Maybe this summer movie season isn't too crowded, after all. "Fast & Furious 6," "Iron Man 3" and a handful of hits have made this a record-breaking May, and the summer box office is off to its best start ever.
With more than $1.04 billion in grosses already, the month has topped May 2011's previous record of $1.03 billion, according to BoxOffice.com. Universal's "Fast & Furious 6" provided a huge boost, racing to $120 million in its debut and leading the overall box office past $315 million, which shattered the Memorial Day weekend record.
But the depth in the marketplace made a big difference, too. And we're talking about depth rather than the nasty traffic jam some feared because together, the top six films brought in more than $300 million.
Also read: 5 of Summer's Biggest Box-Office Smackdowns
"What this means is that the marketplace is not just handling the volume," Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analysts Jeff Bock told TheWrap, "it's embracing it.
"That was the question going into the summer – were there enough moviegoers to sustain so many big movies at a reasonable level? So far the answer is yes, in a big way," Bock said.
There's no denying it's crowded. "The Hangover Part III" almost surely would have done better had it not gone head-to-head with "Fast 6,"and it probably won't do half the domestic business that "Hangover II" ultimately did, but $63 million over five days isn't a disaster. And Fox opened its animated "Epic" to a better-than-expected $42 million over the holiday.
The movies already in the marketplace held their own, despite all the competition.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" dropped just 47 percent in its second week, and wound up with $47 million, raising hopes that the Paramount-Skydance space sequel can at least get close to the $257 million total the first film did.
Disney's blockbuster Marvel sequel "Iron Man 3" is still going strong, dropping just 43 percent as it added another $24 million to its $1.14 billion worldwide total in its fourth week. And Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' "The Great Gatsby" fell off just 43 percent and brought in $17 million in its third week.
"You typically don't see three wide openers on Memorial Day like we had – last year there was pretty much just 'Men In Black III' – and the fact that we saw the weekend we did is a really positive sign for the rest of the summer."
Another good sign is that June – often relatively soft at the box office – looks particularly strong. Warner Bros.' "Man of Steel" (June 14), Disney's animated "Monsters University" (June 21 ) and Fox's Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy comedy "Heat" all look like sure things. Paramount's Brad Pitt zombie epic "World War Z" (June 21) and Sony's Roland Emmerich thriller "White House Down" (June 28) could do significant business, too.
July will bring "Despicable Me 2," which is tracking extremely well for Universal, Warner Bros. Guillermo del Toro sci-fi fantasy "Pacific Rim" and Disney's "The Lone Ranger."
That all adds up to a summer that should top last year's $4.30 billion haul, which was dominated by "The Avengers," and could beat the all-time high from 2011 of $4.32 billion.
The crowded summer slate still creates some issues, for theater owners if not moviegoers.
On Friday, Sony is opening its Will and Jaden Smith sci-fi thriller "After Earth" on about 3,000 screens and Lionsgate and Summit are rolling out the Jesse Eisenberg thriller "Now You See Me" in roughly 2,800 theaters. Both might have wound up on more screens in a different, less competitive summer.
"But if you were a theater owner, would you move 'Fast & Furious 6' out?" Bock asked.