Summer box office report cards: Universal and Disney dominate in 2015

By Brent Lang LOS ANGELES - The summer box office will go down as the second-biggest in history, but the wealth wasn't evenly distributed. Instead, the results revealed a profound case of corporate income inequality. Two studios, Univ...

Cast members Evangeline Lilly (L) and Paul Rudd (R) pose with producer Kevin Feige at the premiere of Marvel's "Ant-Man" in Hollywood, California June 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

By Brent Lang

LOS ANGELES - The summer box office will go down as the second-biggest in history, but the wealth wasn't evenly distributed. Instead, the results revealed a profound case of corporate income inequality.

Two studios, Universal and Disney, gobbled up most of the profits after fielding massive hits like "Jurassic World" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron." Together, their films made up seven of the 10 top-grossing domestic releases this summer. That left the rest of their big studio brethren to fight for crumbs, with some finding little left over. Variety breaks down the numbers to see which bets paid off and which fell flat.



Hits: It was a run of blockbusters for the ages, propelling Universal to heights no other studio has reached. The big winners include "Jurassic World," a canny reboot of a franchise that had stalled with 2001's "Jurassic Park III"; "Pitch Perfect 2," an a cappella comedy that hit the right notes with younger females; "Minions," a spinoff of "Despicable Me" that showed you don't need Gru to build a global smash; "Trainwreck," a beautiful comedic marriage of Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow; and "Straight Outta Compton," an edgy rap drama that bested more conventional popcorn season offerings. Bravo!

Misses: "Ted 2" was a bong rip too many. Don't expect a part three.

Verdict: A nearly flawless performance. A studio that many had written off four years ago comes roaring back, solidifying old franchises and setting the stage for new ones.


Hits: The Mouse House benefited from having two of its biggest brands, Marvel and Pixar, busy conjuring up entertainment for the masses. On the comicbook end, "Avengers: Age of Ultron" fell a bit short of its 2012 predecessor, but its $1.4 billion global haul makes it the sixth highest-grossing film in history, and "Ant-Man" racked up $361 million, far less than other Marvel movies, but a respectable result given that he's a C-minus-list character. After sitting out last summer, Pixar returned with a bang, as "Inside Out" became a critical and commercial triumph to the tune of $689.9 million worldwide.

Misses: "Tomorrowland," a drab attempt to launch a new franchise based on a theme park attraction, collapsed, guaranteeing a massive writedown and proving that George Clooney should stick to prestige dramas and Nespresso ads.

Verdict: Just imagine how stacked this lineup will be when Disney adds Lucasfilm's "Star Wars" sequels and spinoffs to the bunch. When it comes to brands, there's Disney and then there's everyone else.



Hits: "San Andreas" shrewdly traded on fears of the "big one" to the tune of $468.7 million globally, and "Mad Max: Fury Road" would have counted as a win with $373.3 million worldwide, if it hadn't taken more than a decade and untold millions to make. Applying the definition of "hit" liberally, "Vacation," a critically derided attempt to bring back the Griswold clan, is a disappointment, but its low budget means it could make money.

Misses: Too many to name, but start with "Hot Pursuit," a comedy as painfully generic as its title, stop over at "Entourage," a bigscreen version of an HBO show that devolved into self-parody, take a detour to "Magic Mike XXL," a sequel that didn't make enough of a profit to keep Channing Tatum stripping, and end up with "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," a bigscreen version of a TV series that's slightly less beloved than "Petticoat Junction." Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Verdict: Warner Bros. tried to flood the zone, fielding more films than any other studio, but quantity couldn't make up for a lack of quality. "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" can't arrive soon enough.


Hits: Melissa McCarthy continues to be one of the most consistent box office draws in the business, as her name above the title pushed "Spy" to $234.7 million globally. "Paper Towns" was no "Fault in Our Stars," but the John Green adaptation did earn $67.3 million worldwide on a slender $12 million budget.

Misses: Let's have a moment of silence for "The Fantastic Four" and Josh Trank's career.

Verdict: It's hard to see how "The Fantastic Four" recovers after producing some of the worst results for a comicbook movie in history and suffering catastrophic reviews. Cue "taps" for Mr. Fantastic and friends.



Hits: Strapping Tom Cruise to the side of an airplane propelled "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation" to box office heights, with the fifth film in the spy series earning $438.6 million worldwide. There will be more impossible missions to come. Cruise's chiropractor be warned.

Misses: It's not an outright flop, but "Terminator: Genisys" may be the end of the line for the cyborg series. Foreign crowds like the movie better than Stateside ones, but its $324.8 million take is dispiriting given the franchise's legacy and the fact that this one boasted the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe China will save it.

Verdict: Make more movies. Paramount only released two films this summer, a fraction of what many other studios launched. There's a reason the studio has committed to increasing its output, because more popcorn seasons like this imperil Paramount's status as one of the majors.


Hits: Zilch.

Misses: "Pixels" was yet another Adam Sandler misfire, "Aloha" was the trainwreck that the Sony hack hinted it would be and "Ricki and the Flash" is struggling to bring in Meryl Streep fans.

Verdict: If former studio chief Amy Pascal hadn't been pushed out for her leaked emails, this slate would have doomed her job prospects. At least Sandler is Netflix's problem now.


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