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By Shawn Robbins

If ever a summer movie season could be described as a mixed bag, it was this one.

Summer 2014's box office haul topped out at an estimated $4.03 billion--down 14 percent from last year's record $4.69 billion. This marks the eighth consecutive year in which summer (defined in this review as May 1 through August 31) crossed the $4 billion threshold. Unfortunately, it was still the lowest since 2006's $3.64 billion.

Another Record August...

The dog days closed on a high note, though: thanks mostly to Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which combined for $438 million, the industry enjoyed its best August on record (not accounting for inflation) with $1.016 billion--the first time August has ever surpassed the billion dollar mark. That bests August 2013's previous record of $930 million.

...But Summer Wasn't Saved

The writing was on the wall after June dipped 16 percent from last year, followed swiftly by July's 29.5 percent year-over-year plunge. In fact, it was the first July to fall short of $1 billion since 2002's $961 million tally. Ultimately, for the first time since 1987, August grossed more than than the preceding July preceding--the only two such occurrences on record. (To be fair, a major component in July's weak turnout was due to Fast & Furious 7's delay following Paul Walker's tragic passing.)

While May itself also lost ground, its $1.01 billion still accounted for the fifth best non-adjusted May and generally strong openers throughout the month. It gets a pass.

The biggest stories of the summer emanated from the birth (or rebirth) of new franchises like GuardiansTurtles, and Godzilla, the revival success of X-Men: Days of Future Past, strong sequel performers in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 22 Jump Street, plus standalone hits in Maleficent, Neighbors, The Fault In Our Stars, and Lucy. Under-performers included Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and arguably the most surprising, How to Train Your Dragon 2 (long considered a favorite to be the season's top earner).

Marvel's Hat Trick

For the third consecutive year, Marvel Studios claimed the highest grossing summer flick as Guardians followed in the footsteps of 2012's Avengers and last year's Iron Man 3.

Interestingly, this marks the first time that an August release "won" its summer. Given the proclivity of sequels to routinely top the charts, Guardians--the only film to claim first place three times this summer--also stands out by representing the season's first champ since 2003's Finding Nemo to feature a cast of characters never before seen on film. Once again, we see how originality still carries great appeal with moviegoers.

The $90 Million Cluster

Box office enthusiasts have taken interest in one curious trend this year: films opening in the $90 million range. Entering 2014, seven films had bowed somewhere $90-99 million throughout the years. Since April alone, we've seen five more (nearly six when counting controversial reports of the latest Transformers' debut).

The Search for $300 Million

Through Labor Day, this was the first summer (and year-to-date overall) without a single $300 million earner since 2000's Mission: Impossible II ($215 million). That said, Guardians' impressive staying power has put it on course to topple that benchmark before the end of its run.

Since the turn of the century, the only other summers to yield just one $300 million performer were 2005 (Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, $380 million) and 2006 (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, $423 million).

A Rare Off-Year for Animation

One notable takeaway this year was the lack of animated offerings, and the first absence of Pixar from the summer slate since 2005 (due to The Good Dinosaur's delay, announced nearly one year ago).

Following its predecessor's universal praise four years back, How to Train Your Dragon 2 represented the only tentpole animation this summer (Disney's Planes: Fire and Rescue was expected to perform modestly, as it did). That alone was cause for high expectations ahead of its June release, but once Turtles inevitably passes it on the chart, Dragon 2 will rank in tenth place among summer releases. Prior to 2014, at least one animated film cracked the top five for eight straight summers. 1998's Mulan (ninth place) was the last to rank so low.

Consider Dragon 2's strong reviews (92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), word of mouth (92 percent Flixster score, "A" CinemaScore), and holding power (a respectable 3.48x multiple from opening weekend, stronger than Monsters University's 3.26 last year). One possible cause of the film's inability to capture a larger audience was its nature as a less comedic story than is typical of mega-grossers like the Shrek, Toy Story, and Despicable Me sequels.

Additionally, cash-strapped parents may still be reconciling their bank accounts after buying so many tickets to Frozen and The LEGO Movie earlier this year, not to mention last year's string of animated hits.

Summer's Sunny Spots

Reviews and audience word of mouth were largely positive for most tentpole releases. The average Rotten Tomatoes critics' and Flixster audience scores didn't vary by much from last summer, but among the top 10, four films scored over 90 percent on both sites this year (Guardians, X-Men, Apes, and Dragon). Last summer, only two films scored over 78 percent with critics (Star Trek Into Darkness - 87 percent, Despicable Me 2 - 74 percent) while Trek claimed the only Flixster score over 90 percent.

