Big Summer Movies Go Belly Up At The Box Office

There have been a lot of big flops at the movie box office this summer, most notably The Lone Ranger.

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Hollywood movies are full of bombs this summer, and I mean both literally and figuratively. There have been a lot of big expensive movies, often action movies, that have not done very well at the box office. NPR's Elizabeth Blair says think "After Earth," "The Lone Ranger," and "White House Down."

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: First, there have been some hits this summer, mostly sequels like "Iron Man 3."

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM, "IRON MAN 3")

ROBERT DOWNEY, JR.: (as Tony Stark) We can do this, Heather.

BLAIR: And "Fast And Furious 6," a second "Star Trek" movie from J.J. Abrams, and "Despicable Me 2."

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM, "DESPICABLE ME 2")

STEVE CARROLL: (As Gru) Gru's back in the game with gadgets and weapons and cool cars, the whole deal.

BLAIR: Gru and his minions ruled the box office. This summer Hollywood spared no expense. Some 17 super-expensive, flashy, heavily promoted movies were released in just three months' time. But some look to be serious money losers. Take the sci-fi flick "Pacific Rim." It cost $190 million to make and probably about that much to market, but its worldwide box office hasn't reached the 200-million mark.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM, "PACIFIC RIM")

IDRIS ELBA: (as Stacker Pentecost) I do not need your sympathy or your admiration...

BLAIR: Doug Creutz says "Pacific Rim" is just one of this summer's duds.

DOUG CREUTZ: This has been the most crowded summer for blockbusters I think that I can remember and probably that there has ever been.

BLAIR: Creutz is a media and entertainment analyst with Cowen & Company. He says on the one hand, total box office has been good this summer, but not enough to turn profits for 17 costly properties.

CREUTZ: There was an enormous amount of money spent bringing this summer slate to theaters, and I wouldn't say that the box office we're seeing is sort of commensurate with that. In other words, while the top line is going to be good for Hollywood, the bottom line may not be as good.

BLAIR: One very important filmmaker was more dramatic. Steven Spielberg predicted a meltdown was coming sometime soon. In May he told an audience at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts that he thought enough mega-budgeted movies would go crashing into the ground and change the way Hollywood does business. But others say it won't happen any time soon.

So what is the rationale for spending upwards of $200 million on an action movie when a studio could make relatively larger profits with less expensive story-driven films? Rachel Abrams, financial news editor for Variety, says she hears that question a lot.

RACHEL ABRAMS: A lot of people say, why don't you just hedge your bets and make 20 "Black Swans," and "Black Swan," of course, was, I think, a $13 million movie that did gangbusters.

BLAIR: The ballet drama "Black Swan" cost $13 million to produce and it made over 300 million at the box office worldwide.

ABRAMS: And what the studios say is, look, we just - if you crunch the numbers, these bigger movies, they just do better.

BLAIR: And even if they don't do better in the U.S., there's a chance they'll do better overseas. Doug Creutz says the foreign market is more important than ever. He says these days a movie can make up to 70 percent of its profits overseas.

CREUTZ: And the thing about playing well outside of the U.S., if it's a comedy, you know, a lot of humor is very cultural and what's funny here may not be funny in China or Brazil. But action is pretty much universal, right? You blow a lot of stuff up, it's going to play about the same everywhere.

BLAIR: There are more expensive effects-driven movies still to come this summer - "Wolverine," "Elysium" and "Smurfs 2." Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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