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Box Office Wallows In A Summer Slump, And Some Seek To Find Out Why


Hercules may have slayed a lion and a nine-headed Hydra beast, but he was no match for Scarlett Johansson this weekend.


MORGAN FREEMAN: (As Professor Norman) I'm not even sure that mankind is ready for her.

CORNISH: Johansson's "Lucy" topped the box office, earning $44 million in its opening weekend - well above expectations. But that doesn't make up for the fact that overall summer box office receipts are in a slump, down 20 percent compared to last year, according to the Hollywood Reporter. To talk about why, we turn to Paul Dergarabedian. He's a senior media analyst with RENTRAK, a company that measures TV and movie viewing. Welcome to the program.

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: It's great to be here, Audie. Thank you.

CORNISH: Was 2013 really that great? I mean, the movie "Iron Man 3" brought in $400 million?

DERGARABEDIAN: That's right, one movie or two movies can make or break a summer, and last summer was that good. The summer of 2013 was an absolute record-breaker, kicking off with "Iron Man 3," which opened with $174.1 million. You fast-forward a year later to the kick off to this summer of 2014, and the kickoff movie was "The Amazing Spiderman 2," which opened with $91.6 million. So it's all about the product and getting that audience excited to go out to the movie theater.

CORNISH: So who are the ticker buyers that are skipping out on going to the theater?

DERGARABEDIAN: Well, I think the ones who've been skipping out a little bit are the 18 to 24-year-old males who have been the bread-and-butter of the summer movie season for decades. And now it seems that Hollywood should be chasing the younger females or the female audience in general. If you look at "Maleficent," "The Fault In Our Stars," "Tammy" and most recently "Lucy," you have female protagonists leading these movies and these are the titles that have actually been doing very well and not underperforming like so many others.

CORNISH: Last summer's hits were encouraging for makers of sequels and prequels and discouraging for people who put out new and original stories. This summer, what's your takeaway?

DERGARABEDIAN: My take away is that 2015 is going to be the biggest summer of all time I predict already. And 2015 will be the biggest box office year of all time. So we're down right now, but the movie industry has a way of always bouncing back, it's a natural ebb and flow and definitely the nature of the box office beast.

CORNISH: So 2015 is going to be the biggest summer of all time, you're saying it here for the record. Why?

DERGARABEDIAN: I'm saying here, absolutely. I mean, it's going to kick off with "Avengers: Age Of Ultron," then that's going to be followed up with a new "Mad Max" movie, we're going to have "Jurassic World," we're going to have a Pixar movie - "Inside Out" - "Terminator," "Antman," "Minions" - a a spinoff of "Despicable Me." So there's a lot of big movies in the mix. And for 2015 overall, you've got the next James Bond movie, you've got the new Star Wars movies. And in terms of where we sit a year from now, we'll be talking about a 20 percent advantage over 2014, not a 20 percent deficit versus last year where we're sitting right now.

CORNISH: So it sounds like you're saying 2015 is all about more proven properties, more sequels, more stuff aimed at the demographic you say wasn't really turning out this summer.

DERGARABEDIAN: Well, therein lies the rub - it is the sequels that bring people out in a big way. For instance, this summer, "Edge Of Tomorrow" - Tom Cruise did very well worldwide, but not as big as people expected in North America. But it wasn't a known commodity - Tom Cruise is - but this wasn't part of a franchise. So, no question, 2014, we're going to see more franchises, more branded entertainment like "50 Shades Of Gray," which comes out Valentine's. So it's about brands that people know, for instance, like this year, which had "The Fault In Our Stars" based on that best-selling novel. So when people know what they're getting, they're more likely to part with their hard-earned dollars at the box office.

CORNISH: Paul Dergarabedian, thanks so much for talking with us.

DERGARABEDIAN: Thank you, Audie, I appreciate it.

CORNISH: Paul Dergarabedian, he's a senior media analyst with RENTRAK, a company that measures audiences for the movie and television industries. We spoke to him about the dip in domestic box office sales this summer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.