We know Hollywood would love it if August salvaged this year's summer box office, but the odds are against it.
For the last decade, August hasn't been kind to Hollywood, theaters or moviegoers, for that matter. According to BoxOfficeMojo, August has broken the $1 billion mark just once during that span, , thanks to a pleasant surprise from "Guardians of the Galaxy" in 2014. In the meantime, June box office returns have broken $1 billion in the United States 13 times since 2000, compared to 11 for May and 10 for July.
That's a shame, since Hollywood would need a nearly $1.4 billion August to salvage this absolute wreck of a summer. "Dark Tower," a questionable action-oriented adaptation of Stephen King's saga, isn't going to get it there with a sad $19.5 million opening on August's first weekend. Neither will "Nut Job" and "Conjuring" sequels. Unless the Ryan Reynolds/Samuel L. Jackson vehicle "The Hitman's Bodyguard" or the horror film "Polaroid" come up big this month, we may be staring down the least-lucrative summer movie season in more than a decade.
That should surprise absolutely nobody. Sure, there are still new "Thor" and "Star Wars" movies later this year that could yield blockbuster numbers, but overall movie ticket sales haven't come close to the 1.57 million tickets sold in 2002. Fifteen years later, despite nearly 300 more films released each year and an average ticket price almost 60% higher than it was in 2002, theater chains including AMC and Regal will be fortunate if 1.3 million tickets sell this year.
But few of those will sell in August. Just two years ago, August ticket sales hit $524 million. Not only is that roughly half of August's box-office take from a year earlier, but it's less than the August slate of movies brought in back in 1999. There was a time when August was a reliable dumping ground for underdog comedies and underrated thrillers, but today August is just a dumping ground, period.
Instead of surrendering the end of summer and just assuming that everyone will be back-to-school shopping or taking those last vacation days, perhaps Hollywood can look to the past to see what worked before. With help from BoxOffice Mojo, we gave previous August lineups a look and came up with the ten biggest films the month has ever produced, adjusted for inflation. People will go out to the movies during the dog days of summer, but only if you give them something to see.
Not every movie can fill the seats. Check out the biggest summer movie flops of all time.
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Initial release: August 5, 2016
Actual domestic box office gross: $325.1million
Adjusted for inflation: $339.4 million
Consider this emo's last stand. Though Warner Brothers and DC typically don't have Marvel and Disney's luck in this spot, enough people paid to see if Jared Leto had actually lost his mind, if Will Smith actually fit into the mix and if Margot Robbie's costume was something they could carry off for Halloween that this was considered something of a success. However, just because they followed in another oddball comic property's footsteps doesn't mean that anyone thought this was well-executed or even vaguely held up to the premise of the comics. A team set up to stop a rogue Superman sounds like a great premise, but amplifying the problematic relationship at its core wasn't helpful.
Initial release: August 2, 2002
Actual domestic box office gross: $228 million
Adjusted for inflation: $348.8 million
For a short time, August was M. Night Shyamalan's time to shine. By this point, he had two major films to his credit and the audience was becoming aware that he was setting them up for twist at the end. What was the big twist in this one about an alien presence in a rural town? Well, let's just say that if you can kill a witch from "The Wizard of Oz," you can kill an alien.
Initial release: August 3, 2001
Actual domestic box office gross: $226.2 million
Adjusted for inflation: $355.2 million
The original Rush Hour was a huge surprise hit when it arrived in theaters in September of 1998. Somehow, with a bigger budget and bigger buildup, this sequel also managed to catch people off guard. We have no idea how, as the Hong Kong-L.A. connection and the addition of another on-screen martial arts legend in Zhang Ziyi only boosted its appeal among fans, if not among critics who acted as if they were being electrocuted every time Chris Tucker uttered a line.
Initial release: August 1, 2014
Actual domestic box office gross: $333.2 million
Adjusted for inflation: $366.1 million
Fallible heroes, heavy doses of humor, a solid soundtrack and a strong emotional thread throughout helped make this obscure team of Marvel characters a hit. But drifting from dark, deadly serious DC films and using Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista's abilities instead of hiding them behind CGI and costumes helped this film break the superhero mold. When DC tried to replicate the Guardians' success with 'Suicide Squad' last year, it forgot one very important part of the recipe: People actually like the 'Guardians of the Galaxy.'
