Where Are the Kids' Movies This Summer?
Summer months are synonymous with family moviegoing. This year, however, the tide is out on films aimed at young kids.
Last season, the market was flooded with seven all-audience wide releases, including Despicable Me 2, Epic and Monsters University, but summer 2014 has just two such films bowing over the coming months: Fox-DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Disney’s Planes: Fire & Rescue.
The lack of kid-friendly fare — which is exacerbated by the absence of the customary Pixar release — is one factor prompting some box office analysts to predict a softer summer domestically. It’s going to be tough for the summer to top last year’s record $4.75 billion. But the family drought may leave room for slightly older-skewing films to overperform in the family segment. Among these: Disney’s Maleficent, the retelling of the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of its villainous witch; Relativity Media’s PG-rated sci-fi tale Earth to Echo; and Marvel offerings including X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy.
“With a real lack of family films this summer, I think Maleficent could very naturally pull in family audiences,” says Ben Carlson, president and co-founder of the social-media listening firm Fizziology. But Carlson admits that the PG-rated film’s darker elements have resonated best so far with a different demographic, and might wind up scaring off parents with youngsters. “As we’ve gone deeper in the film’s (social media) profile, it’s drawn an edgier, more artsy audience, which is atypical for Disney,” Carlson notes.
Disney’s worldwide distribution chief Dave Hollis believes that the combination of star Angelina Jolie and the fantastical elements, as well as the popularity of Disney’s animated original Sleeping Beauty, positions Maleficent as a viable wide-appeal tentpole.
“At its core, the movie has a great heart, and ultimately that’s what audiences will respond to,” Hollis says.
Still, the fact that Disney has no Pixar movie this summer is worrisome for exhibitors. The brand practically guarantees hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.
“A summer without Pixar is not a happy summer,” says Gerry Lopez, chief executive of AMC Entertainment. “Particularly for the hand-holding set, there is going to be a huge hole.”
Instead, carrying the torch for kid-friendly films this summer will be How to Train Your Dragon 2, which bows June 13. The sequel will ride a strong tail-wind provided by the 2010 original, which grossed nearly $500 million worldwide.
The summer’s other animated studio release, Planes: Fire & Rescue, launching July 18, also will likely benefit from the success of its predecessor. Originally planned as a direct-to-video release, the picture collected more than $200 million worldwide last year. Both sequels could see extended playability beyond the norm for family films, which already tend to have longer theatrical lives than other genres.
Along with Maleficent, which bows May 30, Paramount’s Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles could also carve itself a piece of the family pie when it debuts Aug. 8. Nevertheless, with devotees of the franchise coming to the film with a brace of expectations, and a younger crowd that’s less familiar with the property, Carlson contends that Turtles, which cost $125 million to produce, faces one of the most difficult challenges of the season.