By David Poland

20 Weeks of Summer: Was The Summer DISASTER Actually A Win? (Part 2: Sony/Universal/WB)



Part 1

Continuing the Compare-‘n’-Contrast between this NIGHTMARE summer and the glorious summer of 2013…

SONY – Last summer, there were five movies from Big Sony and one from Screen Gems. (I am not counting any TriStar product as the releases have all been output deals across the last two summers.) This summer, there were just three Sony movies and two Screen Gems.

Think Like a Man Too – $65m – $69m
Deliver Us From Evil – $31m – $79m
Sex Tape – $38m – $109m
22 Jump Street – $191m – $324m
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – $203m – $708m


The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – $31m – $91m
After Earth – $61m – $244m
The Smurfs 2 – $71m – $348m
White House Down – $73m – $205m
This is the End – $101m – $126m
Grown Ups 2 – $134m – $247m


So again, a studio where the gross—the popular way of measuring this summer—is up, not down.

Of course, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 skews the survey. But by how much? How much of a disappointment ASM2 is seen as, it was profitable. However, last summer’s duo of White House Down and After Earth cost more combined than ASM2, but generated a combined $259 million less than ASM2 ($449m) at the worldwide box office and likely lost money.

The other two Columbia releases this summer, Sex Tape and 22 Jump Street, had a combined production cost of under $100 million and generated $443m combined in worldwide theatrical.

Last summer, This Is The End and Grown Ups 2 had a reported combined budget just under $120 million and were both profitable, but less than this summer’s combo of comedies.

That leaves Smurfs 2 and Screen Gems’ Mortal Instruments entry from last summer and just the two Screen Gems films this summer. Smurfs 2 appears to be a revenue-positive film, though $217m short of the first film, which would make it a marginal success.

On the Screen Gems side, Mortal Instruments last summer cost more than the combined productions of the two SG releases this summer. Even taking the added marketing costs of two films over one, the $57m edge this summer makes this summer a stronger one for Screen Gems.

So not only was the summer up for Sony overall, but it seems to have been undeniably more profitable across the board.

Universal – The studio had 6 wide releases this summer, same as last summer, though last summer, the Focus division also had a wide release, which they didn’t in Summer 2014.

Get On Up – $31m – n/a
As Above/So Below – $21m – $33m
The Purge: Anarchy – $72m – $107m
A Million Ways to Die in the West – $43m – $86m
Lucy – $125m – $378m
Neighbors – $150m – $268m


Kick-Ass 2 – $29m – $61m
R.I.P.D. – $34m – $78m
The Purge – $64m – $89m
2 Guns – $76m – $132m
Fast & Furious 6 – $239m – $789m
Despicable Me 2 – $368m – $971m
The World’s End – $26m – $46m


That would be a 58% drop in revenue. The entire summer deficit that everyone is screaming about is $853 million. Universal’s summer theatrical revenue drop alone was $1.26 billion.

So was this a disastrous summer for Universal?


Last summer was driven (81% of the total summer gross) by two films. Both were pre-sold franchise films. There was also a third sequel and a fourth film that was considered to be part of a trilogy, though not a direct sequel. This summer, there was just one sequel that reported cost under $10 million to produce.

This summer, the were no Universal releases with reported budgets over $40 million. If you believe budget reporting, the entire summer slate at Universal cost $150 million in production costs and probably another $225 million in marketing… and generated $903 million in theatrical alone.

Last summer, the two massive hits more than covered the small loss on Kick-Ass 2 and the more significant on on R.I.P.D. This summer, no clear losers, though Get On Up is marginal.

Of course, any business would prefer, on principle, 58% higher revenues. But Universal will be back on that track next year with five straight franchise films, starting in April and running through the summer, including follow-ups to both F&F and Despicable, as well as Jurassic Park, Pitch Perfect & Ted. So if we are not back with a conversation about near $3 billion between April and August next year, feel free to cry, “Slump!” But for now, the downturn of this summer does not mean that Universal is suffering or “over” in any way, shape or form.

Warner Bros – As I start to work on this studio, I am fearful that it is the one really sad story of this summer… especially after a face-saving piece in the NYT… always a sign of fear and defensiveness. Let’s dig in…

Seven movies both summers. But not unlike Universal, only one franchise/sequel/remake in the group this summer compared to three last summer.

