With the box office down sharply year-to-year at the summer's halfway mark, investors and analysts were not optimistic for the back half of the season going into last weekend. Although many believed Fox (NASDAQ: FOXA) had a good chance of potentially starting a turnaround with its latest installment of its rebooted "Planet of the Apes" franchise, and as it turns out the studio just may have done the job.
Entering the weekend, cautious projections had "Dawn" towering over the box office with a take in the high $60 million range, but as the weekend went on that tracking increased and the film will now reach into the low $70 million area, which is over $15 million more than the original made back in 2011. Strong reviews and great word of mouth helped the picture build its gross and is currently one of the only summer blockbusters to have a 90%+ positive score on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes this year.
Following what was a non-event of a July 4th weekend at the box office, many looked at Fox to help right the ship as so far the studio has had a solid seasonal track record. Technically, while the summer season doesn't really start until May, Fox entered the mix with an early boost from the last weekend in April with "The Other Woman." The girl power comedy starring a resurgent Cameron Diaz took the box office by storm and became of the spring's biggest sleeper hits.
The studio was then able to use the momentum to carry them until its first big summer tentpole, "X-Men - Days of Future Past" hit in late May. From there the mutants took over and have amassed over $200 million in ticket sales. With "X-Men" in particular executives knew they had to respect the fan base to be successful and that strategy has carried them well all summer (as you can see in the below grid).
By smartly marketing "X-Men" to comic purists and "The Fault In Our Stars" to the young adult crowd the studio was able to create a huge sensation around both pictures. "Stars" even became one of the summer's biggest hits as the tearjerker has so far netted over $100 million and a lot of positive press.
Marketing also led to "Dawn's" success, which wasn't easy given that executives had to sell a film to audiences where the apes are more sympathetic than the humans. Strong social engagement had a hand in the success as well as Deadline.com pointed out Fox released over 100 trailers across YouTube, each custom made for each territory with either dubbed language or subtitles.
Overall, the only real hiccup for Fox so far has been the under-performance of its animated sequel "How To Train Your Dragon 2." Produced in partnership with DreamWorks Animation, the movie still racked up around $150 million, but that's less than its predecessor. In fact, DreamWorks even saw its stock price dip following the lower than expected haul. However, animation and kid pics in general have had a hard go of it as late, which is surprising give Open Road's early surprise success with "The Nut Job" and Warner Brothers' new cash cow "The Lego Movie."
Still, the expectation was "Dawn" could get a rise out of the box office and it did, which has made analysts more optimistic for what could be a strong second half of the season thanks to Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy," Paramount's reboot of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and Lionsgate's always reliable "Expendables" franchise all making their way to cinemas this August.
For Fox, though, in particular the summer has been very good to the company's overall financial health and investors should feel comfortable banking on the studio's fall slate, which includes two more huge literary adaptations in September ("The Maze Runner") and October ("Gone Girl"). "Girl," based on the runaway hit by author Gillian Flynn, is directed by David Fincher and has already started radiating Oscar buzz. The studio will then hit a stretch during the holidays where it will have a major film unspooling in theaters every weekend for four straight weekends (Nov. 26 to Dec. 19).
Fox has a few subsidiaries under its umbrella outside of filmed entertainment including its TV division, which is also well positioned for the fall thanks to new buzzy series like "Gotham" and returning fare like "Sleepy Hollow" on (broadcast network) Fox and ratings grabbers like "Sons of Anarchy" and "American Horror Story: Coven" on cable network FX. Paired with the studio's summer successes at the box office, it could present a well-balanced portfolio that may be appealing to investors.
It's also worth noting that Fox isn't quite done just yet this summer either as the buddy comedy "Let's Be Cops" starring "New Girl" co-stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. is also picking up buzz ahead of its August launch. Combined with the films mentioned earlier we could actually be on pace to see one the most successful final summer frames in a while for the industry overall.
Next week, Fox and its apes face a triple threat as Disney (NYSE: DIS), Universal (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Sony (NYSE: SNE) all unleash new films aimed at very different demographics.
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