Hollywood tried to get us go to "Tomorrowland" over the long Memorial Day weekend. But audiences stayed home instead, sending box office receipts to their lowest level in 17 years.
The chart below, using historic data from Box Office Mojo on Memorial Day weekend receipts, paints the grim picture. The total Friday-through-Monday haul this past weekend amounted to a little under $200 million. In inflation-adjusted terms, that edges out 2012 for the title of Worst Memorial Day Since 1998.
Why so bad? For starters, Disney's "Tomorrowland" barely managed to live to up the low end of ticket expectations with a $41.7 million opening weekend. The movie represents a new frontier in Disney's efforts to abstract theme park attractions into feature films — "Pirates of the Caribbean" was originally a ride, but Tomorrowland is just a particular region of the park. The film barely eked out the top box office slot ahead of "Pitch Perfect 2," the a cappella sequel that opened a week prior.
So, Hollywood has a bad weekend. In the big picture of a year's sales, does it matter? Maybe. As the official start of Hollywood's summer blockbuster season, Memorial Day weekend sets the tone for much of what follows. And as it turns out there is a relationship between Memorial Day receipts and total summer hauls in any given year. That relationship is plotted in the chart below — again, all numbers are adjusted for inflation.
In general, years that have better Memorial Day ticket sales also see better summer box office totals too. 2013 was a year for the record books, with a Memorial Day box office north of $300 million and a total summer haul approaching $5 billion. But 2014 was lackluster on both counts.
It's too early to know where 2015 falls on this chart. But with Memorial Day receipts between those of 1997 and 1998, the trend line suggests that Hollywood could pull in somewhere around $4 billion this summer. That's not a small amount by any stretch of the imagination, but it's well below the numbers the industry grew accustomed to in the 2000s.
The blockbuster menu for the coming months looks a lot like what we're used to — plenty of sequels, reboots and spinoffs, with some fresh fare sprinkled here and there. There's nothing to suggest that 2015 will deviate meaningfully from that trend line above: a line that may point to tough times in Hollywood come autumn.