To find a slower summer, you have to go back to 1995, when “Apollo 13” and “Pocahontas” were top draws, according to Box Office Mojo, an online database. After adjusting for inflation, the summer of 1995 had about $3.76 billion in ticket sales.
Recent days were particularly terrible. Friday to Sunday, theaters in North America sold about $74.7 million in tickets, a 25 percent decline from the same period last year. With no new wide releases, the No. 1 draw was again “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” (Lionsgate), which collected an estimated $10.3 million, for a three-week total of $55 million.
The only new offering was the long-gestating drama “Tulip Fever,” which the Weinstein Company released with little fanfare in 765 theaters. That poorly reviewed film arrived to a dismal $1.2 million in ticket sales. Audiences also ignored the 40th anniversary rerelease of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (Sony), which took in about $1.8 million in 901 theaters.
Although an overreliance on superheroes is a perennial analyst worry, the summer months — in one positive development for Hollywood — brought little evidence that moviegoers are tiring of comic-book adaptations. Indeed, the top three ticket sellers at domestic theaters were Warner’s “Wonder Woman,” with $409 million; Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” with $390 million; and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” with $324 million.
Several non-superhero movies also succeeded. “Dunkirk,” with $178.8 million in domestic ticket sales, became the most successful summertime drama since “Pearl Harbor,” which collected about $277.5 million in 2001, after adjusting for inflation. Two modestly budgeted movies — “Girls Trip,” a buddy comedy about four black women, and “Baby Driver,” a quirky heist caper — broke through and took in more than $100 million apiece. Among indies, “The Big Sick,” an unconventional romantic comedy, was a big hit, with about $40 million in ticket sales.
A single thread ran through each one of those successes: They received euphoric reviews from critics (a positive score of 89 or higher on the Rotten Tomatoes 100-point scale), sending a message that they were high-quality endeavors and thus worthy of a trip to theaters. “This was the summer when the scales really tipped toward quality,” Mr. Bock said. “Serving up sludge for a story? No, thanks — we’ll stay home and stream.”
Subpar storytelling undoubtedly…