Even though the world itself ended several times at the movies this summer, it's the summer blockbuster itself that is really in peril.
While Warner Bros. Pictures' post-apocalyptic, monsters-versus-robots action thriller performed slightly better than predicted at the box office, "Pacific Rim"'s $38.3 million weekend take means it has a long way to go before it can declare itself even remotely successful. "Rim," directed by Guillermo del Toro, cost nearly $200 million to make and placed third behind "Grown Ups 2," which collected $42.5 million and "Despicable Me 2," which netted nearly $48 million in its second weekend. Translation: even though "Pacific Rim" opened a little above its $30 million domestic estimate, it will need a huge boost internationally to avoid being designated a total flop, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Which makes "Pacific Rim" the latest in a summer of blockbuster letdowns. Despite the formidable performances of Warner Bros.' "Man of Steel" and Universal Pictures' "The Fast and The Furious 6," entertainment industry analysts predict fewer super-sized pricey films for future summer seasons. If Will Smith and Johnny Depp can no longer guarantee the masses for fun summer popcorn fare, the thinking goes, it's time to scale back on spending on original life-action films.
"The trend is definitely to reduce tentpoles," said Bruce Nash, founder of The Numbers, a box office tracking site. "One of the things we're looking at as a company and is being talked about in the industry is that films are either huge hits or completely flop. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground anymore. That puts huge pressure on the studios, particularly on franchise films."
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Without a doubt, the summer's biggest big screen disaster is Disney's western "The Lone Ranger," starring Depp as sidekick Tonto, which cost $275 million. Opening on July 2 against the mega hit "Despicable Me 2," the masked lawman didn't stand a chance even with Depp by his side. The film has only pulled in nearly $71 million domestically and $24 million internationally, according to The Numbers. Disney had a similar debacle last summer with the sci-fi flick "John Carter," which also cost the studio $275 million.
Smith's "After Earth" opened over Memorial Day weekend in third place, generating only $27 million, behind "The Fast and The Furious 6" and the indie "Now You See Me." The Sony post-apocalyptic flick, also starring Smith's son, Jaden, cost about $130 million and has netted nearly $59 million domestically and $198 million worldwide, according to The Numbers.
"You can argue about the artistic merits of 'Lone Ranger' and some of the other films where it's just excess—trying to appeal to everybody and indulging the big star, producers and directors," said entertainment industry stock analyst Harold Vogel, of Vogel Capital Management. "It's hard for Hollywood to say no to these people. But at the end of the day, they only damage their own reputations and next time they will not get that amount of money to spend."
Sometimes movies that fail outright or have mediocre results in the United States make up the slack overseas, but the international competition has become just as fierce, Nash points out. Last summer's "Ice Age: Continental Drift," for example, has netted nearly $900 million worldwide and 70 percent of that was collected internationally. Foreign markets such as China and Japan have become crucial to Hollywood.
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"Some of the international markets have gotten big enough to support the blockbuster sensibility," Nash said. "It's going to get more and more difficult for a studio to make a 'Transformers' movie or a 'Spider Man' movie and expect it to play the same worldwide because that's the only cool thing coming out this summer."