That worked for several low or medium budget horror films this summer, including "The Conjuring" and "The Purge." Several less expensive comedies also succeeded, like Seth Rogan's apocalyptic romp "This Is the End," Jason Sudeikis' road trip farce "We're the Millers" and the summer's top comedy, "The Heat," with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.
Some, like Sharlto Copley, who co-stars in the science-fiction thriller "Elysium" ($178 million worldwide on a $115 million budget) hoped some of the summer's high-cost misfires would push the studios to devote more resources to other types of films. Even Steven Spielberg, generally considered the father of the modern blockbuster, made headlines when he said Hollywood would "implode" if it continued to focus only on bigger and bigger blockbusters.
"The opportunity to do something original and on a very big scale seems to be getting rarer and rarer these days," said Copley. "Maybe if you have a few more bad times, you'll see the studios investing in smaller projects."
But the top six films of the summer were all sequels or part of existing franchises, including "Monsters University" and "Fast and Furious 6." The high cost of marketing a film (which can rival or surpass production costs for summer tentpole releases) also makes it likely studios will continue to increasingly depend on summer popcorn fare.
North American box-office performance is only part of the story, anyway. The robot-monster clash "Pacific Rim," made for $190 million, was considered one of the summer's failures after opening with $37.2 million domestically. But it's made more than $404 million worldwide.
Ultimately, the movie business remains an unpredictable animal, where supposedly sure things like Will Smith and Johnny Depp don't always come through, and micro-budget horror like "The Purge" or an unremarkable caper like "Now You See Me" can bring in tens of millions.
"There's something to be said for the stars all being aligned," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony Pictures, which released "One Direction: This Is It," as well as several of the summer's biggest disappointments like "White House Down" and "After Earth." ''Sometimes you don't hit it at the right moment."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released on Tuesday.
1. "Lee Daniels' The Butler," $20 million.
2. "One Direction: This Is Us," $18 million ($14.5 million international).
3. "We're the Millers," $15.9 million ($10.9 million international).
4. "Planes," $10.7 million ($7.9 million international).
5. "Instructions Not Included," $10 million.
6. "Elysium," $8.3 million ($17.9 million international).
7. "Mortal Instruments," $6.8 million ($9.2 million international).
8. "The World's End," $6.1 million ($410,000 international).
9. "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," $6.1 million ($11.4 million international).
10. "Getaway," $5.5 million.
Estimated weekend ticket sales Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:
1. "Elysium," $17.9 million.
2. "One Direction: This Is Us," $14.5 million.
3. "The Conjuring," $12.1 million.
4. "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," $11.4 million.
5. "Monsters University," $11 million.
6. "We're the Millers," $10.9 million.
7. "Grown Ups 2," $10.3 million.
8. "Mortal Instruments," $9.2 million.
9. "Now You See Me," $8.7 million.
10. "Smurfs 2," $8.5 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle
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