Winners and losers at this summer's box office

Summer box office hits (so far), from left to right: Mark Wahlberg in

Summer box office hits (so far), from left to right: Mark Wahlberg in "Transformers: Age of Extinction," Hugh Jackman in "X-Men: Days of Future Past," and Angelina Jolie in "Maleficent."

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:15 PM ET

Hollywood is now desperate for another blockbuster ... or two ... or three. Overall box office is plummeting this summer and the blame game is beginning to take its toll.

The year started well, from a strong January featuring Lone Survivor to the February breakout of The LEGO Movie on to the March debut of 300: Rise of An Empire through a decent month of April with the singular success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But things have been sliding ever since. Jobs are on the line. Audiences are getting restless about the quality (or lack of it) of the summer fare. The June box office in the United States and Canada was down 16% from last year, despite the magic spell that Maleficent spun, with Angelina Jolie looking good and being bad.

Hollywood’s moguls do have one blockbuster to boast about that is currently in theatres and certain to make early July look healthy, at least for the moment. It is Michael Bay’s excessive and silly Transformers: Age of Extinction, which blew past its negative reviews to generate $381 million in worldwide box office in its first five days and $592 million going into this weekend.

But that may not be enough to save the day overall. It is not clear that Bay’s bloated sequel, with Optimus Prime riding into battle astride a fire-breathing T. Rex from 65 million years ago, can push on to the $1 billion mark. Not as the more likeable Iron Man 3 did when leading the box office parade in the summer of 2013, finally reaching $1.2 billion. Age of Extinction is also trailing the record of the 2011 Transformers movie, Dark of the Moon, which did make it past $1 billion.

Even more critically, if the fourth Transformers proves to be an outlier and not an indicator of other hits to come, the summer could sag even more. Cynics might easily say: Hollywood needs to make better movies, more movies that people can love, less movies that suck.

This summer has had more than its share of duds vs. studs. The Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore comedy Blended is among them, along with Moms’ Night Out, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, Million Dollar Arm, Jersey Boys and — in the three biggest shockers of the season — Seth MacFarlane’s saggy satire A Million Ways to Die in West. The off-kilter animated sequel How to Train Your Dragon 2 (although lots of people love it) and the Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow also disappointed. The Cruise movie did get good reviews but the public response was tepid.

Even Johnny Depp, who tried to get a jumpstart on things with April’s Transcendence, flatlined – badly.

Some of the summer hits have not gone as gonzo as expected. Godzilla did well enough but its $489 million worldwide box office fell short of expectations as the movie’s “legs” soon got wobbly after a strong running start.

Meanwhile, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may be a huge money-maker, with $704 million in worldwide box office, but that is still the lowest total of the five Spider-Man movies made since the franchise was revived in 2002. The situation is more perplexing because the U.S. and Canadian totals are in a death spiral while foreign audiences are maintaining their interest in the web-slinger.

In contrast, the $725 million total for X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best that franchise has ever seen. This is more than double the take for the 2011 reboot, X-Men: First Class. So juxtaposing the old and new casts and characters proved to be a boon, especially with Bryan Singer coming back as director. It’s a paradox: Even though the box office totals are similar, X-Men looks like it is trending up as the biggest worldwide hit of 2014 (just $13 million ahead of Captain America: The Winter Soldier) while The Amazing Spider-Man is trending down.

They’ve already booked a sequel – X-Men: Apocalypse – for May 2016.

WHY HOLLYWOOD MIGHT NOT NEED TO SWEAT ITS SUMMER SLUMP

Finally, audiences in the summer of 2014 have something “original” to look forward to at the movies. It is Guardians of the Galaxy, coming to a bazillion theatres near you on Aug. 1.

Okay, this is another Marvel Cinematic Universe comic book movie. And it is not original in the sense of something brand new. Comic geeks already know all about the 2008 adventures of the misfits and criminals who make up the five-critter roster at the core of this Guardians story. But the characters are at least fresh to cinema and the tone of director and co-writer James Gunn’s movie is obviously cheeky and sarcastic, based on this week’s sneak peek of 17 minutes of footage. Plus the action looks good, the IMAX 3D sequences are spectacular and Guardians of the Galaxy could shake out as a mega-hit.

Moguls in the Hollywood Galaxy already know they need another one. Most of the big movies of the summer have performed below expectations, although there are hopes for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, to do well. Still, the first instalment in this particular reboot series — Rise of the Planet of the Apes — topped out at $482 million in worldwide box office in 2011. If the current Apes sequel does that kind of business after it opening this weekend, it will be a respectable outing. But it will not be earth-shattering beyond the world of the Simian Cinema genre.

As for other possibilities, few suggest they can make the big bucks needed to save the summer, although some could do reasonably well. These are all wide releases and they go deep into August:

Coming July 18: Disney has the animated sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue for the kiddies; Universal is courting the young adult crowd with its horror sequel, The Purge: Anarchy.

Coming July 25: Paramount is flexing its muscles with Brett Ratner’s Hercules, starring Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson; Universal has Luc Besson’s sci-fi thriller Lucy, starring the bona fide combo star Scarlett Johansson, who is equally adept at action and drama; Entertainment One offers A Most Wanted Man, taken from the John le Carre novel and co-starring Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Coming Aug. 1: Entertainment One has moved up the release of the thriller The Calling; Universal is singing the praises of the James Brown biopic Get on Up; but Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy will be number one that weekend — and probably beyond.

Coming Aug. 8: Paramount reboots the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise; Disney is taking The Hundred-Foot Journey into French and Indian cuisine; Warner Bros. plunges Into the Storm with high school students tracking a tornado; and Entertainment One tries to dance up a storm with Step Up All In.

Coming Aug. 13: 20th Century Fox is trying to make us laugh with the action comedy Let’s be Cops.

Coming Aug. 15: Entertainment One is covering two bases with the action comedy The Expendables 3 and the sci-fi drama The Giver.

Coming Aug. 22: Entertainment One assaults us with the eagerly awaited, highly stylized graphic novel movie, Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For; Warner Bros. showcases Chloe Grace Moretz in the youth drama If I Stay; and Sony plays on the gridiron with When the Games Stand Tall, a true story starring a super-buff Jim Caviezel.

 


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