Summer Box-Office Midseason Report: What Popped and What Flopped

Gwynne Watkins

For movie studios and audience members alike, summer got a jump start this year. Even though it was released back in April, Furious 7 still turbocharged this blockbuster season, spending four weeks at the top of the box office charts and setting numerous records along the way. (It’s earned $351 million so far, and an astonishing $1.5 billion worldwide.) Clearly, Furious 7 was going to be the biggest hit of the year… until Avengers: Age of Ultron came along in May, leaving Vin Diesel in the dust with a $187 million opening.

Once again, it seemed like Marvel had locked down the summer season championship — until Jurassic World stomped in, setting a new global box-office record and establishing Indominus Rex as the new killer queen. It feels like this milestone-smashing movie season has been going on forever, but with Ant-Man, Terminator Genisys, Magic Mike XXL, Trainwreck and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation on the horizon, it’s still heating up. Now that we’ve reached the midway point, here’s a look at the winners and losers (so far) of summer 2015.

WINNER: Jurassic World

Everyone loves the original Jurassic Park, but even Hollywood insiders underestimated America’s nostalgia for dinosaurs. Within 10 days of opening, Jurassic World cleared $400 million domestically, setting a new box-office record and unseating Avengers: Age of Ultron as the No. 1 movie of the summer. Director Colin Trevorrow’s dino-disaster epic was a reboot done right, evoking the spirit of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, while giving the prehistoric creatures a much-needed update. Now the only question is: What on Earth are they going to do for the sequel?

Watch Chris Pratt explain what makes a great dino-kill:

WINNER: Pixar

Last summer was the first since 2005 without a Pixar movie, leaving a desk-lamp-shaped hole in moviegoers’ hearts. Fortunately, the animation giant rebounded with this summer’s Inside Out, possibly the most ambitious film in the studio’s history. A crowd-pleaser with a complex, multilayered plot about an 11-year-old girl and the emotions inside her head, Inside Out opened at $90.4 million, besting every previous Pixar movie besides Toy Story 3. The film also claims the record for the biggest opening ever for an original film — and in remake-and-reboot-obsessed Hollywood, that’s a feat that few except Pixar could pull off. The studio’s next movie, The Good Dinosaur, opens in November — and given moviegoers’ newfound mania for dinosaurs, the timing couldn’t be better.

Watch the voice of ‘Inside Out’s Bing Bong talk about his big emotional scene:


LOSER: Tomorrowland

Disney had a rare misfire with this family film, a dimension-hopping adventure loosely inspired by the Disney theme-park attraction of the same name. Despite the good will generated by director Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Incredibles), star George Clooney, and promising newcomer Britt Robertson, the muddled live-action movie (described tellingly on Wikipedia as a “science-fiction mystery adventure film”) failed to find its footing with critics or audiences. Disney reportedly lost up to $140 million on Tomorrowland, a small dent in what is an otherwise banner year for the studio. By the time Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in December, Tomorrowland will be far in the past.

WINNER: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Everybody loves The Rock — that’s not even a question. However, until this summer, it wasn’t clear if ex-wrestler Dwayne Johnson could attract crowds outside of an established franchise. Last summer’s Hercules was a non-starter, as was Johnson’s 2013 Michael Bay caper Pain & Gain. But in May, Johnson single-handedly took the disaster film San Andreas to No. 1. It was The Rock’s highest domestic opening outside of the Fast and Furious franchise, and his best showing as a solo star. Notably, the San Andreas audience was 51 percent women — meaning the Rock love has grown far beyond his original WWE fan base.

Watch our ultimate disaster movie trailer:

WINNER: Supernatural Horror

Mixed reviews weren’t enough to scare supernatural horror fans away from theaters this summer, as two critically-unappreciated ghost stories did solid box office in May and June: Poltergeist, Gil Kenan’s remake of the 1982 suburban horror film, has taken in over $46 million so far. More surprisingly, the micro-budget Insidious: Chapter 3 — which lacks the director and stars of the first two installments — is approaching $50 million. Both are currently ranked in the top 10 films of the summer, proving once again that horror fans’ loyalty is not to be underestimated.

LOSER: Cameron Crowe

Once the most beloved of heart-on-his-sleeve filmmakers, Cameron Crowe has struggled in recent years to win back his audience. His last feature, 2011’s We Bought a Zoo, did moderately well at the box office, even if reviewers weren’t charmed. This summer’s Aloha, on the other hand, was a disaster on pretty much every level. Maligned by critics with a thousand “lei” puns, the romantic dramedy came in on a wave of bad buzz, and exited with controversies over the title (some native Hawaiians disapproved) and Emma Stone’s casting as an Asian character. In the end, Crowe’s Hawaiian love story made just $20 million, and the director issued a public apology for the Stone debacle.

