Listen people, we are not in a summer box office slump. No matter what The New York Times is trying to sell you, audiences have not deserted the multiplexes in favor of other entertainment options (yep, Brook Barnes is at it again). Why has this summer been so middling thus far? Simple, with the exception of Iron Man 2 (which opened with $128 million and just crossed $300 million today or tomorrow), the really big guns haven't been released yet. Besides, as occasionally is the case, studios were spoiled by the mega-movies that did uncommonly well over the winter and spring. Aside from Avatar, which made about $400 million of its $749 million over 2010, we had the $332 million-grossing Alice in Wonderland, as well as the solid smash hits in How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans. As far as the summer season goes, just like the summers of my youth (1988-1995), the real peak season starts in mid-June, or this Friday to be exact. In other words, come this Friday, to quote the last true mid-June giant, "Now... the real game begins now."
This summer was always going to live or die by what happens between June 18th and July 16th. The Karate Kid breaking out is a gift, an unexpected bonus for a June that should have been uber-quiet save for the mid-June monster that everyone else was running scared from (would YOU open your studio's biggest movie a weekend before Toy Story 3?). The only real issue is that Iron Man 2 didn't completely crush everything it is path like it was expected to, and Shrek: The Final Chapter under-opened just a bit. That left holes in the schedule that weren't meant to be filled. Everything else was just as it looked on paper back in April. Did anyone expect Robin Hood to open to $50 million? Did anyone think that Sex and the City 2 would top the opening of the original, especially opening on a Thursday of family-friendly holiday? Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was never going to be The Mummy let alone Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Regardless, these were the B-players for their respective studios. Warner, Disney, and the rest still have their 800 pound gorillas in reserve.
With the exception of Paramount, which unleashed its two big films right at the start (Iron Man 2 and Shrek: Forever After), the studios have been holding their respective aces for later in the season. Come July 19th, if Inception opens to under $40 million, if Twilight Saga: Eclipse has grossed under $200 million, if Toy Story 3 has earned less than Toy Story 2 ($242m), if The Last Airbender hasn't pulled in $100 million (and/or scored overseas), if The Karate Kid has sputtered at $115 million, if Grown Ups grosses less than Don't Mess with the Zohan, and Knight and Day ends up well below the usual Tom Cruise $25m opening/$105 million finish, then we can all panic. Until all or most of those things happen, cool it. On the other hand, if Inception really does blow our minds, if Toy Story 3 makes us all weep like infants, if The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ups the quality-scale and comes close to or out-grosses New Moon, if The Last Airbender saves M. Night Shyamalan's career (the man who wrote and directed The Sixth Sense is still in there... somewhere), if Grown Ups and Knight and Day play like normal hits for their respective stars, then we'll all look pretty silly for panicking just a little over a month into a four-month ballgame.
And, for god's sake, stop treating break-out sensations like the 'new normal', with similar expectations for any future movie that has even passing similarities. Just because The Hangover opened with $45 million, doesn't mean that any R-rated male-driven comedy, be it Hot Tub Time Machine or Get Him to the Greek, should be expected to. Ditto for stupid Entertainment Weekly articles comparing Killers's adequate $16 million opening weekend to the tabloid-infused $50 million opening weekend of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Gee, Chris Nolan directed The Dark Knight, which opened to $158 million. Inception is directed by Chris Nolan too. Hey, two PG-13 Warner Bros thrillers released on the same weekend directed by Chris Nolan and co-starring Cillian Murphy and Michael Caine? Inception should open to AT LEAST $158 million right? Right...?