Why franchises that don't feature capes or tights are washing out at the box office

Key Points
  • The "Planet of the Apes" debuting this weekend may be a test of the staying power of franchise sequels, where flops have been mounting.
  • It's not just the movie, its how much the whole night out costs, says one analyst.
  • Streaming is a big reason why, but movie theaters are trying to draw in viewers by offering "immersive" experiences.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Source: Disney

This weekend, "War for the Planet of the Apes" hits movie theaters, the third installment in the franchise that was rebooted back in 2011. Yet given the lukewarm reception that many sequels have gotten this summer, executives at Fox may be sweating over the film's earnings power.

The summer of 2017 has been far less kind to sequels and reboots than summers past—including some properties whose blockbuster potential had never been questioned before. Since the season for popcorn movies kicked off, hits like "Pirates of the Caribbean", "Transformers", "Cars" and "Despicable Me" have all opened at or near franchise lows.

Reboots are becoming a tough sell too, if the Tom Cruise vehicle "The Mummy" is any indication. It opened on June 9 for a $32 million opening weekend. So why are audiences not responding to some of these summer tentpoles like they used to?

Ian Atkins, a financial and investments analyst at Fit Small Business, explained that streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix are making consumers really consider buying that $10 movie ticket for something that very well could be a bust.

"Re-watching old favorites with friends, family, and children can be just as good as watching a summer blockbuster, especially if you're only half sold on the film to begin with," he said. "The competition for viewers is far stiffer than it used to be."

Andrew Selepak, a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, said that it's not just the movie ticket that consumers are taking into consideration—it's the consumer's wallet, too.

"Going to the movies is expensive beyond just the price of admission," Selepak told CNBC.

"When you add in the drink and candy, you may end up spending close to fifty dollars on a date to see a movie with the same actors, playing the same parts, and telling the same same jokes in the same tired storyline," he added. "Audiences just don't see the value in it."

Matthew Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Barna William Donovan, a professor of communication and mass media in the Department of Communication and Media Culture at Saint Peter's University in Jersey City, said that some of the slow box office numbers this summer may be due to a novel factor.

He said people may actually be reading the lousy reviews, and withholding their money accordingly.

"The new 'Mummy' film has been quite poorly reviewed, and 'Despicable Me 3' also received weaker reviews than its two predecessors," he said.

Donovan cited "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Wonder Woman" and "Spiderman: Homecoming" as examples of movies that were well-reviewed, and also performed well at the box office. However, all three are superhero features, suggesting you have to don spandex or a cape to put bodies in seats.

Still, Tom La Vecchia, founder of digital marketing firm X, Factor, insisted that a successful formula involves "the right content via the right medium." He pointed out that indie horror film "Get Out" performed "extremely well, as there weren't many movies for African-Americans to see. Therefore, they targeted an underserved segment of the market when it came to content, and it paid off big time."

Of course, not everything can be laid at the feet of movie executives. If theater owners want people to lay down their hard-earned cash, Kyle Bunch, managing director of strategy at the R/GA Austin consulting firm suggested that they create unique experiences for moviegoers.

Places like iPic Theaters and Alamo Drafthouse "are doing a great job of creating more immersive experiences in the physical cinema space," he said. Those chains serve meals, beer and cocktails to viewers, and holding themed events like Alamo's women-only screenings of "Wonder Woman," which caused some controversy when the movie premiered.

Many movie theaters have already taken the hint, and are doing their best to create a destination event—installing leather seats, giant screens and surround sound.

Eric Chen, an industry analyst and associate professor of business administration at Connecticut's Saint Joseph College, said that as destination events go, the price of a night at the movies still beats ball game or live concert prices.

He also denied that the poor performance of certain franchises this summer points to a broader problem for theatrical viewing.

"The movie-going experience has survived challenges from television, videocassettes, DVDs, On Demand, Pay-per-view, and other alternative delivery channels," he said. "Rumors of the demise of the theatre industry have been greatly exaggerated."