This summer's box office has seen more mega-budget movies roll out than any in history, but whether it's a record year hinges on the success of … "Kick-Ass 2"?
Of course it's won't just be Universal's self-made superheroes sequel that tip the scales -- though it is the most likely to pop among the slew of similarly low- to mid-budget movies that Hollywood rolls out over the next three weeks.
The studios have fired their blockbuster bullets at this point, and late summer is traditionally something of a dumping ground. But with three weekends left, the summer's overall box office stands at $3.97 billion. That's 12 percent better than last year at a comparable point and with three weekends left, it's within striking range of the record $4.32 billion run up in the summer of 2011.
"Kick-Ass 2" opens Friday along with the civil rights tale "Lee Daniels' The Butler," the Steve Jobs biopic "Jobs" and the horror thriller "Paranoia." Awards-hopeful "The Butler" should do steady business, but these films aren't expected to pile up huge grosses.
None of the movies debuting in the two weeks after that have blockbuster budgets or aspirations either, but if most can perform as expected -- or even just a little better -- this will be Hollywood's biggest box-office summer ever.
The lion's share of the summer's grosses has come from the biggest movies. The top three films "Iron Man 3" ($408 million), "Despicable Me 2" ($338 million) and "Man of Steel" ($289 million) have accounted for more than $1 billion in domestic box office by themselves.
And there is some irony in Hollywood's bid for a record hinging on mid-range budgeted movies like the $28 million "Kick-Ass 2" -- the very sort of films largely abandoned this summer in favor of pricey tentpoles.
"The blockbusters are huge but they're pretty much part of the landscape, at this point" Exhibitor Relations sr. vice-president and lead analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. "It's kind of amusing that whether Hollywood gets the record or not is going to hinge on these movies."
There might be a lesson to be learned from the situation, Bock said.
"No matter how committed the studios are to finding the next franchise, they'll need these kind of movies to balance out their slates," he said. "It puts way too much pressure on them -- and leaves very little margin for error -- when so many releases are home run swings."
Several low- to mid-range budget movies have broken out this summer, including the magic-themed heist thriller "Now You See Me," Seth Rogen's raunchy comedy "This Is the End" and horror films "The Conjuring" and "The Purge."
Also read: Summer's 5 Biggest Box-Office Over-Achievers
Of the films that open in the next few weeks, the two that appear to have the best shot at pulling a box-office surprise would be "Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," which opens on Aug. 23, and "One Direction: This Is Us," a concert film from the British boys band that opens Aug. 30.
Last year, "The Expendables 2" was the biggest opener in the last weeks of summer, debuting to $28 million domestically on its way to $300 million in worldwide grosses.
This summer's late entries include the Lionsgate horror film "You're Next" and Focus Features' Simon Pegg comedy "The World's End," both of which debut on Aug. 23.
The following week it's the thrillers "Closed Circuit" and "Getaway," from Focus and Warner Bros. respectively, and the Weinstein Company's horror film "Satanic."