Jersey Boys – $47m – $59m
If I Stay – $48m – $69m
Into The Storm – $46m – $147m
Tammy – $84m – $97m
Edge of Tomorrow – $100m – $369m
Blended – $46m – $124m
Godzilla – $201m – $535m

$1,400 million

Getaway – $11m – $n/a
Pacific Rim – $102m – $411m
The Hangover Part III – $112m – $362m
The Conjuring – $137m – $318m
The Great Gatsby – $145m – $351m
We’re the Millers – $150m – $270m
Man of Steel – $291m – $668m

$2,391 million

Okay… so another down studio. $991 million or 41% down on the broadest gross figure.

As I have written before, WB had the only $150m production budget film this summer that failed to gross at least $500 million worldwide, Edge of Tomorrow. Godzilla was a reported $160 million partnership with Legendary.

Again like Universal, aside from those two big gambles, nothing reported a budget over $50 million, including the Sandler-Barrymore vehicle, Blended.

Even on the big pictures, the difference between last year’s Superman/Pac Rim combo vs this summer’s Edge of Godzilla is about 10% on theatrical revenue…. which is not nothing… but is hardly a disaster, especially when compared to the 2006 summer of Superman/Poseidon/Lady in the Water/Ant Bully.

I am not saying that this was a great summer for Warner Bros; it wasn’t. But neither was it the kind of summer that should lead to harsh discussions about the studio’s future.

Again, like Universal, WB goes back to the well next summer with a lot of familiar titles (Mad Max, Entourage, Magic Mike, Peter Pan, Point Break and Man from U.N.C.L.E. are all on tap next summer).


No one is here to tell you that this was a world-beating summer. It was not. But a lot of that was by choice.

As noted at the top, there was a 27% drop in the number of films released widely by the majors this summer. That is not a disaster. That is a choice.

Still, three of the six majors were UP for the summer in gross worldwide revenues. Fox was up by $920 million, Paramount was up by $626 million, and Sony was up by $28 million.

Of the other three, Disney was down by $869 million, Universal was down by $1.26 billion , and WB was down by $991 million. But with all that “down,” only one movie at these three studios was a significant loser financially.

And perhaps the greatest irony is that all three had “down” summers because, in great part, they didn’t have more franchise/sequel/remake films on their schedules. So all the “Hollywood is dying because it is out of original ideas” is the exact opposite of the true story of this summer. It was “down” for lack of repetition.

None of this means that the quality of movies being put out by the studios is great or that you must feel it is because the numbers are not disastrous. Personally, I feel the studios are betting too big on too many big movies in the next few years and we could see a studio collapse under the weight of multiple losses. So don’t misread this piece as some sort of “everything is great” salute to studio choices.

But the read of this summer by the media, perpetuated by an industry more than ready to lower its head and self-flagellate at the slightest sign of trouble (all the while continuing the silly, greedy behaviors that often lead to shooting oneself in the foot), is profoundly simplistic and misleading. And while many might read all this and wonder, “So what? Rich people with rich people problems!,” it is my contention that false spin about the health of the industry is profoundly destructive. Self-fulfilling prophesies are the saddest prophesies of all. And if we keep telling the world that the film business is in the toilet, it will contribute to shoving it right down there.

I am not calling for cheerleading. That would be foolish too. But I implore my brethren of journalism to be tougher on our work when we castigate an entire industry. Dig deeper than the stat about how much the domestic gross was this summer and what year it was so low. Ask real questions about why and don’t just rely on your personal instincts, which reflect your personal preferences. Sorry, but if you are over 35, you are not the #1 movie audience, but as a journalist it is not your prerogative to take that out on the industry by overstating “the problem with Hollywood.”

I hope you are all really rough on this industry… with the truth and real research. You can ask any of the studios I wrote about today and find someone in a position of power who sees me or has seen me as relentlessly negative. I am not. And I am not relentlessly positive about anyone or any studio. I may be – and certainly have been – wrong about things. But I am intellectually honest. And I dig and dig… not to find the answer I wanted, but to find a truth to which I can feel comfortable attaching my name.

That’s the job… no?

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One Response to “20 Weeks of Summer: Was The Summer DISASTER Actually A Win? (Part 2: Sony/Universal/WB)”

  1. Sam E. says:

    The most interesting number in the piece was 24 vs 33 wide releases between this year and last year. With all three of the biggest film biggest films of the year not being released in the May-July time frame the real question seems to be why are studios moving away from the summer releases and July in particular? Some of it has to do with the fact FF7 had to move off of a July release date but that’s not it entirely.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon