Are Movie Studios Actually Failing? The Answer Is No.

image - Flickr / Alex
image – Flickr / Alex

Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: Why is the Summer 2014 box office down vs 2013 and 2012? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.


As usual, the media loves to spin stories based on their black and white perspective of box office numbers.  This allows for a trickle effect to the masses, namely the general public.

Then people begin to regurgitate the discussion of the “failing movie studios”, what they are “doing wrong”, that X trend is tiring, and that the internet, streaming, and home theater technology is continuing to pound dent after dent into the movie theater and movie studio paradigm.

The fact of the matter is, most of that is collective bulls***.  Again, mere media spins continue a downward spiral effect to the general public that all too often believe that because they’ve read the story in the trades and heard about it on Twitter and various online headlines, that they are experts in the financial affairs of the film industry.

You need to look at the Summer movie season, extended through the years, as ocean beach front.  Particularly comparable to arguably the world’s greatest surfing beach, which is the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.

Now, we know that the peak surfing season at the North Shore is usually the months between November and February.  Let’s equate that to the film industry’s summer months of May through August, shall we?

So the North Shore’s peak season showcases the biggest surfing waves human eyes ever often see.  And we know these big waves are coming because of the seasonal weather trends and ocean tides world wide, both of which create these massive waves.

So now, let’s equate these big waves to summer blockbuster movies.

Because families are seemingly more available to watch movies during the summer, and because past trends have lead us to this season being the height of expectations in those regards (Thanks to 1975’s Jaws, which started it all), we know to expect big things to come during those summer months.  And movie studios know this as well, hence they, along with the mass audience, are the “weather trends” and “ocean tides”, both of which create these “massive waves”.

Are you with me still?

Now, not all peak surfing seasons at the North Shore showcase the same amount of big waves. And with each peak season, we’re not seeing the waves get bigger and bigger and bigger.  Why?  Because the weather trends and ocean tides change with the current state of Earth’s overall climate and structural efficiency or deficiency (moving earth plates, earthquakes, eruptions, etc.).

The same goes with the film industry during the many different summer seasons.

2012 showcased The Avengers, which accounted for 18.7% of the summer season box office up to July 28th, 2012.  That film went on to garner $623 million plus.  That kind of film does not come by every summer, let alone every calendar year, let alone every other year, etc.

2013 showcased Iron Man 3 in that number one spot up to July 28th, 2013, then accounting for 11.1% of the summer season box office. Granted, the summer season box office up to July 28th was still up 11.5% compared to 2012’s, however, we have to take into account another factor.

In 2012, 304 movies were released in that summer season up until July 28th.

In 2013, 310 movies were in that summer season up until July 28th.

And to really put things into perspective, as far as the difference between those years and 2014 up until July 28th, know that only 279 movies have been released in the summer season of 2014 as of July 28th.

That’s a huge difference right there.  The number of releases in Summer 2014 is lower, thus the ticket sales are likely to be lower, especially given the fact that Summer 2014 hasn’t had a major franchise release like The Avengers.

So, we know that Summer 2014 has fewer movies, thus fewer moneymakers.  We know that Summer 2014 hasn’t had a release with the bravado of The Avengers, or even Iron Man 3 to a somewhat lesser degree.  So that should answer this question somewhat right there.

Back to surfing though.

So, we know that not all peak surfing seasons at the North Shore are the same.  We also know that due to weather trends and ocean tides, especially taking into account Earth’s overall climate and structural efficiency or deficiency (moving earth plates, earthquakes, eruptions, etc.), some peak seasons are better than others.

Back to the film industry.

Movie studios can’t make The Avengers every year.  These types of blockbusters take multiple years to conceive and produce, thus we can’t have an Iron Man, The Avengers, Batman, Superman, or any other tent pole film each and every summer.

And before you hecklers say, “Well, then Hollywood needs to make more original movies!”,  read my rant Ken Miyamoto’s answer to Why did “Edge of Tomorrow” bomb at the box office in the U.S.?.  That will explain everything.

So, no, Summer 2014 is not a doomsday vision of the future of movie theaters and movie studios.  It’s not a sign that technology is taking away from box office business to a huge degree.  This is the same argument we’ve had each and every decade with each and every technological advancement.  In the 80s, it was VHS.  In the 90s, it was DVD.  In the 2000s, it was home theater.  In the 2010s, it’s streaming and home theater.  And so on.

And let’s look into the future of Summer 2015:

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Jurassic World
  • The Fantastic Four
  • Inside Out (First original Pixar movie since Brave)
  • Terminator
  • Marvel’s Ant-Man

And Summer 2016:

  • Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
  • Captain America 3
  • X-Men: Apocalypse
  • Finding Dory
  • Independence Day 2
  • Planet of the Apes 3

Those are some HUGE movies.  Ant-Man is a question mark, sure, but it’s in the Marvel world.

So, the lesson learned here is that it’s impossible to always retain record box office numbers for the reasons mentioned above.  The Summer Season is like the North Shore at peak surfing season.  It’s always bigger than the other seasons, but not always as big or small as the previous peak surfing seasons.

I will admit that sure, Summer 2014 is lower than expected, with lower drops compared to recent years, but it’s surely not a sign of the apocalypse in regards to the film industry.  Due to movie studios shuffling their release dates, pushing and pulling and resetting, and their overarching plans for upcoming franchise installments and hopeful creations, Summer 2014 fell victim.  But with strong 2015 and 2016 summer seasons packed with huge releases, I have no doubt that there won’t be a continual decline.

Close your eyes.  Picture yourself on the North Shore.  Look out and see those waves.  This year they are pretty big, but we’ve seen bigger.  And know that all it takes is a major storm, a major hurricane, a major earthquake, or major climate shift to enhance the size and number of those waves.

Well, scroll back to the releases of Summer 2015 and Summer 2016. Those are some big storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, and climate shifts coming our way. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

This comment originally appeared at Quora.

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