Summer movies 2017: Box-office winners and losers

Gwynne Watkins
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Gal Gadot led  Wonder Woman to roaring summer success; Idris Elba couldn’t find box-office glory in The Dark Tower. (Photos: Warner Bros./Sony Pictures)

It’s been a chilly summer for the movie business. By August, the U.S. box office was reporting historic lows, with several media outlets looking back to the dark days following the September 2001 terror attacks to find comparable numbers. Blame streaming media, franchise fatigue, or a lack of decent August options, but U.S. movie-ticket sales are approaching a 25-year low. And yet, there were bright spots: The international box office is up more than 3 percent, the box office was buoyed by some surprise hits (including Dunkirk, Girls Trip, and Baby Driver), and Wonder Woman would be considered a runaway smash in any year. Here, we assess summer 2017’s box-office winners and losers.

WINNER: The continuing reign of Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is the No. 1 film of the summer, but that’s not all it is. It’s now the third-highest-grossing Warner Bros. release ever (after The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises), the seventh-highest-grossing superhero movie ever, and the highest-grossing film of all time by a female director (congrats, Patty Jenkins). The film opened on June 2 and was still tallying million-dollar weekends at the end of August; as of today, the mighty Amazon’s origin story has earned $406.8 mil domestically.

LOSER: Failure-to-launch franchises
In these strange times, every big-budget film must contain the seed of a film universe, from which to mine an endless supply of sequels and spinoffs. Except it doesn’t always work. The Dark Tower ($46 mil), Valerian ($40 mil), Baywatch ($58 mil), and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword ($39 mil) were all potential franchises turned flops. The exception is The Mummy ($80 mil), a U.S. box-office disappointment that hasn’t dissuaded Universal from moving forward with its Dark Universe monster franchise. Bride of Frankenstein is slated for February 2019.

Christopher Nolan directs Dunkirk. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

WINNER: Dunkirk
Christopher Nolan’s breathtaking World War II drama took off despite plenty of risks. Not only is Dunkirk a major departure from its director’s signature genre films such as The Dark Knight and Inception, but it’s the polar opposite of a popcorn flick. It could easily have drowned in a sea of animation and superhero films, forgotten by the start of Oscar season. Instead, Dunkirk was an unexpected sensation, taking in $174 mil so far and holding the No. 1 spot at the box office for two consecutive weeks.

LOSER: Detroit
The latest true-to-life thriller from director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) took on the timely subject matter of police brutality in a black urban neighborhood. Perhaps it was too timely for escapism-seeking summer audiences. The film has brought in just $16 mil, despite opening in more theaters than Zero Dark Thirty (which grossed $95 mil).

WINNER: Girls Trip
R-rated studio comedies had it rough this year, until Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, and breakout star Tiffany Haddish came to the rescue. Girls Trip ($109 mil) is a milestone in female ensemble comedy: The film opened bigger than Bridesmaids, is selling more tickets per week than Bad Moms, and stands as the only live-action comedy to pass the $100 million mark so far in 2017.

LOSER: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
This ambitious sci-fi dazzler from director Luc Besson was far more expensive than his 2014 film Lucy — and with just under $40 million in receipts, it made significantly less money. The film did better overseas, particularly in China and Besson’s native France, but still hasn’t recouped its hefty production budget (estimated at $180 mil).

WINNER: Our Minion overlords
Who would have guessed that those anthropomorphized Twinkies in Gru’s basement would become one of America’s most popular exports? Thanks to the massive $975 million worldwide box office of Despicable Me 3 ($255 mil of that in the U.S.), Illumination’s four-film franchise (including three Despicable Me films and Minions) has stolen Shrek’s title as the highest-grossing animated franchise of all time worldwide. 

Will Ferrell in The House. (Photo: Warner Bros./YouTube)

LOSER: The House
Though The House was stacked with beloved stars like Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, this comedy about parents who turn their home into an illegal casino proved to be one of summer’s worst bets, taking in $25 mil against a $40 mil budget.

WINNER: Big-screen events
Why should people go out to the movies when they can stream them at home? That question has the industry doing some heavy soul-searching — but one clear draw in summer 2017 were movies that felt like events. Dunkirk was promoted as a film that needed to be seen on the big screen, and sure enough, people came. Wonder Woman’s end-of-summer Imax rerelease boosted the film’s already robust numbers. And one of August’s biggest audience draws in theaters was an actual live sporting event: The Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor boxing match on Aug. 26 brought in enough money ($2.6 mil) to crack that weekend’s top 10.

LOSER: Colin Trevorrow
Between its meager $4 mil box-office take and the embarrassingly bad reviews, Trevorrow’s original drama The Book of Henry put the director’s reputation on the line — to the point where fans wondered if he would keep his Star Wars: Episode IX job. So far, the Force is still with him. (UPDATE: Until now!)

