In terms of box office, 2013 is off to a rocky start.
Based on figures provided by Box Office Mojo, the first three months saw movie theater attendance drop more than 13 percent from the same quarter in 2012. While that’s not as bad as 2011’s record-setting lows, it’s still a significant decrease compared to other years.
According to John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, a big part of that is the lack of family-friendly entertainment so far this year. Deadline’s David Lieberman quoted Fithian saying, “If you look at January in particular we had a lot of movies rated R that included a lot of violence. And those movies can sell, but not when that’s all you’ve got to offer.”
While adults were treated to a smorgasbord of 1980s action revivalism, including new features from Sylvester Stallone (“Bullet to the Head”), Arnold Schwarzenegger (“The Last Stand”) and Bruce Willis (“A Good Day to Die Hard”) — the first two of which grossly underperformed — family audiences were left pretty much high and dry through February. The only PG options moviegoers had to choose from were the animated feature “Escape from Planet Earth” and an IMAX 3-D re-release of “Top Gun.”
That contrasts with the last few months of 2012, Fithian said, when “we had comedies, we had dramas, we had family and (box office was) up over 15 percent in that quarter.”
Even PG-13 movies seemed surprisingly underrepresented in January and February.
In fact, the Guillermo del Toro-produced horror flick “Mama” was one of only two PG-13 movies to crack January’s otherwise R-dominated box office. It’s also one of the year’s only big winners so far. With a domestic take of $71 million ($127 million worldwide) and a budget of just $15 million, “Mama” easily topped the month’s top 10 despite decidedly mixed reactions from critics.
The only other PG-13 movie to crack the top 10 list in January was Dustin Hoffman’s “Quartet.” Thanks to generally positive reviews and good word of mouth — not to mention “Downton Abbey”’s Maggie Smith in a starring role — Hoffman’s directorial debut about a British retirement home for musicians earned an impressive $16 million. Not too shabby for a movie that opened in just 725 theatres.
After the puzzling dearth of PG-13 movies during January, February could only be an improvement in terms of variety, if nothing else. Of the four PG-13 movies to hit theatres that month in wide release, “Safe Haven,” the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation (starring Utah native Julianne Hough), as well as Jonathan Levine’s “zom-com” “Warm Bodies” got audiences to turn out in respectable numbers thanks to their seasonal appeal.
Neither film came close to “The Vow”’s $125 million haul from last year’s Valentine’s Day weekend, though, and the February box office ended up being the lowest the month has seen in the better part of a decade.
Unfortunately, even with several high-profile releases in March, things didn’t improve all that much.
Without something to take the spot of Lionsgate’s $400 million phenomenon from last year, “The Hunger Games,” March was bound to see a slight drop from 2012’s figures. However, one of two candidates, Bryan Singer’s costly action-comedy-fairytale “Jack the Giant Slayer,” turned out to be a huge disappointment for Warner Bros.
Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan wrote, “Singer's take on the old fairy tale has all things money can buy — except a good script. Despite some good acting, there may never have been a Jack tale that delivers so little pleasure for so many dollars.”
“Jack the Giant Slayer” only managed to make about $61 million in domestic box office. Even with $96 million from foreign markets so far, it will be hard pressed to make a profit against its $195 million budget.
Only Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” proved to be the kind of huge success studios were hoping to see in the first part of March.
As just the second movie this year to crack $100 million in domestic revenue (compared to last year, where, in the same timeframe, six movies had managed that feat), “Oz” has been a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal first quarter.
Closing in on $200 million in domestic revenue, with an additional $214 million from overseas, it easily tops the overall box office so far this year.
Other March highlights include DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods,” the first big-budget animated feature of 2013, and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” which scored the second-largest Easter opening ever with an estimated $41.2 million.
With 2013’s first quarter so far behind last year’s box office, though, industry analysts must be wondering if we’re in for a repeat of 2011. As Fithian told Deadline, despite huge films like “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” “In 2012 our summer and fall were not record breaking types of numbers. It was the first quarter in 2012 that was out-of-control record breaking.”
However, it hasn't just been a lack of variety, including for family audiences, that has caused 2013 to falter. The overall quality of movies released during the first quarter has, generally speaking, been abysmal.
Only three movies that appeared in wide release during the entire three-month stretch earned more than 70 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes — “Warm Bodies” (79 percent), “Quartet” (79 percent) and “Side Effects” (85 percent).
Add to that the fact that average ticket prices rose to $8.05 from last year’s all-time high of $7.96, and there just isn’t enough incentive for most people to go to the movies anymore.
Still, Fithian says he is optimistic for the remainder of 2013. With some of the year’s major releases just around the corner, including “Iron Man 3” and the Christopher Nolan-produced Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” the box office could be about to take off in a big way.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.