With Labour Day right around the corner, another movie summer season is officially in the books. So with that in mind, lets take a look back at this summer’s winners and losers at the box office. 2016 was considered a down year for the annual summer spectacle, but among the disappointments and the controversies there were a handful of bright spots.

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Dr. Ted had me on his podcast last month to get my thoughts on this summer’s movies, particularly my top ten list which we revisited after Dr. Ted shared his thoughts on some recent video games and we exchanged our views on the Tragically Hip’s final concert. I chime in around the twelve minute mark and talk about the movies that were busts, bombs, successes and even a few that didn’t make onto my list back in May but probably should have.



There was never any doubt that DC/Warner Bros. Suicide Squad was going to open huge. After weeks of tracking and speculative monitoring, there was no question it was going to open number one this weekend, laying waste to every record in its path and forcing every other movie on the planet to scramble in it’s colossal wake. So Suicide Squad’s record-breaking success came as absolutely no surprise to anyone anywhere.

Now is when it gets interesting.

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Sony’s much maligned, female centric Ghostbusters reboot was the center of attention this weekend as insiders and trackers were keeping a close eye on the controversial movie’s box office performance. But while everyone was watching what could be the most talked about movie in years, Universal/Illumination Entertainment’s animated blockbuster The Secret Life of Pets snuck past the supernatural comedy to claim box office supremacy for the second weekend in a row.

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Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory has been killing the competition since it was released last month, dominating the box office three weekends in a row (and the first two weeks weren’t even close as Dory doubled and even tripled the next closest titles). Few doubted that Universal’s The Secret Life of Pets would open in the top spot this weekend, but the question was by how much and would Dory prove to be a speed bump on Pets way to box office dominance. The answer to both those questions were“a lot” and “no.”

Last summer should have proven to everyone that there were plenty of dollars in the animated movie kitty to go around as Pixar’s Inside/Out and Universal/Illumination’s Minions squared off in a battle of the animated titans, with Minions coming out on top (though both movies made insane amounts of money). Insiders were keeping a close eye on this year’s rematch and the two heavyweights didn’t disappoint.

Pets silenced the doubters with a whopping 103.2 million dollar debut at the North American box office, the third highest opening in what has been an otherwise disappointing summer (the average box office debut of this summer’s new releases are down an estimated 27% from this time last year) and laid waste to conservative predictions of a debut in the 80 to 85 million dollar range. It is the sixth highest opening this year and breaks the box office record for the highest opening gross for an original property (non sequel, prequel, remake, reboot or adaptation). The previous record was set last year by, you guessed it, Inside/Out. Trackers will now be watching to see what kind of legs Pets will have and what kind of profit margin it can generate against a very reasonable 75 million-production budget.

The Legend of Tarzan narrowly held onto second place, snaring an extra 20.6 million in its second weekend. Warner Bros. revisiting of the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic has netted 81.5 million since its debut last week but will need a strong overseas performance to balance its 180 million dollar production budget.

Despite being bumped from the top spot, this was hardly a bad week for Finding Dory. The sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo unseated The Lion King as Disney’s highest grossing animated film of all time and it passed Captain America: Civil War to become 2016’s reigning box office champ. Currently sitting at just over 422 billion, the race is on to see if Dory can reach the elusive half billion domestic box office mark. If it can, it may well be the only 2016 release to do so.

Fox’s R-Rated comedy Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opened fourth, outperforming some expectations but still only pulling in 16.6 million on its opening weekend (with grim long-term prospects). Has the raunchy comedy genre run out of steam, or is it the raunchy comedy starring Zac Efron’s abs genre that has run its course? Efron’s other two adult comedy efforts this year-Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and Dirty Grandpa-were both disappointments. It may be time him to try and expand his resume a little.

The Purge 3: Election Day’s box office performance dropped an eye popping 63 percent, but it was still able to claim fifth spot with 11.7 million in earnings, bringing its two week total to 58 million. Considering it only cost 10 million to make, every dollar Purge rakes in at this point is pure gravy for Universal. And the Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart buddy movie Central Intelligence passed the 100 million dollar mark this week, raking in another 8.1 million to bring its four week total to a shade over 108 million. Holding the sixth spot this week, Intelligence should hold onto a spot in the weekly top ten for at least one or two more profitable weeks.

Independence Day Resurgence continues to (barely) hang onto a spot in the top ten, adding 7.7 million to a dismal total of 91.5 million domestically. How bad has it been for 20th Century Fox’s pricey (165 million) sequel? According to IMDB, the original Independence Day made over 306 million dollars domestically; the sequel could be hard pressed to hit 100 million despite IMAX showings, 3D ticket prices and two decades worth of inflation. Ouch. And speaking of bombs, The BFG brought in only 7.6 million on its second weekend for a total of 38.7 million against a production budget of 140 million. Fortunately Disney has four billion dollar properties under its belt so far this year and has a few big bullets left in its chamber (plus Walden Media shouldered some of BFG’s swollen budget, meaning Disney won’t take as big of a bath on it).