Studio bean-counters can rejoice over the fact that there were very few financial bombs along the lines of The Lone Ranger, After Earth, White House Down, R.I.P.D., or Turbo. For example, Tom Cruise's crowd-pleasing Edge of Tomorrow disappointed domestically, but strong word of mouth and overseas returns have strengthened its bottom line. The same applies to the Transformers, Amazing Spider-Man, and Dragon sequels, whose international revenues ensured overall financial prosperity for Paramount, Sony, and Fox, respectively--albeit, not on the level once hoped for regarding the latter two.

Studio Showdown

There's no questioning that Fox and Disney walk away with the most bragging rights. The latter boasts two of the top three films of summer (Guardians and Maleficent)--not to mention Captain America: The Winter Soldier's fantastic run prior to May. Meanwhile, Fox claimed four of the top twelve grossers--led by Bryan Singer's X-Men return and Matt Reeves' Apes sequel.

On the year, Fox currently has a slight 0.6 percent lead over Disney in market share among all studios.

Impact on Yearly Performance

Despite carrying a 9 percent year-over-year lead into May, 2014 now trails 2013 by just over 5 percent with $7.2 billion--the lowest yearly sum through August 31 since 2008's $6.83 billion.

Adjusting for inflation highlights more unsettling results: all things being equal, this summer was estimated as the least-attended in 22 years (based on dividing total grosses by today's average ticket price of $8.15). The last time summer saw fewer patrons enter cinema doors was 1992, when films like Batman Returns and Lethal Weapon 3 represented the biggest blockbusters.

Looking at year-to-date performance adjusted for inflation, the story doesn't improve much. 2014 has sold an estimated 124.7 million tickets through August--the lowest figure since 1995.

Looking Ahead...

The poor performance following last year's record summer doesn't bode well heading into a questionable autumn release calendar, but there is light up ahead. November and December offer healthy potential with big buzz already driving Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (November 7), the penultimate Hunger Games chapter in Mockingjay Part 1 (November 21), and Peter Jackson's farewell to Middle-earth, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (December 17).

For those looking at Summer 2015, it could be a major rebound from this year. Universal gets things started in early April with Fast & Furious 7, followed shortly by May 1's hugely anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron. Chris Pratt, fresh off LEGO and Guardians, could help drive Jurassic World to some success, while Pixar's Inside Out, Seth MacFarlane's Ted 2, Magic Mike 2, the Minions spin-off, and Marvel's Ant-Man (among others) should further contribute to a stronger June-July box office combo than this year mustered.

All in all, while Summer 2014's box office may not be one for the ages, it can simply be looked upon as the industry's financial ebb between more promising tides.

Follow Shawn Robbins and BoxOffice on Twitter for global box office news and updates

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By Daniel Garris

Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy took $22.91 million over the four-day frame to lead the box office for a second straight weekend. In the process, the blockbuster sci-fi superhero adaptation from Marvel became the highest grossing release of 2014 thus far domestically. Guardians of the Galaxy has grossed a tremendous $281.20 million through 32 days of release and will continue to distance itself from the $259.77 million take of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Over the four-day frame, Guardians of the Galaxy was up an impressive 29 percent over last weekend's three-day frame. The film grossed $17.08 million over the three-day frame this weekend.

While it didn't have the greatest hold this weekend by Labor Day weekend standards, Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still held steady in second place over the four-day frame with $15.62 million. The successful franchise re-launch was down 7 percent from last weekend's three-day frame. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to exceed expectations in a very big way with a 25-day take of $166.28 million. The film took in $11.92 million over the three-day frame.

Warner's If I Stay claimed third place with a four-day take of $11.77 million. That represented a respectable 25 percent decline from last weekend. If I Stay continues to perform towards the lower end of expectations with $32.33 million in eleven days. The film is performing well given its modest price tag and is running 21.5 percent ahead of the $26.62 million eleven-day take of last year's Carrie. The film grossed $9.31 million over the three-day frame.

Universal's As Above/So Below debuted in fifth place over the four-day frame with $10.28 million. The low-budget horror film opened on the low end of pre-release expectations. As Above/So Below performed similarly to 2011's Apollo 18, which debuted with a $10.71 million 4-day Labor Day weekend take. As Above/So Below received a lackluster C- rating on CinemaScore and will likely be front-loaded going forward due in part to its genre. The film took in $8.63 million over the three-day weekend.

