The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Summer box office was the weakest in eight years, even with “Guardians of the Galaxy” success

Dave Bautista, from left, Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” (Jay Maidment / ©Marvel 2014/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

In the worst summer at the movies in eight years, even the Marvel hit “Guardians of the Galaxy” couldn’t save the box office, which now competes against a firehose of new entertainment choices from the Internet and even traditional television.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was the highest-grossing movie over the typically slow Labor Day Weekend, bringing in $22.2 million in the United States (including Monday’s holiday) in its fifth week in theaters. The Disney production has generated $280.5 million in the United States since its release, and $554 million globally.

But even the success of “Guardians” couldn’t reverse the weakest summer at the cinema in eight years. All told, sales at the U.S. box office were about $4.05 billion, down 15 percent from the previous year, according to Rentrak, which tracks movie sales. That’s the worst showing since 2006, when ticket sales reached $3.75 billion.

The big question is if this summer was a one-off disappointment or if there are larger consumer trends at play. Summer is the biggest season at the movies, accounting for about 40 percent of all ticket sales. After years of flat to declining box office sales, theaters are trying to lure customers with bells and whistles in the theater, such as bigger reclining seats, wine bars and mega-screens.

This summer competed with a particularly strong box office summer of 2013, when “Iron Man 3” made $408.6 million. So far, no movie this year has broken through the blockbuster threshold of $300 million.

Many of Hollywood’s big summer productions disappointed domestically. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” made $244.4 million and “Maleficent,” released on May 30, generated $238.7 million. “Edge of Tomorrow,” was a big-budget production staring Tom Cruise but brought in only about $100 million.

The summer doldrums at movie theaters comes during a boon in the television industry, where broadcasters, cable television and Internet subscription services compete for the attention of viewers. Moviegoers are waiting for films to be released on Netflix and on-demand cable providers.

Hollywood competed against the FIFA World Cup in June and July, which brought in record viewers over Univision’s and ESPN’s broadcast and online streams and on ABC. The final game drew 30 million viewers.

And even as domestic sales disappoint, Hollywood has its eyes set on its huge audiences overseas. The Transformers movie, for instance, made far more overseas and will end up with a gross above $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” by Fox has raised $205 million since its U.S. release on July 11. But it was the top film in international sales over the Labor Day Weekend, with $52 million in sales and an overall total global sales of $405 million.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak, as reported by the Associated Press:

1. “Guardians of the Galaxy,” $22.2 million.

2. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” $15.7 million.

3. “If I Stay,” $11.6 million.

4. “Let’s Be Cops,” $10.5 million.

5. “As Above, So Below,” $10.3 million.

6. “The November Man,” $10.2 million.

7. “When the Game Stands Tall,” $8 million.

8. “The Giver,” $6.9 million.

9. “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” $6.3 million.

10. “The Expendables 3,” $4.5 million.