Here's a box-office stat: "Iron Man 3," the top-grossing movie of the summer would have been the third-biggest grossing movie of last summer. Here's another stat: The top 10 hits of the summer, from the Robert Downey Jr. sequel to "The Conjuring," cumulatively grossed $200 million less than the top 10 hits of last summer. And here's one more: 2013 was Hollywood's hottest summer ever.
If you want to know how the movie industry, supposedly mired in the mess that was "The Lone Ranger," managed this trick, you have to follow the money. In this instance, following the money is not the same as following ticket prices. While the average ticket was up 3.2 percent, to an all-time high of $8.38, from the same time last year, the summer box office was up even more than that: some 6 percent, per BoxOfficeMojo.com stats.
Something else, besides 3-D- and IMAX-boosted admissions was up--and it was the sheer number of solid but unspectacular successes. They weren't the gigantic attention-hogging superhero-driven mega-events. But together, a lot of singles and doubles brought the runners home.
[Related: The Biggest Summer Flops Ever]
"Now You See Me" and "We're the Millers" both came out of nowhere, expectations-wise, to crack nine figures. Seth Rogen's "This Is the End," which is being relaunched in theaters this coming weekend, probably will join the club too. In all, 17 summer films have crossed $100 million to date compared to 2012's dozen; collectively, the summer's 11th-to-20th biggest hits outdid last year's group, $1.1 billion to $793 million.
"That's about the size of it," Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock said in an email. "...That's why we're talking about a record-breaking summer season, no doubt."
So, no, this summer's three-biggest superhero movies ("Iron Man 3," "Man of Steel" and "The Wolverine") were no match at the box office for last summer's Big Three ("The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises and "The Amazing Spider-Man"). And, yes, among comedies, "Ted" was bigger than "Grown Ups 2" or the franchise let-down that was "The Hangover Part III." And, definitely, the lumbering "Pacific Rim" had to huff and puff its away to $100 million domestically. But the key is the film, like 2013, gritted it out.
"Sure, sequels and reboots were big, as they are every summer, but it was films like 'This is the End,' 'The Great Gatsby,' 'Now You See Me,' 'The Heat' and 'We're the Millers' that really over-performed," Bock said.
Other difference-makers: "Despicable Me 2," which was a significant upgrade, in terms of ticket sales, over last summer's top animation hit, "Brave"; Brad Pitt, who willed "World War Z" past $200 million, giving the summer seven $200 million-plus hits versus last summer's six; and, relative calm, which meant there was no "Titanic" success, à la "The Avengers," and there was no tragic low, à la "The Dark Knight Rises" theater shooting. There was just a steady stream of product, some of it successful, some of it not.
Among 2013's have-nots, the biggest bombs were indeed notorious, but they weren't necessarily damaging to the summer ledger.
Take Johnny Depp's "The Lone Ranger." While the $215 million Western presumably lost more money for Disney than the $150 million "Dark Shadows" did for Warner Bros., "The Lone Ranger" brought in about $10 million more at the domestic box office than 2012's "Dark Shadows." The same can be said of Channing Tatum's "White House Down" and Will Smith's "After Earth," both of which domestically outearned last summer's likes of "Battleship" and the Colin Farrell "Total Recall" remake.
Like the Khan reveal in "Star Trek Into Darkness," the summer's success may not seem to add up, but somehow it all does. (Even if, go figure, "Star Trek Into Darkness" earned less domestically than its 2009 predecessor.)Watch Rolling Stone's Peter Travers present the scum of summer movies:
- Arts & Entertainment