The November Man opened in sixth with a four-day take of $10.11 million. There is a history of new films aimed at adults over-performing during Labor Day weekend, but Relativity's action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan opened in line with expectations. The six-day total for The November Man stands at $11.79 million. That places The November Man 20 percent behind the $14.75 million six-day start of 2011's The Debt. The film received a respectable B+ rating on CinemaScore. The November Man grossed $7.91 million over the three-day weekend.

Let's Be Cops placed in fourth with a four-day gross of $10.37 million. Fox's low-budget action comedy was down a solid 4 percent from last weekend. Let's Be Cops surpassed the $50 million mark this weekend and is now on the verge of reaching the $60 million mark with a 20-day take of $59.49 million. The film took in $8.29 million over the three-day frame.

On the limited front, Cantinflas was off to a solid start with a four-day take of $3.36 million. The biopic from Lionsgate and Pantelion earned a healthy per-location average of $8,791 from 382 locations. Cantinflas grossed $2.66 million over the three-day frame.

Meanwhile, Sony's re-issue of Ghostbusters grossed $2.31 million over the four-day frame from 784 locations. The re-issue of the 1984 blockbuster took in $1.76 million over the three-day weekend.

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apes.pngA $47 million opening weekend in China boosted the latest overseas tally for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to $51.2 million. The Chinese opening weekend brings the overseas cume for the film up to $408.1 million and its global total to $613.3 million. Japan and Venezuela are still left on the schedule as Apes looks to hold on in the coming weeks to cross $700 million worldwide.

Guardians of the Galaxy took a $7 million debut from Germany as it posted a $36 million haul in its fifth weekend of overseas release. The film has grossed a total of $273.1 million outside of North America and is reporting a $547.7 million global total. Top markets for the film include the UK ($41.2m), Russia ($35.8M), and Australia ($21.1M).

Lucy crossed the $150 million mark overseas after adding $31.2 million in its latest frame outside of North America. The film’s overseas cume now stands at $151.6 million, with a global total of $270 million.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles finished the weekend with $13 million from 13 territories, including a $2.6 million debut from 500 locations in South Korea. The film has now grossed a total of $112.1 million outside of North America and $278.2 million worldwide.

Into the Storm expanded to four key markets and brought in a total of $12.7 million in its latest frame overseas. The cumulative total for the natural disaster flick now stands at $47.7 million across 51 overseas markets. New releases were led by a #1 finish in South Korea with a $5.2 million haul from 566 screens. Upcoming key markets for the film include Mexico, Australia, and China as it looks to improve its $89.6 million global total. Russia continues to lead all overseas markets with a $6.6 million cume.

A strong hold in China helped How to Train Your Dragon 2 bring in $10.5 million from 23 markets this weekend. Its third frame in China was responsible for $6.3 million, lifting the market total to $57.3 million. The film has grossed a total of $420.2 million overseas and $593.6 million worldwide.

A $9.8 million weekend overseas put Hercules over the $100 million mark outside of North America. The action flick has grossed a total of $103.8 million overseas and $174.8 million worldwide.

Let’s Be Cops took in $6.5 million from 23 markets, including a $2.7 million opening weekend in the UK. The film also opened in Russia over the weekend, where it earned $1.8 million in its debut. Let’s Be Cops has grossed a total of $9.7 million in its run overseas and $67 million worldwide.

If I Stay took a $4.6 million start from its first 10 markets, taking its global cume to $34.4 million. Key openers included a $1.2 million haul from Russia, $1.1 million take from Australia, and $867k from Mexico.

The Fault in our Stars earned $3.5 million form 13 markets, bringing its overseas cume up to $162.7 million. The film has grossed $287.2 million worldwide.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is up to $828.1 million overseas after adding $2.6 million from its latest frame outside of North America. The film has grossed a total of $1.072 billion globally.

As Above/So Below added 5 more territories this weekend as it registered a $1.4 million frame overseas. The horror movie has now grossed $2.4 million outside of North America from a total of 8 territories. The film’s global total stands at $10.7 million.

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Monday Update: Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy took in an estimated $22.18 million over the four-day frame to lead the box office for a second straight weekend. In the process, the blockbuster sci-fi superhero adaptation from Marvel became the highest grossing release of 2014 thus far domestically. Guardians of the Galaxy has grossed a tremendous $280.48 million through 32 days of release and will continue to distance itself from the $259.77 million take of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Over the four-day frame, Guardians of the Galaxy was up an impressive 29 percent over last weekend's three-day frame. The revised three-day estimate for Guardians of the Galaxy is $17.08 million.

