Top Film Industry Stories of 2014 #3:
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Bad Summer of Box Office

By David Mumpower

January 8, 2015

'Cause you had a bad day...

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By now, it is the box office story that has been run into the ground. Everyone knows that 2014 was the opposite of a banner year for film attendance. In point of fact, there were fewer visitors to movie theaters last year than at any time since 1995. In other words, it was the worst year for domestic exhibitors in the entire life of anyone under 20.

The numbers never lie. Only 1.26 billion tickets were sold in 2014, the lowest amount since 1995 garnered 1.21 billion. To put this into perspective, Xena: Warrior Princess was a brand new show the last time movie theaters were so empty. Also, Maggie Simpson had just shot Mr. Burns during Season 7 of The Simpsons. Peyton Manning was still three years away from being drafted, Kobe Bryant was a McDonald’s All-American high school player, and Mike Trout was four.

Historically, box office ticket sales have always been in decline since the medium’s halcyon days prior to World War II. The numbers have been disguised by constant ticket price inflation and an ever-expanding number of exhibitors who have made movie consumption an around-the-clock process. So, a lot has to go wrong for ticket sales to shrink rapidly, and it surely did over the past year.

In 2013, composite North American ticket sales were 1.34 billion. Where did those 80 million worth of ticket sales go over the past year? The losses were a combination of gradual and dramatic. Most of the issues surround the summer movie campaign, ordinarily the most lucrative part of the non-holiday movie calendar.


Box office revenue declined a historic 15% from the summer of 2013 to 2014. The factors leading to this precipitous drop in earnings exemplify the maxim "death by a thousand cuts." There was no singular tentpole release to carry the day, as there had been with Iron Man 3 in 2013. In fact, the fourth most successful release of 2013, Despicable Me 2, would have been the number one movie of 2014…by over $40 million.

The summer of 2014 was also amazing in a different regard. For the first time since 2003, no film opened to at least $100 million. Half a dozen films came close by posting debuts north of $90 million. However, all of them fell short of the established nine-figure mark that identifies a monolithic opening weekend. No film from the start of May until Labor Day weekend proved enticing enough to become a true tentpole performer. Without a linchpin $100 million opener/$400 million earner to compensate for other failures, this past summer was already playing from behind.

Of course, there was another key factor that contributed to the problem. Actually, it was a pair of problems. Two films that were surefire $225+ million performers slotted for the summer of 2014 were indefinitely delayed. The first of them was the latest offering from the Fast & Furious franchise. Series star Paul Walker’s death delayed principal photography, as the production team scrambled to deal with a tragic outcome.

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