Features and Columns · Movies

The Hits and Misses of the Summer

2018 had a bigger blockbuster season than last year, and surprisingly no franchises were killed.
By  · Published on September 2nd, 2018

Another summer movie season is over. Did anything change the record books? Were there any major surprises? Did anything fail miserably? Have any franchises died along the way? Let’s take a look at how the last few months fared with moviegoers:

The biggest hit: Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War

Not surprisingly, the most anticipated movie of the season was also the most successful. And not surprisingly, it’s a superhero movie, one from Marvel Studios. That is if we actually qualify a blockbuster that arrived in late April, which is way too soon for it to traditionally be considered a summer movie. If we allow it, Avengers: Infinity War is actually the biggest summer release of all time. If we don’t, it’s the biggest spring release of all time.

Sure, why not allow it. With a current domestic gross of $678.8 million, the third Avengers movie (which is the 19th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise) had Marvel taking back the summer blockbuster throne, after trailing DC’s Wonder Woman last year, plus Pixar and Jurassic World the two summers prior. If we didn’t qualify it, by the way, Pixar would have been champ again, with Incredibles 2.

Either way, this was the second year in a row when the biggest hit of the summer wasn’t the biggest hit of the year at the domestic box office so far. Fortunately for Marvel, the champion released earlier in the year is also a part of the MCU: Black Panther, which continued to perform very well through most of the summer months. If we didn’t qualify Infinty War, by the way, the MCU’s big performer of the summer would be the season’s fifth overall, with Ant-Man and the Wasp.

The worst flop: Solo: A Star Wars Story


Interestingly enough, Disney had the biggest hit and the biggest bomb of the summer. Now, there are always difficult technicalities when determining flops. Solo: A Star Wars Story did seem to make more money worldwide ($392.7 million) than its reported budget ($250 million-plus), but probably not enough. The studio is surely losing tons of money on the spin-off prequel.

And in the context of the Star Wars franchise, it’s terribly disappointing. The domestic gross of $213.7 million is the worst live-action installment — not including re-releases, though Solo did also sell fewer tickets than the 1997 Special Edition run of A New Hope. While it does sit at #6 on the year’s domestic box office for now, it doesn’t show up on the global top 10 chart at all, the first live-action Star Wars movie with this dishonor.

Yet also in the context of the greater franchise, this box office disappointment is surprising and very unfortunate for Disney, but it’s also not going to hurt the brand too much. Comparatively, a flop like Gotti ($4.3 million), which grossed less than half its reported budget, or Billionaire Boys Club ($1.5 million), which grossed a 10th of its known production cost, or the animated Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero ($3.8 million), which grossed an eighth of its budget, has a greater margin of loss, and that can look worse than Solo grossing maybe as much as 85% of its budget domestically.

Best legs: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Wont You Be My Neighbor

One of the greatest surprises of the summer has been the success of a few documentaries, including the Fred Rogers biography Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Sure, its $22.4 million domestic box office gross is a fraction of the big blockbusters’ takes, but for a documentary of this sort, that number is huge. It’s actually the new record-holder for the biography doc subgenre.

Other doc hits of the summer include RBG ($13.9 million) and Three Identical Strangers ($11.6 million), both of which had incredible legs with opening weekend grosses being just 4.2% and 1.5% of their totals (so far), respectively. But both are also limited release titles. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? went into wide release and still managed to have amazing legs, to the tune of its debut gross being just 10.8% of its current number.

As for non-docs, the best legs were displayed by the older-crowd rom-com Book Club, which finished out its run with $68.6 million versus a budget of $10 million. Its opening weekend take was only 19.8% of its total domestic gross. Crazy Rich Asians ($111 million) just opened three weeks ago, but it has had some record-breaking success with its staying power and word-of-mouth attendance, too. For kid-friendly fare, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation ($161.9 million) wins in the animation legs department, while Sorry to Bother You ($17 million) has also had decent indie release legs.

