Even Earth's mightiest heroes couldn't save the second quarter of 2012

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, July 5 2012 4:43 p.m. MDT

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) in "The Avengers."

Paramount Pictures

After a healthy first quarter from January to March this year that saw movie ticket sales up almost 50 percent over the same period in 2011, entertainment analysts and studio heads were understandably optimistic about the state of the film industry — especially coming into a summer crowded, as usual, with potential blockbusters.

It seems like that optimism, though, might have been a little premature.

Other than “The Avengers,” the second quarter of 2012 has, in many ways, been a disaster for studios, and one that even Earth’s mightiest heroes couldn’t salvage. Depending on how the rest of the summer goes, this year could actually end up being a bigger overall failure for the movie industry than the record-setting lows witnessed in 2011.

The quarter got off to a weak start when 2012’s April releases were met with an unusual lack of audience interest. According to Box Office Mojo, the month’s cumulative gross dropped a staggering 46 percent from last year. In spite of the low audience turnout that plagued 2011, the month of April that year nevertheless saw a trio of films that eventually cracked the $100 million mark (“Fast Five,” “Rio” and “Hop”). Among those, “Fast Five” made upwards of $200 million.

By way of contrast, however, the highest-grossing April release in 2012 was Tim Story’s niche comedy “Think Like a Man,” which earned just more than $90 million.

Absent was anything on the scale of “Fast Five,” but the disheartening numbers didn’t necessarily have to do with either a lack of quality or variety. April was peppered with movies that could have been breakout hits — that is, if people had actually gone to see them.

Aardman Animations’ wonderfully anachronistic “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” for example, fizzled out a little shy of $30 million in spite of its all-too-rare combination of a family-friendly rating (PG) and positive critical reception (86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). Instead, audiences looking for entertainment suitable for all ages opted for the slapstick shenanigans of “The Three Stooges,” ignoring the critical drubbing it received.

Any momentum lost during April, though, didn’t seem to affect the release of “The Avengers,” which kicked off the summer movie season as perfectly as any film in recent memory, thanks to writer/director Joss Whedon’s remarkable balance of character and action.

The ambitious superhero team-up has so far dominated the summer box office — and rightfully so. In the absence of anything better, audiences have seemed content to just revisit the Marvel movie universe over and over and over again. Other major releases like the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration “Dark Shadows” and “Battleship,” Universal’s answer to the bombastic “Transformers” franchise, failed to find sizable audiences in spite of big-name stars and snazzy special effects. The latter film, in particular, sank like a rock in the U.S., pulling in a paltry $63 million.

For a little while, things actually looked so bleak for any would-be blockbusters without a green rage monster in them that Paramount made the questionable decision to bump one of the summer’s biggest releases, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” back from June of this year to March of 2013. The reason cited by Paramount was a desire to convert the film into 3-D.

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