Hollywood’s Big Chill: Temperatures Warm, Box Office Cools

By David Outten, Production Editor, and Ted Baehr, Publisher

With the strong January and February showing of FROZEN and great box office on THE LEGO MOVIE, 2014 appeared headed for a banner year coming into the summer nine percent ahead of last year. Then, as the weather warmed, the box office cooled.

This summer’s box office is off by almost 15 percent. Part of the problem has been a lack of staying power. Second weekend box office drops have frequently been in the 60 percent range.

Disney, who averaged nearly $180 million per movie last year, is averaging $87 million per movie this year. There will be no 2014 Pixar movie. THE GOOD DINOSAUR got pushed back to 2015.

Family oriented animated movies are struggling this year. With the exception of the holdover business on last year’s FROZEN and the solid performance of THE LEGO MOVIE. RIO 2, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 and MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN have all failed to even make it to the $150 million domestic box office mark.

July and August don’t have any blockbuster sequels lined up, so this summer may stay cool at the box office. Next summer, however, the studios are expecting major box office warming with a new STAR WARS movie, another AVENGERS, a SUPERMAN movie with Batman in it, another HUNGER GAMES, MINIONS (as in DESPICABLE ME), and a second Pixar movie, INSIDE OUT.

A great question facing the major studios is, “Will audiences ever tire of superheroes and big disaster science fiction movies?” A huge portion of studio budgets go into this very expensive, high-risk competition. One reason they stay in this competitive area is that these movies often play extremely well overseas.

With the highest worldwide gross for an animated movie, FROZEN showed that, with the right story, animation is still a tremendous business. The problem is finding that story. Families are not coming out simply because a new animated movie is being offered. It’s expensive to take the kids out to a movie, and the theater experience itself is more problematic as children become less well behaved.

Who wants to pay the high price of admission for an opportunity to publically display one’s inability to control one’s children? It’s cheaper, and less stressful, to buy the DVD or stream a movie online.

One reason for this year’s precipitous decline in box office may be the uneven quality and gratuitous content of this year’s major movies.

For example, even some well-made, very entertaining movies, such as THE LEGO MOVIE, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, MALEFICENT, and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 had a couple artistic missteps and problematic content that apparently turned off too many moviegoers or failed to excite others. Even the best made blockbuster movie of the year so far, CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE WINTER SOLDIER, had some foul language that limited its box office potential. Why would you make a movie about one of the most popular, inoffensive, exhilarating musical groups of the 1960s, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, with a lot of R-rated foul language and with such a focus on the more depressing, darker aspects of their lives?

Many, if not most, people have difficult enough lives requiring lots of hard work. As Movieguide®’s annual financial study shows, they prefer more wholesome, uplifting, patriotic movies that celebrate life and honor the Good, the True and the Beautiful. They want to see godly or admirable, lovable characters who overcome adversity, who conquer evil, or who restore faith, justice, and liberty.