While it didn't have the greatest hold this weekend by Labor Day weekend standards, Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still held steady in second place over the four-day frame with an estimated $15.7 million. The successful franchise re-launch was down 6 percent from last weekend's three-day frame. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to exceed expectations in a very big way with a 25-day take of $166.36 million. The revised three-day estimate for the film is $11.90 million.

Warner's If I Stay claimed third place with an estimated four-day take of $11.30 million. That represented a respectable 26 percent decline from last weekend. If I Stay continues to perform towards the lower end of expectations with $32.16 million in eleven days. The film is performing well given its modest price tag and is running 21 percent ahead of the $26.62 million eleven-day take of last year's Carrie. The revised three-day estimate for the film is $9.30 million.

Universal's As Above/So Below debuted in fifth place over the four-day frame with an estimated $10.32 million. The low-budget horror film opened on the low end of pre-release expectations. As Above/So Below performed similarly to 2011's Apollo 18, which debuted with a $10.71 million 4-day Labor Day weekend take. As Above/So Below received a lackluster C- rating on CinemaScore and will likely be front-loaded going forward due in part to its genre. The revised three-day estimate for the film is $8.6 million.

The November Man opened in sixth with an estimated four-day take of $10.2 million. There is a history of new films aimed at adults over-performing during Labor Day weekend, but Relativity's action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan opened in line with expectations. The six-day total for The November Man stands at $11.89 million. That places The November Man 19 percent behind the $14.75 million six-day start of 2011's The Debt. The film received a respectable B+ rating on CinemaScore. The revised three-day estimate for the film is $7.88 million.

Let's Be Cops placed in fourth with an estimated four-day gross of $10.55 million. Fox's low-budget action comedy was down a solid 2 percent from last weekend. Let's Be Cops surpassed the $50 million mark this weekend and is now on the verge of reaching the $60 million mark with a 20-day take of $59.67 million. The revised three-day estimate for the film is $8.28 million.

On the limited front, Cantinflas was off to a solid start with an estimated four-day take of $3.33 million. The biopic from Lionsgate and Pantelion earned a healthy per-location average of $8,704 from 382 locations. The revised three-day estimate for the film stands at $2.66 million.

Meanwhile, Sony's re-issue of Ghostbusters grossed an estimated $2.2 million over the four-day frame from 784 locations. The revised three-day estimate for the re-issue of the 1984 blockbuster is $1.75 million.

Sunday Update: Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy took in an estimated $16.31 million over the three-day frame to lead the box office for a second straight weekend. In the process, the blockbuster sci-fi superhero adaptation from Marvel became the highest grossing release of 2014 thus far domestically. Guardians of the Galaxy has grossed a tremendous $274.61 million through 31 days of release and will continue to distance itself from the $259.77 million take of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Over the three-day frame, Guardians of the Galaxy was down a very slim 5 percent from last weekend. Disney is currently estimating a four-day take of $21.19 million for the film.

While it didn't hold up all that well this weekend by Labor Day weekend standards, Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still held steady in second place over the three-day frame with an estimated $11.75 million. Over the three-day frame, the successful franchise re-launch was down 30 percent from last weekend. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to exceed expectations in a very big way with a 24-day take of $162.41 million. Paramount is currently estimating a four-day take of $15.5 million for the film.

Warner's If I Stay claimed third place with an estimated three-day take of $9.26 million. That represented a respectable 41 percent decline from last weekend. If I Stay continues to perform towards the lower end of expectations with $29.82 million in ten days. The film is performing well given its modest price tag and is running 14 percent ahead of the $26.11 million ten-day take of last year's Carrie (which fell 63 percent in its second weekend to gross $5.99 million). BoxOffice is currently estimating a four-day take of $11.6 million for If I Stay.

Universal's As Above/So Below debuted in fourth place over the three-day frame with an estimated $8.3 million. The low-budget horror film opened on the low end of pre-release expectations. As Above/So Below performed similarly to 2011's Apollo 18, which debuted with an $8.70 million 3-day Labor Day weekend take. As Above/So Below opened with $3.2 million on Friday, fell 12.5 percent on Saturday to take in $2.8 million and is estimated to decline 18 percent on Sunday to gross $2.34 million. That places the film's estimated 3-day weekend to Friday ratio at 2.61 to 1. The film received a lackluster C- rating on CinemaScore and will likely be front-loaded going forward due in part to its genre. Universal is currently estimating a four-day take of $10.0 million for the film.