Sony’s small budget suspense The Shallows also continues to swim with the box office sharks, adding 4.8 million to a 45.6 million total that is nearly triple the film’s production budget. And just to add a surprise to the mix, Bollywood import The Sultan ranked tenth among North American box offices this weekend, bringing in 2.2 million on only 287 theatres. Not too shabby.

With Secret Life of Pets breathing some much needed life into a stagnant 2016 summer box office; distributors can breath a small sigh of relief. Attention now turns to Sony’s Ghostbusters opening next weekend. The female centric remake/reboot is one of the most hated things on the Internet (and has been since it was first announced in 2014) and responses from both Sony and director Paul Feig have only added fuel to the online fire. A lot of eyes will be on Ghostbuster’s bottom line this time next week. Stay tuned.

Shayne Kempton






Any plans 20th Century Fox had for an Independence Day movie trilogy are probably getting put on ice as studio number crunchers perform a post mortem on what can only be described as a depressing opening weekend for Independence Day Resurgence.

The long awaited sequel to the 1996 science fiction blockbuster Independence Day, Resurgence wasn’t only intended to be a summer tent pole release for Fox, but a renewal of the franchise as well. Resurgence (clumsily) sets up another would be blockbuster in the series, but a poor box office performance may kill any hopes for a third round between Earth and Roland Emmerich’s CGI aliens.

A two-decade wait and a year of hype should have generated a voracious audience appetite for Resurgence, especially when it opened against the little known (and also poorly performing) historical action movie Free State of Jones. Yet Resurgence, with an estimated 165 million dollar production budget, opened with just 41 million over the weekend, a distant second to Finding Dory, which came in at number one the second weekend in a row adding an extra 73 million plus domestically. Pixar’s sequel to it’s 2003 blockbuster Finding Nemo has grossed over 286 million domestically since being released on Father’s Day weekend, and has topped 396 million globally. Last weekend was the twelfth weekend this year that a Disney property has been number one at the box office (and it’s only June). With titles like The BFG, Pete’s Dragon, Dr. Strange, Moana and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story all scheduled for release later this year, we should get used to seeing Mickey perched at the top of the box office food chain (Disney has three billion dollar properties under it’s belt since January).

Even if Resurgence proves to have serious box office legs (a long shot considering the competition being released over the next few weeks) and it somehow manages to triple its opening numbers over the course of the summer, it will still fall well short of equaling its production budget and would need to have a ridiculous overseas performance to break even let alone post a profit big enough to justify a sequel.

Central Intelligence fell from second to third, adding an additional 18.7 million to it’s domestic total, and the Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart action comedy continues to perform relatively strong despite a humble opening opposite Finding Dory. The low budget horror movie The Shallows was this weekend’s surprise, opening in fourth place and nearly recouping its entire seventeen million dollar budget (it missed by a few hundred thousand). The Free State of Jones dismal 7.7 million dollar opening was good enough for fifth.

Sequels rounded out the rest of the top ten. The Conjuring 2 continued to surprise by capturing sixth place (7.7 million), Now You See Me 2 continued to underperform in seventh (5.6 million), X-Men Apocalypse trundled along, with it’s 2.475 million narrowly edging out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows 2.4 million for eighth. Alice Through The Looking Glass finished tenth during its fifth weekend with just over 2.1 million. While The Conjuring’s latest horror chapter is exceeding expectations (inspiring Warner Bros. to green light a stand alone movie for the demonic antagonist the same way the original Conjuring launched Annabelle) the other sequels in spots seven through ten range from mild to severely disappointing.

It’s also worth noting that in just it’s third weekend, Warcraft has tumbled out of the North American top ten, though it’s incredible oversea performance means it may break-even. Still, it’s horrible domestic performance may threaten future co-operation between gaming giant Blizzard and any other movie studios.

Next weekend should prove very interesting as three sizeable titles are slated for release on a giant holiday weekend (Canada Day north of the border and July Fourth for the U.S of A) and it will be interesting to see if either The BFG or Tarzan can slow the tsunami that is Finding Dory (and how Dory and BFG, both Disney properties, share the family movie dollars). And what kind of niche can the uber-violent Purge 3 carve for itself? Will America’s polarized political climate help or harm its bottom box office line?

