Blockbusters without staying power
LOS ANGELES - The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, and X-Men: Days of Future Past have all enjoyed big opening weekends in the last month, each earning between $90 million and $95 million in just their first three days.
But all of these movies have something else in common: a precipitous drop-off in ticket sales the following weekend.
Spider-Man 2 saw its numbers drop 61 percent from its first weekend. Godzilla plummeted 67 percent. X-Men tumbled 64 percent from figures it posted in its first three days.
The conventional wisdom for most blockbuster movies has been that a drop of more than 50 percent is disappointing. If the number rises above 60 percent, the drop begins to look like a cliff dive.
It's part of what might be called a one-and-done moviegoing culture - films that, for all their firepower, quickly lose their dominance at the box office.
"It's an interesting thing, and hard to figure out what's going on," said Bruce Nash, who runs the Hollywood data-analysis site the Numbers. "Is it that moviegoers are just moving on to the next shiny thing, or that these movies just have a very narrow appeal that doesn't go beyond their opening weekend?"
The so-called summer season that runs from May through July is not one for slow-burn hits. Unlike fall and winter, when hit films can see box office revenue barely decline for weeks or even months - Gravity was a prime example last fall - movies flame out much faster at this time of year.
But even by the adjusted standards of summer, the 2014 numbers are notable.
In recent years, far bigger openings have dropped less, and smaller openings have dropped considerably less.
In 2013 Iron Man 3, which opened to a gargantuan $174 million, still managed to fall only 58 percent in its second weekend. Star Trek Into Darkness, which opened to a more modest $70 million, dropped just 47 percent.
At the very least, experts said, these 60 to 70 percent drops should be happening occasionally, not all the time.
If this year's drops seem sizable compared with last year, they appear downright precipitous if you go further back. The Star Trek reboot of 2009 opened at $75 million - yet fell only 43 percent in its second weekend.
The biggest May opener in 2004 was Shrek 2, which opened to a hefty $108 million - yet fell just 33 percent the following weekend.
One Hollywood veteran who requested anonymity so as not to appear to be criticizing colleagues and competitors said new movies simply might not be built to last; these branded action adventures are a kind of "empty-calorie cinema" that doesn't inspire long-term moviegoing.
Others have pointed to the advent of digital platforms and the ease with which these movies can be seen elsewhere. If one isn't a part of the opening-weekend phenomenon in theaters, may as well wait for the movie on Redbox, Netflix, or cable on-demand.
The economics have studios concerned. Customer retention is a key benchmark for any business, and if the industry cannot get people to see a movie a week after it's out, it's not only losing valuable box-office dollars but it's also losing a capacity for relevance. If studios can't get audiences to remember these movies after just seven days, what happens when a sequel is supposed to hit in two years?
In contrast to television, movies aren't generating the kind of ongoing water-cooler buzz that makes screen entertainment fun in the first place. A few summers ago, films hung around for at least a few weeks, allowing us to catch up and discuss without feeling like we're picking at stale bread.
The latest test was the follow-up weekend to the seemingly strong $70 million opening for a certain Angelina Jolie fairy tale.
Maleficent seemed to have more magic than the recent fast-fading blockbusters, dropping 51 percent in its second weekend.