Collapsing Summer Box Office is Spielberg’s Prophecy Come True

valerian-and-the-city-of-a-thousand-planetstrailerpiece-03282017By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

During the summer 2017 domestic market, several high budget films opened in North America. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, budget $175 million. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, budget: $230 million. Transformers: The Last Knight, budget: $217 million. War for the Planet of the Apes, budget $150 million. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, budget $177 million. All have failed to make their budget back in their initial summer runs.

Even the modestly budgeted Stephen King epic The Dark Tower, at $60 million, failed to score highly on opening weekend. Does the Spielbergian Prophecy of Big Budget Box Office Doom continue to cast a shadow over Hollywood? It would seem so. So, where are all the movie goers?

“Every one save for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 disappointed.” – Movie Box Office Analyst Jeff Bock, Variety

Now to be fair, not all big budget films have flopped this summer. Wonder Woman is the shining jewel of 2017. With a budget of just shy of $150 million, the Warner Brothers Super Hero epic has grossed nearly three times that domestically, making it a bonafide hit.

Then there’s Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, budgeted at around $100 million, the World War II saga made half that back opening weekend, and has sailed past to $140 million since.

Numbers: Box Office Mojo

So clearly, not all big budgeted summer films are flops. But this summer has been the harbinger for a lackluster box office trend that has been going on since Lucas and Spielberg offered the following prophecy back in 2013:

There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm. – Steven Spielberg

Chart courtesy of

Spielberg went on to say back then that once this meltdown began, there will be no stopping it, and that theaters will be forced to charge higher and higher ticket prices in order to pay for those big budget films.

“It’ll be like going to a broadway show,” Spielberg said, “you’re gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man.”  

And look where we are today. Although the National Association of Theater Owners reports that the average ticket price is only $8.89. That’s not $25 a piece, mind you. But when you look in New York and L.A. it’s easily around $15 a ticket, and the price has steadily climbed every year since 1993.

Since 2013, three out of four summer box office seasons have experienced an average drop at the box office. And look at IMAX, which has decided to wean itself off expensive 3D presentations simply because theater goers aren’t willing to spend a premium for them. And don’t get me started on the price of popcorn.

In addition, Spielberg also said that we’ll see fewer and fewer films being released, but so far, that trend seems to be vacillating up and down, with the top six studios going from 78 films in 2013, to a high of 93 films last year, but it’s down to 81 films this year. Disney’s output had dropped, relying on Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, and live-action remakes of their animated classics.

But after the disastrous summer season of 2017, it’s anyone’s guess if the release schedule will trend downward again.

The bottom line is that we may be experiencing the apogee of what theater goers are willing to pay for most films. I know from my own experience that I am choosing to wait for a movie like Baywatch to come out on RedBox more often, and looking for group rate tickets when I do go to the movies. As Spielberg predicted, it’s becoming more of a special occasion worth paying the premium for, rather than a weekly activity like it was back in the 30s and 40s.

Maybe Hollywood should consider bringing back Dish Night.

Source: WSJ

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.