Given everything that has happened so far in 2017, do movies really register anymore? Of course they do! We love them, and the show must go on. Escapism has never been more fashionable. Escapism has also never been so accessible outside a movie theater (this VR grocery shopping experience is killer!). This July, like many others, had a few token releases meant to be the big hitters of the season. Again, as in previous months, there was one standout performer, although it did not reach the same height as previous tentpoles, and other movies were able to maintain a moderate pace. The peak and trough were not as extreme as other months this year, but in general the numbers were okay. It was, in the end, a bland July from a box office perspective. However, there were quite a few very good films out there, which might be what matters the most.
July 2017 Box Office Recap
By Steven Slater
August 3, 2017
1) Spider-Man: Homecoming
Opening Weekend: $117 million
Monthly Total: $280 million
What?! The number one movie is a comic book adaptation? What madness! And although it is distributed by Sony, Marvel’s, and by extension Disney’s, hands are all over it, making it the success it is. You know putting just about every scene with Tony Stark in the trailer is what really sold a lot of tickets opening weekend, as evidenced by the surprising weekend declines. However, the franchise is saved, in a sense, and Spider-Man adds his skills to the largest roster of talent in a production since Mars Attacks, and Marvel continues to dominate the air in the room.
I think the biggest lesson here is that movie goers knew that Spider-Man was a quality product, and that is why it succeeded. The quality was communicated through the stellar reviews, as well as knowing that the Marvel brand was involved, mostly through Iron Man’s presence in the trailer. Previous Spider-Man films, especially with Andrew Garfield, felt like they were treading water for the franchise. They weren’t bad, but it felt a bit worthless to keep putting them out, like Sony was simply going through the motions. Considering the other Sony title released this month, I would say they still are when it comes to filmmaking. Poop emoji. (Is it more ironic when I spell it out? Can we even write emojis on BOP?) At least we know that with Spider-Man (and who knows, maybe X-Men are next?) in the MCU’s hands, he has stepped back up into the utmost tier of comic book films.
2) Despicable Me 3
Opening Weekend: $72.4 million
Monthly Total: $202.3 million
Technically this is a holdover, but it only played a day and a half before July. Our second biggest earner for July is the third Despicable Me, and fourth in the franchise that has put Illumination Entertainment onto the map. It also continues Universal’s hot streak as sidekick to the juggernaut that is Disney. Six major studios go in. Two come out. However, the 2017 fate of diminishing returns hits this franchise as well, as DM3 opened lower than DM2 or Minions, and will have the lowest domestic total for the seven-year franchise. It will, luckily, have about the same global total as DM3, but Minions will retain their crown on all fronts. I’m sorry Gru, but the people have spoken. And they love warm skin-toned freaks who speak nonsense. And Minions.
3) War for Planet of the Apes
Opening Weekend: $56.2 million
Monthly Total: $120.1 million
You have to hand it to Fox. They aimed to make this franchise reboot have quality films, and not simply sell their souls for a bit of money. War for POTA is the third highest grossing film for July, although it will likely be eclipsed by the other dark, dramatic film released this month. War, as ever, is earning less than its predecessor, and will even fall below the domestic gross of the first film, even though reviews were remarkably good. Hopefully the correct lessons are learned here, where although the franchise did not improve its box office standing with each installment, it never diminished the returns in a large capacity (see: Smurfs, Divergent, Pirates, etc…) Between this and Kong, there is obviously a ceiling to monkey movies. Even though this is the last film of this trilogy, I am sure Andy Serkis will be flopping about with little dots on his face soon enough. It feels like it’s time for a Gollum stand alone film, right? Or maybe he could be Yoda. Ooh…
Opening Weekend: $ 50.5 million
Monthly Total: $ 104.6 million
I find it fascinating that although star power appears to have waned considerably over the years, there are other “stars” wielding influence. Among directors, arguably no one stands taller than Christopher Nolan. He has forged a permanent link between his films and the movie going audience, such that there is always a large group awaiting his projects. With Dunkirk, he continues an incredible streak of crafting original stories, writing them himself, having large budgets, and earning hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. Dunkirk is self-described as his most experimental film yet, but the box office is right in line with Interstellar, if a bit behind Inception (he loves the letters I and D). Nolan plays to the older audience, seeking a bit more out of their films, and he is rewarded with legs that should carry Dunkirk through the rest of summer, especially in IMAX venues. With standard Nolan legs, this film should play very similar to Interstellar, although foreign audiences outside Britain may not turn out as high. Either way, it’s another big notch on his belt.