The November Man opened in sixth with an estimated three-day take of $7.66 million. There is a history of new films aimed at adults over-performing during Labor Day weekend, but Relativity's action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan opened in line with expectations. The five-day total for The November Man stands at $9.35 million, which gives the film a five-day to three-day ratio of just 1.22 to 1. The November Man is currently running 21 percent behind the $11.81 million five-day start of 2011's The Debt. The film received a respectable B+ rating on CinemaScore. Relativity is currently estimating a four-day take of $9.8 million for the film.

Let's Be Cops placed in fifth with an estimated three-day gross of $8.2 million. Fox's low-budget action comedy was down a solid 24 percent. Let's Be Cops surpassed the $50 million mark this weekend and is now quickly approaching the $60 million mark with a 19-day take of $57.32 million. BoxOffice is currently estimating a four-day take of $10.4 million for Let's Be Cops.

On the limited front, Cantinflas was off to a solid start with an estimated three-day take of $2.63 million. The biopic from Lionsgate and Pantelion earned a healthy per-location average of $6,872 from 382 locations. Lionsgate is currently estimating a four-day gross of $3.28 million for the film.

Meanwhile, Sony's re-issue of Ghostbusters grossed an estimated $1.65 million over the three-day frame from 784 locations. Sony is currently estimating a four-day take of $2.00 million for the re-issue.

Saturday Update: Disney reports that Guardians of the Galaxy officially became the year's top domestic grosser on Friday with another $3.85 million added to its haul, off just 20 percent from last Friday, as it again claimed first place. That gives the film $262.1 million overall so far, surpassing Captain America: The Winter Soldier's final tally of $259.8 million. Through the same point in release (29 days), Guardians is now 13 percent ahead of the pace of Winter Soldier and just 1.6 percent behind that of 2008's original Iron Man. BoxOffice projects a $16.3 million 3-day weekend and a $21.8 million 4-day holiday frame.

Universal opened As Above So Below to a healthy $3.2 million yesterday after Thursday night's $470,000 preview grosses. The horror/thriller pic bowed 48 percent lower than 2012's The Possession (which also opened Labor Day weekend) and 36 percent under Oculus, however, As Above's modest $5 million production budget gives it a pass on that front. BoxOffice projects a $9.3 million 3-day and $11.2 million 4-day.

Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles grabbed $2.66 million yesterday, down 41 percent from the same day last week. The reboot has amassed $153.3 million through 22 days of release, 21 percent more than G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra through the same point. BoxOffice projects an $11.3 million 3-day weekend and $14.7 million 4-day.

Warner Bros. reports that If I Stay added $2.6 million yesterday, off 62 percent from opening day last week. The young adult drama has earned $23.2 million thus far, 42 percent more than The Host at the same point. BoxOffice projects a $9.4 million 3-day frame and $11.9 million 4-day.

Rounding out Friday's top five, Relativity Media's The November Man posted $2.2 million in its third day of release for a $3.89 million total so far. The film is pacing 14 percent behind 2011's The Debt, which also opened on Wednesday before Labor Day. BoxOffice projects The November Man will take in $8 million for the 3-day and $10.2 million for the 4-day.

On the limited release front, Sony's 30th anniversary re-release of Ghostbusters took in $490,000 from 784 locations on Friday. That's a per-theater average of $625. The performance is noticeably lower than that of 2012's Raiders of the Lost Ark IMAX re-release ($1,648 opening day PTA) and 2012's Top Gun 3D ($1,757), although it should be noted that Ghostbusters doesn't have the advantage of premium priced tickets that those flicks carried. BoxOffice projects a $1.3 million 3-day and $1.7 million 4-day weekend.

Check BoxOffice on Sunday morning for official 3- and 4-day weekend estimates from the studios.

Friday Update #2: Early reports indicate that Guardians of the Galaxy is on pace for a $19 million 4-day Labor Day weekend, and possibly a bit more as the holiday frame unfolds. The Disney/Marvel pic will overtake Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the year's top grossing domestic release today (Friday).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is pacing for a $16 million extended weekend. The film remains a solid choice for families, a perfect recipe for the holiday.

Universal's As Above So Below is on track for a $12 million 4-day opening after its $470,000 Thursday night start.

Meanwhile, The November Man will likely end up around $11.5 million Friday through Monday. The Pierce Brosnan flick earned $1.7 million in its first two days this week, setting it up for a 6-day bow around $13.2 million.

Friday Update #1: Sources report that As Above So Below conjured up an estimated $470,000 from Thursday, a decent start considering the film's modest $5 million production budget. The opening night performance is in line with Oculus' $480,000 Thursday night start back in April. That film went on to earn $12 million over opening weekend. With Labor Day extending As Above's frame into four days, the Universal horror/thriller should land around a similar mark.

More to come.

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