Graham: Summer box office a playground for the mighty

The good (Avengers!) and the bad (pretty much everything else) in the business of movies this summer

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Brie Larson, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) in "Avengers: Endgame."

Summer officially began Friday, but in Hollywood it's been summertime since the last weekend in April.

That's when "Avengers: Endgame" blew the doors off the box office to the tune of a record-obliterating $357 million, on its way to a domestic total of $831 million and still counting.

In today's box office landscape of superheroes and sequels, the "Avengers" are on top of the world. But as in life there's a widening gap between the kings and the peasants, as evidenced by the body count that's been laid out at in theaters in recent weekends.

Who's up, who's down, and where do we go from here? Glad you asked. Here are several lessons learned thus far at the summer box office.

Sequels aren't slam dunks

Some movies with numerals in their titles have done quite well for themselves. "John Wick 3: Parabellum" with Keanu Reeves has bucked nearly every sequel trend and become the highest-earner in the series, its $150 million tally topping the combined gross of the previous two entries. And "Toy Story 4," which opens this weekend, will likely do quite well for itself as well. (Maybe Keanu should star in everything?) 

It hasn't been nearly as rosy for other sequel fare. "Men in Black: International" learned the hard way that "Men in Black" just isn't "Men in Black" without Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, its limp $30 million opening the lowest in the series by a considerable margin. "Dark Phoenix," the latest chapter in the "X-Men" saga, was met with indifference (and, like "Men in Black: International," abysmal reviews) and will be the first "X-Men" title to fall short of the $100 million mark in North America. Both sequels learned the hard way that affiliation with a successful series doesn't guarantee positive results.

REVIEW: 'John Wick 3: Parabellum' delivers with a bang

REVIEW: 'Men in Black: International' misfires

"Godzilla: King of the Monsters," meanwhile, opened to half of its 2014 predecessor, as did "The Secret Life of Pets 2." And "A Dog's Journey" managed less than one-third the total business of 2017's "A Dog's Purpose," proving not every successful title is a franchise in-the-waiting.       

Disney keeps rolling

Maybe you remember the jokes and memes that greeted the first glimpses of Will Smith as the genie in Disney's live action remake of "Aladdin?" Those are now a distant memory as Guy Ritchie's film is closing in on $300 million domestic, and an additional $460 million overseas.

"Aladdin" is Disney's second live action remake of one of its animated classics this year, following March's "Dumbo" ($350 million worldwide), and with "The Lion King" right around the corner, Mickey Mouse can afford to buy several more Magic Kingdoms if he pleases.

(Another lesson: The success of "Aladdin" in the face of its pre-release online mockery is yet another example that Twitter, and the internet at large, means nothing in the real world. Carry on.)   

Feeling the Netflix effect

While theaters have increasingly become the playground for blockbuster franchise properties, mid-range fare — non-sequels, films not tied to an established cinematic universe — has been left to fend for scraps.

Comedies in particular have struggled to find a wide audience. "The Hustle," the con-comedy with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, stalled out at $34 million, while the high school romp "Booksmart" has generated just $20 million, an underperformer for a film which drew rampant comparisons to "Superbad." "Poms," with Diane Keaton leading a group of retirement home cheerleaders, managed a paltry $13 million, and "Late Night," a behind-the-scenes look at a network talk show with Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, opened to just $5.2 million. 

REVIEW: Raucous teen comedy 'Booksmart' graduates with honors

REVIEW: 'Late Night' not ready for prime time

This week, meanwhile, Netflix announced 30 million subscribers had watched "Murder Mystery," its dismal new comedy starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. It's tough to compare theatrical releases to the streaming model, but that number is an eye-opener.

Going forward, as audiences continue to turn out to only the biggest special effects- laden blockbusters, you have to wonder if theatrical releases for smaller films will even be worth it. That's something we'll for sure see play out in the summers to come.