5) Baby Driver
Monthly Total: $ 77.5 million
Another well-loved director finds his mark, as the fifth biggest earner for July is from a director who certainly has a following, but never a true box office hit. That all ended with Baby Driver, a film that set out to be a very targeted genre film, and lots of people wanted that movie. Baby Driver might just squeeze past $100 million when all is said and done, which is over triple what any of Edgar Wright’s previous efforts earned stateside (or double worldwide totals for that matter). Wright is one of a cadre of filmmakers who have decided that no matter where the winds of progress blow, they are going to keep making exactly the type of movie they want. Perhaps it is too bad he never had the chance to helm Ant-Man, but if that steered him in this direction then all the better for audiences.
6) Girls Trip
Opening Weekend: $31.2 million
Monthly Total: $67.2 million
Okay, this is getting a bit creepy. This is the fifth movie on this list to have a Rotten Tomatoes score near 90%. Either July was the greatest summer movie month in years, or reviewers are simply overjoyed to have two decent hours away from reality these days. Girls Trip broke out the way many films targeted towards minorities have in recent memory, and as mentioned received some stellar reviews for a comedy. With a $31.2 million opening from just 2,500 venues (Spiderman opened in almost 4,400), this one should have legs even Nolan might envy (just look at that poster). You can bet the Girls are going to have a lot more trips in the coming years.
7) Wonder Woman
Monthly Total: $60.8 million
Wonder Woman played through the entire month of June, and yet it still had enough gas to achieve seventh on the list for July. Just barely charting in the top ten for the ninth weekend, this is the success story of the summer. After another week or so, this should just barely top $400 million, putting one movie in each $100 million bracket until later this year. Beauty and the Beast is over $500 million, Wonder Woman $400, Guardians $300, and then a bunch in the $200s. Wonder Woman is also the rare film where the domestic gross may be higher than international gross, perhaps since this is the first encounter most audiences have with the character. Captain America performed like that initially as well, and then by Winter Soldier, the international grosses were almost double the domestic ones. Although given how strongly this performed right out of the gate, diminishing domestic returns similar to the original Spiderman trilogy might be expected. Look for Wonder Woman to provide a lasting boost to her story and perhaps the larger DC universe.
8) Transformers: The Last Knight
Monthly Total: $38.9 million
After seventh there is a bit of a cliff, where no film earned in July what Spider-Man earned its first day. There is also a reviews cliff, as after this the films are no longer stellar, although Transformers is the only true review bomb on this list. Can we please say goodbye to this franchise, or at least Michael Bay’s handling of it? Maybe I am wrong, and there are lots of people who want Bayhem, the whole Bayhem, and nothing but the Bayhem, so help them God. Yes, the visual effects are astonishing, but what does that really mean anymore? When was the last time a film had atrocious visual effects? I need meat on my bones, not really glittery fancy bones, damn it! Michael Bay, if you are listening, I would love to see you film Waiting for Godot. Please.
9) Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets
Opening Weekend: $17 million
Monthly Total: $31 million
Luc Besson is someone who has put his mark on the film world. I am someone who counts Leon and The Fifth Element among my favorite films, and the glimmers I saw from Valerian gave me hope. Alas, it was not to be, as his spark seems to have faded (Lucy was bonkers in a way but still lifeless), and Valerian is going to be a huge financial failure, in some sense. Even though most costs were apparently covered through foreign pre-sales, no one is coming out of this looking good. I think a movie like this makes the spectacular success of Avatar all the more impressive as time goes on; a bit ironic as I know someone said this was the best use of 3D they had seen since Cameron’s film. This will be in the discount bin at Walmart soon, and will be lucky to match its rumored $200 million budget even with worldwide grosses factored in.
10) Cars 3
Monthly Total: $32.3 million
The tenth highest grosser in July yet again continues the trend of franchises’ diminishing returns, as Cars 3 will be the second lowest domestic film in Pixar history, and even overseas grosses are fairly abysmal. If the movies do not really matter to the bottom line, will Cars transition into something else to keep the franchise fresh in children’s minds? Perhaps it is better suited as a video game franchise, where kids race Lightning McQueen around their living room with augmented reality? Either way, Pixar has been having a hit with every other film recently, so perhaps Coco will strike it big. If not, Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4 are on the horizon, so undoubtedly the future looks rosy for them either way. Cars 3 will peter out around $150 million domestic, and perhaps only match that from foreign theaters.
July will go down as the biggest month of 2017 so far, even if nothing about it quite felt spectacular. June had Wonder Woman, February had Get Out, May had Guardians. I think the biggest story this July is simply the quality of most of the releases, as only eight films had wide debuts, and half of those had exceptionally good reviews. Six out of the top seven earning films had Rotten Tomatoes scores around 90% this month! One might even get some Oscar love when all is said and done. Is it a better thing that quality matters more to the slice of pie a film carves out, or worse that the pie itself seems to be shrinking? Given that July was a big month for box office, relatively speaking, and the movies were often original and stellar, please let this send all the right signals to Hollywood. Start a #freshfilms meme, or maybe #ilikeditbetterwhentheywereoriginal. Poop Emoji.