"Man of Steel" became the latest box-office champ to stumble its second week in theaters, mustering $41 million for third place behind "Monsters University" and "World War Z."
That represents a heftier than usual drop of 65 percent from the superhero movie's $116 million opening at the domestic box office. A 50 percent drop is typically considered the benchmark for a strong hold. But this isn't a typical summer; the precipitous tumble by "Man of Steel" says more about the market than the movie.
The Warner Bros. tentpole has taken in $400 million worldwide in 11 days, rebooted a dormant franchise and set the stage for another with the DC Comics all-star team the Justice League. It's a hit by all the significant measures, but after last weekend, there's a distinct whiff of kryptonite in the air.
"Man of Steel" had to face competition from two tentpole openers: Disney's Pixar film almost certainly siphoned off some of the family market for "Man of Steel" on the way to its $88 million haul, and "World War Z" had to steal some of its action audience to get to $66 million.
The No. 1 films have had a tough time hanging on all summer.
Universals micro-budgeted horror thriller "The Purge" plunged 75 percent from its opening haul. Even "Fast and Furious 6," which was in the top spot for three weeks, and "Iron Man 3" couldn't do it. Universal's cars-and-criminal saga dropped 64 percent in its second week, and the Marvel sequel dropped 58 percent. The only exception to the trend was Paramount's "Star Trek Into Darkness," which dropped just 47 percent in its week.
"The box office is red-hot right now," Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap, "but the same competition that's driving that has been lethal for the No. 1 films this year."
Sony's "Amazing Spider-Man" was, like of "Man of Steel," rebooting a dormant franchise when it opened with $64 million last July. Its second-week drop was 44 percent. The studio has since green-lighted and dated three Spider-Man sequels, and though Warner Bros. hasn't made it official, there will be more Superman movies soon.
Some mid-range budgeted films have bucked the trend. Sony's Seth Rogen comedy "This Is the End" and Summit's magic-themed heist thriller "Now You See Me" have both shown surprising staying power of late.
The intense and broad competition is affecting the box office in some indirect ways, too. Studios have become very proficient at timing their social media and marketing campaigns to peak just as their movies are opening. That can result in big debuts, but leaves little room to build, especially if there is a rival movie looming – or if the studio has another tentpole in the wings.
On the Monday after "Man of Steel" had posted its big debut, for example, Warner Bros. rolled out waves of TV commercials – for "Pacific Rim," its Guillermo del Toro blockbuster-wannabe that opens July 12.
As a family film, "Monsters U" may prove impervious to the sophomore slump this weekend, but it will face "Despicable Me 2" on July 3. And it could be a different story for "World War Z," which will face off with Sony's Roland Emmerich action epic "White House Down" and the Fox comedy "The Heat" starting Friday.
Paramount's head of distribution Don Harris thinks that Brad Pitt's zombie thriller could have an edge over its rivals when it comes to holding.
"It's an original concept," Harris said, "and that means there's a little less fatigue than with some of the superhero sequels and people are anxious to see something that fresh."
We'll see about that. But in the meantime, "enjoy it while you can" seems a good approach for the biggest winners this summer.