modest forecasts. The Hunger Games, from Lions Gate Entertainment, exploded as Hollywood's next big franchise.
Through April 30, North American (U.S. and Canadian) sales towered 14 per cent above year-earlier levels, according to Hollywood.com.
The summer movie season, measured by Hollywood from May through Labor Day in September, kicked off with a record-breaking $207-million opening weekend for Walt Disney Co's superhero mash-up Avengers.
But after a string of films like Universal's big-budget Battleship and Warner Bros.' horror film Dark Shadows failed to meet industry forecasts, domestic year-to-date sales were just 4 per cent above 2011 at $7.4-billion, Hollywood.com figures show.
So far this summer, 11 movies have sold more than $100-million worth of tickets, below the 18 that reached that mark last summer.
Still, Hollywood is encouraged by the summer's big hits and the year-to-date gains. "Right now, the industry as a whole is up. That's a positive," said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution for Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.
Some well-known franchises performed as well as expected, including Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man, and Disney's Pixar studio added another movie, Brave, to its stable of hit films. And there was the annual summer surprise: Universal's Ted, the $50-million story of a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear, pulled in a surprising $215-million at domestic theaters.
Hollywood was less successful remaking older offerings. Sony's sci-fi remake Total Recall bombed while Johnny Depp failed to lure theater goers to Dark Shadows, a loose remake of the 1960s soap opera.
Studios also struggled to replicate last year's success with adult comedies such as Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher. Fox's The Watch, with heavyweights Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill, fell flat. Adam Sandler had his weakest opening weekend in 16 years with That's My Boy.
"You can't just count on blockbuster superheroes and action movies alone," said Hollywood.com's Dergarabedian. Studios also need comedies and adult dramas to post record summer results, he said.