For its big summer comeback, the Hollywood studios are counting on a bunch of graybeard action stars and a few funny women. Hollywood expects its summer movies to bring in $5 billion this year, according to the New York Post, a number that would put last year's dismal summer in the rearview mirror and quiet critics who say the industry is in a systemic domestic decline.
The film industry relies heavily on its summer slate every single year, as those audiences deliver almost half of Hollywood's total annual revenues. So a bad summer, like in 2014, is enough to trigger industry alarm. Americans didn’t spend quite as much time at multiplexes, leading to the worst summer in eight years and the worst single-year box-office total in three.
This year, a rebound is expected. "If you could build the perfect box-office beast, you would write down this lineup for 2015,” Rentrak senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian told International Business Times earlier this year. That enthusiasm is rooted in a number of things, including a huge lineup of sequels and reboots that draw on iconic films, including “Terminator: Genisys,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Jurassic World.” But it's also based on some release schedules, and some belated catering to some of Hollywood's most loyal audiences.
Another reason Hollywood is so pumped about the summer of 2015? It's going really well already. According to any almanac, summer technically doesn’t begin for another few weeks, but Hollywood studios have already begun tallying up returns on movies like “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Pitch Perfect 2” and adding them to their summer box-office totals. “Avengers” has pulled in more than $400 million since its May 1 release, according to Box Office Mojo, while “Pitch Perfect 2” has grossed more than $117 million.
While studios have been inflating their summer totals this way for years, Phil Contrino, the editor of Box Office magazine, noted that some of them are now tinkering with release dates of movies to extend that summer feeling. Where a film studio might once have treated May as a month to prime audiences for big releases in June or July, they have begun to use April to warm people up for big releases coming in May.
“It’s training moviegoers to look for blockbusters,” Contrino said. “That first weekend in May is a very coveted spot.”
Early returns are only part of the picture. Studio heads are also amped up about a number of titles aimed specifically at female theatergoers, including the Amy Schumer vehicle “Train Wreck”; the Melissa McCarthy comedy “Spy”; and “Paper Towns,” a drama adapted from a story by the hot young-adult novelist John Green. “Women drive the box office in a significant way,” Contrino said. “Hollywood's finally waking up to that.”
According to recent statistics, women make up a majority of moviegoers. Keeping them in theater seats all season will be key, and the returns so far have been encouraging. The comedy "Pitch Perfect 2," released earlier this month, has piled up more than $117 million.
But while Hollywood may finally be getting better at serving its American audiences, its executives know studios will have to think globally as they plan for the future. The film industry has an audience problem in the United States: North American box-office revenues declined 5 percent last year, to $10.5 billion, and after just two year-over-year declines through its first 30 years, the industry has experienced declines in three of the past five. Look past revenues, and the picture gets darker; the number of people who went to the movies hit a 20-year low in 2014.
Meanwhile, an expanding middle class has powered strong growth in Asia. China’s box-office receipts rose 36 percent last year, to a total of $4.8 billion, according to the MPAA, and foreign markets' overall share of the film revenues has been growing over the past five years.