Worst legs: Bad Samaritan

Bad Samaritan

Even more obscure than the documentaries listed above, perhaps, is Dean Devlin’s Bad Samaritan, which opened in wide release back in May and was gone from theaters just 20 days later. The David Tennant-led thriller debuted in 11th place and yet still fell a whopping 70% in its second weekend. In the end, its dismal initial box office of $1.7 million was actually more than half its final domestic tally of $3.4 million.

Other poor long-term performers, even though they were given a bit more time to finish their business, include other likely already forgotten movies. The Johnny Knoxville slapstick-stunt comedy Action Point ($5.1 million), Drew Pearce’s feature directorial debut Hotel Artemis ($6.7 million), and the YA sci-fi superhero thriller The Darkest Minds ($12.5 million) all placed low on the box office chart immediately and then fell even harder from there.

More notable, though it’s fairly new and not yet worthy of a final call — like the antithesis of Crazy Rich Asians — is the latest collaboration of director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg. Mile 22 opened at least as high as third place a few weekends ago, but it dropped more than 50% in its following frame and continues to flounder consistently in holdover. When all is said and done with the movie, it’ll be more successful than Patriot’s Day but much less than Deepwater Horizon and very far from Berg and Wahlberg’s hit initial pairing, Lone Survivor. Maybe the announced sequel won’t happen after all.

Most surprising success: Incredibles 2

Incredibles Sequel

Wait a minute. How could a hugely anticipated Pixar sequel, one that would obviously appeal to the whole family during the season when kids are out of school, be considered a surprise success? Shouldn’t this slot be reserved for Hereditary ($44.1 million), which overshot expectations and powered through the summer with strong legs in spite of being a weird artsy horror film? Or maybe Book Club, which performed better than most star-studded comedies of the season and yet probably isn’t at all familiar to most Americans you’d ask about it?

No, because Incredibles 2, even as big as it was meant to be, wound up being even bigger. Not only did it almost double the worldwide box office of the original Incredibles, but the sequel broke the opening weekend record for animated features (and PG releases) by a good measure. And it went on to become Pixar’s top-grossing movie ever, surpassing even the more lovable and kid-friendly Finding Dory at the domestic box office (at $601 million) and the hit sequel Toy Story 3 worldwide (at $1.2 bilion). Not too shabby considering it’s really not that good.

Most surprising failure: Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

Teen Titans Go Movies

Especially following the success of Incredibles 2, another superhero animated feature bombing so hard is incomprehensive. Has DC lost so much favor that a hilarious movie like Teen Titans Go! To The Movies ($28.4 million) barely draws the kind of attendance the Teen Titans Go! cartoon does on a regular basis? Or was the fact that new episodes of the series also debuted on TV this summer a problem for the movie’s theatrical appeal? Maybe it’s too silly for adults and too satirical for kids (it’s basically Deadpool 2 for children) to have sparked interest from collective family crowds. It’s a movie its target audience will mostly see later on, similar to last summer’s surprise bomb Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.

Another shocker on the disappointment side of the summer’s box office is Eighth Grade. Sure, it’s an indie and started out in limited release as counterprogramming to the big blockbusters, but it seemed destined to be a breakout hit. Between its film festival reception, winning jury and audience awards at various events, and its critical praise, Bo Burnham’s feature debut should have been a knockout, at least for the arthouse demo. Perhaps its most appropriate audience was too young to see the R-rated teen drama, but even then, the film attempted to generate more word of mouth by hosting free screenings without MPAA restrictions enforced, and that didn’t really help.

Eighth Grade has still done pretty well, grossing $12.9 million against an unknown budget that’s probably much lower. Without accounting for inflation, the movie places on the long chart of highest-grossing movies of all time that never broke through the top 10. That’s kind of impressive. Even though I’m using this space in the report to highlight the film’s performance, I don’t mean to say it’s the season’s biggest failure. That would be the aforementioned Teen Titans Go! movie. I don’t want it to seem like I’m rubbing it in that it wasn’t a bigger deal, I’m trying to point out that it really should have been a bigger deal.