Shayne Kempton




If You Wanted Animated Super-Hit Zootopia To Be Complex Enough to Solve All The World’s Problems You Forgot That Its Target Audience Still Sleeps With A Light On

You may have noticed that Disney released an animated movie a little while ago and it was a wee bit of a success. In fact, said movie, titled Zootopia, kicked both box office and critical ass. How much? As of last weekend, Disney’s tale of a mega city in a world populated by sentient animals had grossed over 338 million dollars (it captured 75 million during it’s opening weekend at the beginning of March) and has passed a billion dollars worldwide, making it only the fourth animated movie in history to pass the coveted billion dollar mark (Zootopia is still playing in hundreds of theatres even though its DVD/Blu-Ray dropped two weeks ago) and last weekend it was ranked the fifteenth highest grossing movie in North America after spending months in the top ten. It’s success has helped cement Disney’s in house animation division-which has also given us the likes of Tangled, Wreck It Ralph, Big Hero 6 and the animated uber-tale Frozen over the last few years-as an equal to their Pixar brand.

Unlike previous Disney fare though, Zootopia has a fairly poignant political message built into it. The House of the Mouse used its newest animated blockbuster to tackle issues of prejudice, racism, bigotry and discrimination, wrapped in a CGI candy wrapper. It’s especially relevant considering how successful Donald Trump’s talk of border walls, mass deportations and minorities wearing ID badges is south of the border.

Long story short, in Zootopia’s world mammals forsook their predator-prey relationship and evolved beyond their biological limitations. They all came together to create a thriving civilization, the pinnacle of which is the mega city of Zootopia. But Zootopias veneer of equality and diversity is skin deep and its society is built on layer after layer of stereotypes and social barriers. Protagonist Judy Bunny is a bright-eyed idealist whose been dreaming of escaping her home town Bunny Burrows and becoming a police officer her entire life, but its a far fetched dream and everyone (parents included) keep reminding her that a bunny has never been a police officer, a job reserved for larger animals like elephants, rhinos and hunting cats (Zooptopia’s chief of police is a wildebeest voiced brilliantly by Idris Elba). Judy manages to make it with no shortage of determination and conviction (and by taking advantage of Zootopia’s “mammal inclusion program”) but she quickly runs headfirst into real life and her values are quickly put to the test.

The movie’s central narrative conceit is that, despite what the brochures tell you, Zootopia is a very regimented society. Your species determines what you can or can’t be as well as how you’re perceived by the greater whole. Institutionalized stereotypes are the foundation of Zootopia’s society, and its passive discrimination is an accepted part of day-to-day life. When Judy first stumbles upon her eventual (and reluctant) partner, streetwise fox Nick Wild, he’s being thrown out of an ice cream parlour that refuses to serve foxes. We find out later that Nick encountered that discrimination as a child and allowed it to shape the person he would become, further perpetuating Zootopia’s cycle of bigotry.

For the most part, Zootopia was lauded by critics and audiences alike. It was pretty rare to see an animated movie, by Disney or any other studio, tackle such heavy concepts and weave them so skillfully into an animated movie with a simple, straight-forward storyline. It was a brave move during a time when the United States, still home to most of the world’s movie-goers, is so polarized over issues of race and discrimination. You could tell audiences loved it from its longevity and enormous financial success the world over. And yet, there were still some critics who pointed fingers its way, accusing it of not going far enough, of not addressing more or all forms of discrimination or prejudice and of failing to be the magic bullet to cure all America’s social ills in the 21st century.

Somewhere along the way, these pundits forgot that, no matter what the movie’s message, Zootopia’s primary audience are kids who are currently fixated on summer vacation and in a few months will be trick or treating and staying up late to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus.

Much has been made of Zootopia’s use of anthropomorphized animals to deliver its message of diversity and tolerance. Even protagonist Judy is forced to confront her own prejudices, ones she never knew she had until they bubble to the surface and inflame the growing crisis in Zootopia further. Zootopia flirts with a lot of issues, all of them relating to discrimination, and it does so as cleverly as possible without being preachy or boring. It’s crafted in a way that kids can relate to, adults can appreciate and everyone can enjoy. It’s bright, shiny, funny and remarkably self aware for an animated movie. Which just doesn’t seem to be enough for some people.

It’s amazing to see how many people are taking themselves seriously when they begin talking about how Zootopoia’s metaphor breaks down when you begin to unravel it and look at it from different perspectives. Somehow, these people forgot that the target audience are kindergarteners who have zero interest in breaking down metaphors and looking at anything from a different perspective except their fruit roll ups.

At the end of the day Zootopia accomplished its first job-make Disney a lot of money and keep the stockholders happy-and if it makes a few kids a little smarter about tolerance along the way, well that’s a bonus. Looking at their bottom line, Zootopia’s enormous success (the DVD and Blu-Ray is flying off the shelves) may convince Disney to continue making socially conscious movies. Besides, if you’re pinning your hopes for an antidote to Donald Trump on a Walt Disney animated movie, your expectations of reality need a serious adjustment.

Shayne Kempton