So long, Hollywood summer. Don't let the screen door hit you on the way out.
After two blistering quarters at the box office, ticket sales at the cineplex went belly-up this season, collecting just $3.6 billion heading into the Labor Day weekend. That's a drop of 25% from summer 2013, the largest single summer decline in more than 30 years, according to Box Office Mojo.
And while Hollywood's most important period provided a few pleasant surprises, this was a summer of fizzle, not sizzle.
Consider: For the past 12 years, summer has provided at least one blockbuster picture to collect more than $300 million. This summer, not one. Guardians of the Galaxycame closest at $255 million.
Comic books didn't jump off the page, animation was one-dimensional and horror discovered something truly terrifying: indifference. July alone dropped 30% from the same month in 2013, the largest monthly drop in the modern era, according to Mojo.
"What explains this historic decline?" asks Ray Subers, analyst for Mojo. "Simply put, it can be chalked up to an abnormally weak lineup of movies that weren't appealing enough to get people into theaters. Moviegoers aren't just going to show up out of habit— there needs to be something worth seeing."
Yet this summer passed with nary a film to get moviegoers buzzing. The two biggest movies of the year — Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Lego Movie — were spring and winter films, respectively.
There's an upside to the downside: Several art-house movies flourished amid the doldrums, such as Chef and Boyhood, and the industry continues to chip away at its box office glass ceiling, having launched several young-adult adaptations aimed at female audiences, including The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay.
Still, Hollywood can't seem to multi-task, suggests Tom Brueggemann, box office analyst for Indiewire.com, who says that whatever gains the industry made in female viewers, it lost with sequels and reboots that couldn't generate fanboy interest.
"One reason for the summer box office drop-off is the decline of young male interest in new movies," he says. "While several films with female leads have placed unexpectedly high among the season's hits, most of the tent-pole entries seem to have lagged behind what they might have reached in previous summers."
Not that the entire year is a wash. Franchise installments of The Hunger Games (Nov. 11) and The Hobbit (Dec. 17) will get turnstiles clicking, and 2015 could be a record-breaker with Star Wars and Avengers films, says Paul Dergarabedian of industry firmRentrak.
"It's all cyclical," he says. "This time next year, we may forget we had a slump."