Greatest franchise booster: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Mama Mia Here We Go Again

While Crazy Rich Asians is the greatest franchise starter, in terms of how quickly a sequel was announced after its successful debut (The Meg is another likely franchise starter, with its $462.8 million worldwide gross), of those franchises already in existence this summer, Mamma Mia! probably received the best boost. At $117.7 million, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again won’t reach the domestic gross of the original, and worldwide it’s shockingly done only about half as much money ($366.8 million), yet it’s doing well enough that a third outing of the ABBA musical series is surely being considered by Universal.

The sequel, much of which was also a prequel in its heavy flashback formula, opened near equally to the 10-year-old original Mamma Mia! and though not doing quite as well in subsequent weeks as that first film, Here We Go Again is among the season’s leggiest hits and ranks among the highest-grossing movies (unadjusted for inflation) never to hit #1. Don’t be surprised if Mamma Mia! goes again again.

Another female-dominated movie that could further a franchise is Ocean’s 8. Another pretty leggy hit, the fashion-heist ensemble comedy has flown to its heights under the radar for the most part. People may not be talking about it too much after three months of release, especially since technically, with the rest adjusted for inflation, Ocean’s 8 is the Ocean’s franchise’s lowest-grossing installment, both at home and overseas. But even before looking at its global take of $291.8 million, its $139.1 million is double the movie’s reported production cost of $70 million.

Another series with a favorable boost is Ant-Man. As an installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp was by tradition likely to improve on the success of its predecessor. However, there was a while there early on when it didn’t seem the sequel would finish out with a higher gross than 2015’s Ant-Man. Fortunately, despite being one of the MCU’s lowest-grossing efforts of all time, its $213.5 million domestic and $594.9 million worldwide is greater than the original’s (adjusted for inflation) $202.3 million domestic and $519.3 million worldwide. Next, though, instead of Ant-Man 3, we need The Wasp 2.

Worst franchise killer: Unfriended: Dark Web

Unfriended Dark Web

As the latest in desktop-set (or “screen life”) movies, Searching, is proving to be a modest indie hit, Unfriended: Dark Web has been confirmed a bust. At least compared to the $35 million (adjusted for inflation) domestic gross and $61 million global take of the 2015 original. However, since the movie reportedly only cost about an eighth of its $8.8 million earnings, there’s still a chance that Blumhouse will make more.

And that’s actually normal for the summer of 2018. Unlike other recent years, this summer didn’t really see any sudden flops from long-running franchises. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom may have the lowest domestic gross ($414.8 million) for the franchise aside from Jurassic Park III — with inflation taken into account — but it’s still made enough to keep plans for Jurassic World 3 going. Plus, the sequel has exceeded a billion dollars worldwide.

Star Wars, Avengers, Deadpool, The Equalizer, and The Purge all took dips this summer, but none of them enough to kill their franchises. The first two are giants, of course, The Purge is at least continuing on with a canon TV series, and Deadpool 3 wasn’t definitely going to happen anyway, both because of the Disney/Fox deal and because the title character is possibly spinning off into X-Force movies instead. And The Equalizer isn’t likely to get third part, though it should.

The biggest summer at the movies since: 2016

Infinity War Moon Toss

Overall, the reports are true. This summer’s box office is up from last year, by 10%. More, if we do include Avengers: Infinity War as a true summer release. Box Office Mojo classifies the summer movie season as starting the first Friday of May and going through Labor Day weekend, and the total domestic gross for all movies in that time is $4.4 billion. The summer box office in 2017 added up to just $4 billion.

This year is still down compared to other recent years, however. Even if we add the weekend of Infinity War’s opening, that brings the season’s total to $4.7 billion. In 2016 and 2015, the respective totals adjusted for inflation but without the added April weekend were $4.8 billion and $4.9 billion. This year does also beat 2014, the total for which was $4.6 billion — $4.7 billion, though, if we include the last weekend of April then, too.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.