Initial release: August 6, 1993
Actual domestic box office gross: $183.9 million
Adjusted for inflation: $394.7 million
What could've been just another lifeless big-screen rehash of a '60s television show -- of which there'd be countless examples before the '90s were over -- turned into an iconic piece of pop culture in its own right. From Harrison Ford's Dr. Richard Kimball diving off of a dam to Tommy Lee Jones's Samuel Gerard giving the most recognized call for a hard-target search in film history, 'The Fugitive' kept itself nice and taut as the circle tightened around Kimball. Did he kill his wife? Is there a one-armed man? Tommy Lee Jones still doesn't care.
Initial release:Aug. 1, 1954
Actual domestic box office gross: $36.8 million
Adjusted for inflation: $447.6 million
What do you do when you break your leg during the middle of the summer in Greenwich Village. Just use it as an excuse to peep on your neighbors. Alfred Hitchcock's classic is a busybody's dream: Jimmy Stewart not only gets to look into other people's windows with Grace Kelly's approval, but he alerts everyone to a man who's killed both his wife and a neighborhood dog. Before you snoops pat yourselves on the back for seeing something and saying something, just remember that Jimmy Stewart gets pushed out of a window for his trouble.
Initial release:August 6, 1999
Actual domestic box office gross: $293.5 million
Adjusted for inflation: $511.9 million
I watched this on a British Airways flight home from London in fall of 1999 and still remember the collective gasp in the cabin when M. Night Shyamalan's twist was revealed. This film is certainly great for its use of the color red, for who doesn't look at Bruce Willis and for all of the various trapped souls in zombie form. But the absolute most powerful moment -- the conversation between Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette in the car once the former's secret is out -- is simply one of the greatest bits of dialogue in film. Lots of damp cocktail napkins in the BA coach section during that one.
Initial release: August 21, 1941
Actual domestic box office gross: $102.2 million
Adjusted for inflation: $566.4 million
If you want to know when certain parts of the U.S. began to turn against hunting, look no further than this film. When a deer isn't just game, but a cute talking protagonist's mother and the hunters aren't just workaday guys, but people killing animals whose meat they don't need for survival, hunting doesn't look quite like a fun family hobby anymore. This movie split the nation into folks who see a herd that needs to be thinned and those who think we could benefit from less thinning (or meat) overall. Disney hasn't backed away from anthropomorphized animals much since, but seems to keep making the 'Cars' series almost as a peace offering to the other side.
Initial release: August 1, 1973
Actual domestic box office gross: $115 million
Adjusted for inflation: $584.2 million
Before "Star Wars" and "Labyrinth or Willow," George Lucas's fantasies centered around '50s hot rods, radio and bottle blondes. Before this film spawned "Happy Days" and other Baby Boomer nostalgia fodder, it served as a museum specimen of Baby Boomer life before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War and the riots and other cultural reckoning that accompanied the civil rights, women's rights, gay rights and anti-war movements. Wolfman Jack, Suzanne Somers's "The Blonde" in her Ford Thunderbird and the films's cruising culture in general were less metaphor than cultural escapism -- a Carpenters album on celluloid. When the U.S. retreated from the '60s, it ran right into the arms of George Lucas, who'd keep it preoccupied for decades to come.
Initial release: August 29, 1964
Actual domestic box office gross: $102 million
Adjusted for inflation: $695 million
You can't overestimate how much audiences loved Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke -- or just how long Disney's been in the blockbuster game. Dick Van Dyke excelled at playing the put-upon, clumsy clod, but he was also fantastic at playing male characters who emphasized the strengths of their female counterparts. Andrews, who'd spent the '60s as the world's favorite adoptive mother between this and "The Sound of Music," soothed children during a tumultuous time with help from the strains of "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." All of this seems a bit saccharine sweet now, but just imagine how Pixar films are going to look a few generations from now when folks align their release dates with the history books.