WINNER: Returning Marvel Heroes
They don’t call him amazing for nothing. Spider-Man: Homecoming marked the character’s third franchise reboot in 15 years, yet Spidey came out swinging, earning $320 mil at home and $418 mil internationally. The Guardians of the Galaxy also had a stellar season, with May’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 drawing in summer audiences to the tune of $389 mil (plus $473 mil internationally).

LOSER: Sequels to the point of exhaustion
Diminishing returns were the name of the game for many once-reliable summer franchises back this year for at least their third time. The fifth Pirates of the Caribbean ($172 mil) and Transformers films ($130 mil), the third Cars movie ($149 mil), and the eighth Alien ($74 mil) all came in below projections — though Despicable Me 3 ($254 mil) and Spider-Man: Homecoming ($318 mil) bucked the trend.

Edgar Wright arrives ahead of the Baby Driver Australian premiere in Sydney on July 12, 2017. (Photo: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

WINNER: Edgar Wright
A reliable creator of cult-favorite comedies like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Hot Fuzz, British writer-director Wright had never had a major box-office hit in the U.S. — until now. Wright’s high-speed, music-driven crime film Baby Driver has made $104 mil domestically, nearly quadrupling the box office of his previous film, The World’s End.  

LOSER: Logan Lucky
Director Steven Soderbergh emerged from his previously announced retirement to make this racecar heist flick starring Daniel Craig, Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Katherine Waterston, and Riley Keough. Alas, Soderbergh’s ambitious scheme to market the film on a shoestring backfired; Logan Lucky received rave reviews but has earned only $16.5 mil.

WINNER: Annabelle: Creation
Insiders who never expected 2013’s The Conjuring to become a major horror franchise were in for another shock in summer 2017. The fourth installment, an origin story starring the namesake creepy doll, opened at No. 1 and has generated $81 mil on a $15 mil budget, plus $138 mil overseas.

LOSER: Open Road Films
Still smarting from April’s huge box-office fail with Armenian genocide drama The Promise, Open Road was no doubt counting on a rebound with the animated The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature. Instead, the abysmally reviewed sequel chalked up the worst opening ever for a film playing in 4,000 theaters. So far it’s made $23.5 mil against a $40 mil budget.

WINNER: Lionsgate
The studio behind The Hunger Games took an anti-tentpole approach to summer, stocking its lineup with smaller-budgeted films — and it paid off. The limited-release romantic comedy The Big Sick ($39 mil), the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me ($45 mil), and the Ryan ReynoldsSamuel L. Jackson action-comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard ($44 mil) all had strong summers. Lionsgate’s one stumble was the underperforming memoir adaptation The Glass Castle ($13 mil).

LOSER: Transformers: The Last Knight
The fifth Transformers movie showed that the power may be draining out of Michael Bay’s giant robots, beloved by audiences and mocked by critics for a decade. The Last Knight brought in the lowest box office of the five films, making $130 mil domestically on a $217 mil budget. A substantial foreign tally ($473 mil) made the movie profitable, but it’s still a steep decline from the previous installment, Age of Extinction (which made over $1 billion worldwide in 2014).

47 Meters Down (Photo: Entertainment Studios/YouTube)

WINNER: 47 Meters Down
Like last summer’s The Shallows, this shark-based thriller chomped enough money to swim ahead of its low production costs. With a $44 million gross, 47 Meters Down proved that the Jaws formula still works more than 40 years later: Summer audiences flock to a beach vacation gone terrifyingly wrong.

LOSER: Netflix’s blockbuster ambitions
The emergence of Netflix as a movie studio has generated significant controversy in Hollywood this year, with detractors like James Cameron and Christopher Nolan expressing concern that streaming media will kill the moviegoing experience. But it didn’t happen this summer. Though Netflix released some excellent films, including Bong Joon-ho’s critically acclaimed Okja, none generated the kind of pop-culture buzz that Netflix has achieved with original TV series like Stranger Things. But don’t count them out; upcoming Netflix films include the Will Smith fantasy-noir Bright and Martin Scorsese’s star-packed gangster film The Irishman.

WINNER: Atomic Blonde
This low-budget, super-violent spy thriller faced stiff competition at the box office but managed to register a stronger opening weekend — and with $49 million, bigger total box-office receipts — than director David Leitch’s previous bloodbath John Wick. Will this one get a sequel too? Charlize Theron might want to keep those shades handy.

WINNER: Matt Reeves
War for the Planet of the Apes made a respectable $143 mil domestically and $216 mil internationally. Though it was actually the least profitable installment of the reboot trilogy, it was also the best-reviewed, positioning director Matt Reeves for a bright post-Apes future — beginning with a plum DC assignment, The Batman.

LOSER: Popcorn sales
Movie theater owners no doubt bore the brunt of this sluggish movie season. According to the Hollywood Reporter, summer box-office revenue in North America is down 16 percent over last year and will fail to clear $4 billion for the first time since 2006. Movie buffs might want to start buying extra boxes of Junior Mints to support their local cinema.

Hollywood’s big summer movies were all filmed elsewhere:

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