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Sequels aren't the summer box office's problem — bad sequels are

Key Points
  • The summer box office isn't sizzling as much as analysts had hoped in 2019.
  • Wedbush has shifted its full-year forecast to estimate that the full-year box office will be down about 1% from last year.
  • While some worry that moviegoers are finally growing tired of sequels and franchises, the truth is a bit simpler: moviegoers are growing tired of bad movies.
Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth star in Sony's "Men in Black: International."
Sony

Are moviegoers growing tired of franchise films? Not so fast.

The summer box office isn't sizzling as much as analysts had hoped in 2019, as tent pole films like "Godzilla: King of Monsters," "Dark Phoenix" and now "Men in Black: International" have dramatically underperformed with audiences.

The summer season, which runs from the first Friday in May through Labor Day, is an important one for Hollywood. Parents looking to keep their kids busy now that they are out of school or just to get out of the sun, turn to movie theaters.

But, if the films aren't up to par, audiences won't show up.

Heading into the weekend, the U.S. summer box office was up 11% compared to last year, according to data from Comscore. However, a weak performance from "MIB: International," which only took in $28.5 million in its debut, has narrowed that gap to less than a percent.

In the first month of the summer season, the U.S. box office has earned around $1.59 billion, just slightly more than it did during the same period last year. It should be noted that Disney's April release "Avengers: Endgame" accounted for more than $350 million of this haul, according to Comscore.

"Within the very small ecosystem of the first weeks of summer every weekend can have a huge impact on the bottom line and, thus, the nausea inducing up and downs of the summer of 2019 will continue week after week along with the percentage change tug-of-war versus summer 2018," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, said.

Analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush altered his second quarter and full-year 2019 estimates for the film industry.

"We now expect the quarter to end up 0.8% to $3.7 billion, compared with our initial estimate for up 9%," Pachter wrote in a note to investors Monday.

He also now expects the box office's full-year tally to be down about 1% from from 2018's $11.89 billion domestic haul. Previously, he expected the total haul to rise in the low single digits from last year.

Sequelitis? Not quite.

While some worry that moviegoers are finally growing tired of sequels and franchises, the truth is a bit simpler — moviegoers are growing tired of bad movies.

"I think it's a bad movie problem," Dergarabedian said. "It seems to be that films that are not getting great reviews are faltering."

Warner Bros.' "Godzilla: King of Monsters," Fox's "Dark Phoenix" and Sony's "Men in Black: International" all received Rotten Tomatoes scores of 40% or lower ahead of their release, marking them as "rotten" to audiences. The previous films in each franchise had received Rotten Tomatoes critics ratings of 75%, 47% and 68%, respectively, indicating that part of the problem is that these movies were coming to theaters with already low expectations from audiences.

All three movies made less than $50 million during their openings, disastrous debut totals for films that are part of blockbuster franchises and categorized in the action-adventure genre.

"These films are not good films," Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said. "They don't have the magic of the original and they certainly didn't try as hard as the originals."

Bock referred to them as "lazy sequels."

"John Wick: Chapter 3," on the other hand, a relatively low budget and lesser known franchise film from Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate and Thunder Road Pictures, hauled in $56.8 million during its debut last month.

It also earned a 90% "Fresh" rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

"I think it just comes down to the movie," Dergarabedian said. "People like to blame franchise or sequel fatigue, but then you have a movie like 'John Wick 3.'"

Not to mention, "Captain Marvel," "Avengers: Endgame" and "How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World," all franchise films, did very well at the box office.

In fact, five of the top 10 highest grossing films at the domestic box office this year have been films that are part of a franchise.

And sequels will probably keep drumming up big business, despite the recent hiccups. Audiences are already looking forward to next week's release of "Toy Story 4" next week and buying advanced tickets for "Spider-Man: Far From Home," which is out in July. The previous "Spider-Man had a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while "Toy Story 3" scored 98%.

Other hotly anticipated sequel films due out later this year include "It: Chapter 2," "Frozen 2" and "Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker." The previous films in all three series received at 85% or higher critics' rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

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The number behind 'Avengers: Endgame' box office records