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By Hammad Zaidi | July 9, 2013

Hey, filmmakers! I hope all of you had a wonderful Fourth of July, and for those of you who are not residing in the United States, I hope you had a great weekend. I spent my deliciously relaxing Fourth of July at home with family and friends. We barbequed, strolled the Redondo Beach Pier, and ultimately made our way to the roof of an oceanfront building and watched multiple firework displays illuminating the night sky above the Pacific Ocean. While my daughter Zoe enjoyed every single thunderous firework explosion with wide eyes and an open mouth, my other daughter Lena was more than content to sleep through the festivities. All in all it was a great time.

Today we’re going to explore an unusual trend that’s taken place this summer: Major tent pole “blockbusters” are being beaten on their opening weekends at the box office by smaller films. If this happened only once in a blue moon, studios would take notice, and then call it an anomaly. However, a smaller film has taken out a highly anticipated tent pole release three times in the last six weekends, so this is no fluke; it’s a trend.

While studios are on the phone with their accountants, largest shareholders and public relations firms to explain why their $200 million plus dollar films were spanked at the box office by smaller films with budgets a fraction of the cost, they must also be taking notice to the kinds of films moviegoers are spending their hard earned dollars on. Could this summer signal the end of $250 million dollar budgets? Hell no, especially since Disney is about to reintroduce Star Wars all over again. Besides, when a tent pole release hits, it hits big, and makes more than the gross national product of several small countries. However, if the last six weeks is any indication of what kinds of films moviegoers will spend their money on, we should expect studios to start releasing more mid-level budgeted films and fewer massive blockbuster releases in the coming years. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at what’s trending!

Despicable Me 2 vs. The Lone Ranger (July 3 release)
Despicable Me 2 made $82,517,315 over the weekend, and $143,076,000 in five days of release. This $76,000,000 million dollar budgeted picture was released on 3,997 screens, earning an astonishingly high per screen average of $20,645. The film has also earned $151,100,000 overseas, making its worldwide gross $294,176,000 thus far.

The Lone Ranger on the other hand, tanked so badly, I’m not sure if he should ever take his mask off. This highly anticipated summer release earned $29,432,000 over the weekend, on 3,904 screens, which is a poor $7,539 per screen average. When you include Wednesday and Thursday totals, the picture has made $48,936,000 in its first five days of release. Furthermore, an additional $24,300,000 has been made overseas, giving it a worldwide box office total of $73,236,000. However, The Lone Ranger spent between $215,000,000-$275,000,000 on its production budget, so it is clearly a bomb.

The Heat vs. White House Down (June 28 release)
The Heat, a $43,000,000 budgeted comedy, earned $39,115,000 on its opening weekend on 3,181 screens, giving it a respectable $12,296 per screen average. The earnings were good enough for first place among new releases, and second place overall at the box office, behind Monsters University, which earned $45,600,000 in its second weekend of release.

The Heat has earned $83,398,000 domestically, and $6,103,000 in foreign markets, giving it a worldwide gross of $92,501,000; not bad for a film that nobody saw coming.

White House Down, however, brought its own studio down as well as certain shame to the actual White House. This $150,000,000 budget only earned $24,852,258 on 3,222 screens, which is $7,713 per screen. It’s domestic total is $50,478,000, with only $17,400,000 more from overseas markets, totaling $67,878,000.

Now You See Me vs. After Earth (May 31 release)
Now You See Me was the summer’s first box office surprise, when it was the highest grossing new film on its opening weekend, by earning $29,350,389 on 2,925 screens; a $10,034 per screen average. This $75,000,000 budgeted film came in second overall at the box office, because Fast and Furious 6 won the weekend by earning $35,144,440.

After Earth teamed up Will Smith, Jaden Smith, and director M. Night Shyamalan, and it still tanked. This $130,000,000 budgeted film only earned $27,520,040 on 3,401 screens on its opening weekend, which is a dismal $8,092 per screen average.  The domestic total is $58,351,297. The only sign of life for this picture is that it has earned $140,200,000 overseas. Thus, its worldwide box office total is $198,551,297.

When we analyze the three weekend comparisons above, one glaring trend emerges: stories! People want stories, not just special effects and constant explosions.  Thus, let’s raise a glass and toast, “here’s to the story you’re writing right now, and hoping it slaughters a mindless, over-budgeted studio tent pole releasing on a summer weekend in the coming years!”

As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday.

I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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