WINNER: The Avengers

The Marvel movie universe keeps expanding, and so far, its audience shows no sign of shrinking. In May, Avengers: Age of Ultron opened to $187.7 million at the box office, the No. 2 debut of all time after the original Avengers. That record only held until June, when Jurassic World came roaring into the box No. 1 spot (prompting Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige to issue a gracious congrats on Twitter). Nevertheless, Age of Ultron has grossed over $450 million domestically, and is the third Disney/Marvel movie to surpass the $1 billion mark worldwide. Moreover: it is the 11th consecutive Marvel superhero movie (starting with 2008’s Iron Man) to open at No. 1. According to pre-release tracking, the studio’s heroic winning streak is poised to continue with this month’s Ant-Man. Even Spider-Man can’t deny the pull of Marvel Studios: The newly recast character is taking temporary leave from Sony to enlist in next year’s Captain America: Civil War.

WINNER: Elizabeth Banks

Few actresses have made the leap to directing big studio films, but Elizabeth Banks did it with Pitch Perfect 2 and hit a high note. Banks’ directorial debut has grossed more than $181 million so far, and marks the second-biggest opening weekend ever for a female director (after Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey). Banks has already expressed a desire to return to the director’s chair (though whether she’ll helm Pitch Perfect 3 is still unknown). Meanwhile, on the acting front, she received excellent reviews for her performance as Brian Wilson’s second wife Melinda Ledbetter in Love & Mercy, and has been a consistent high point of the Hunger Games movies (which wrap up with Mockingjay Part 2 later this year).

LOSER: Reese Witherspoon

Make no mistake: Reese Witherspoon is a Hollywood force to be reckoned with. She did, after all, produce Gone Girl, and received her second Oscar nomination last year for Wild. Nevertheless, in May, the Legally Blonde star tried to get back on board the comedy train… and failed dismally. Hot Pursuit, a road-trip film starring Witherspoon as an uptight cop and Sofia Vergara as an informant in custody, seemed like an appealing enough idea. But bad reviews heralded disappointing box office, proving that Witherspoon no longer has the chops to single-handedly open a comedy. That’s OK, though — she has plenty of other stuff to do.

WINNER: Grown-up Moviegoers

Superheroes and CGI dinosaurs are all well and good, but there are other reasons to go to the movies besides recapturing childhood thrills. This summer, a slate of well-reviewed independent films has attracted audiences seeking entertainment for, and about, grown-ups. Among them are the lush period melodrama Far From the Madding Crowd ($11.6 million); the daring Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy ($9.3 million), and the gentle older-woman-finding-love comedy I’ll See You in My Dreams ($5 million). The indie fantasy-romance Age of Adaline (starring Blake Lively and Harrison Ford) also proved to be a surprise summer hit; though it opened in April, it did steady box office through May, and has made $42.4 million so far.

LOSER: Pro-Bro Comedies

Entourage was the summer movie nobody asked for, a feature-film adaptation of the long-running HBO series that wasn’t even sure what year it was set in. Ted 2, on the other hand, was inevitable, given the massive success of Seth MacFarlane’s 2012 talking-teddy-bear comedy. Both of them went bottoms-up at the box office. Turns out that “bro movies for bros” is no longer a genre that attracts a mass audience. Either that, or everyone is just sick of Mark Wahlberg — which, judging from the continued success of the Wahlburgers restaurant chain, is simply not the case.

WINNER: Melissa McCarthy

All hail Hollywood’s comedy queen! The espionage spoof Spy opened at No. 1 in June, making this the third consecutive summer to boast a hit Melissa McCarthy comedy. Spy was bolstered by good reviews, but last year’s Tammy did solid box office without them. McCarthy’s ascension to fame is relatively recent — Bridesmaids opened in summer 2011 – but she has quickly become a box-office rarity, someone who can open an original movie based on star power alone. When she finally joins a franchise with next year’s Ghostbusters reboot, we suspect she’ll be unstoppable.

Watch ‘Spy’ costars Melissa McCarthy and Jason Statham answer 20 awkward questions:

LOSER: The Human Centipede

Finally, humanity has lost faith in the movie franchise that made so many lose faith in humanity. The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) found novel ways to be even more repulsive than its predecessors, all of which are plotted around a fictional surgery that joins living humans in a mouth-to-anus chain. Released in a limited theatrical run, Final Sequence grossed a mere $14,562 (“gross” being the operative word), whereas the previous installments both cleared well over $100,000. Of course, that doesn’t account for VOD sales. But hopefully, audiences have learned their lesson: “Human centipede” is not a concept that improves with repeat viewings.

Watch a video about the top summer movies for the last 40 years: