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Summer box office takeaways

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    "Wonder Woman" was one of the few bright spots in what was an otherwise a poor blockbuster season for Hollywood.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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The summer movie season ended in a flatline on Monday, with the lowest Labor Day Weekend total, $51.5 million, in 17 years, as reported by boxofficemojo.com.

Even worse news for Hollywood: Ticket sales were down. Way, way down.

The North American summer box office generated $3.653 billion this year, its lowest total since 2005's $3.567 billion. And that's with the average ticket price at an all-time high, $8.89.

This summer's box office also dropped a staggering 17.9 percent when compared to the $4.452 billion made last year.

That's the lowest summer-to-summer drop in revenue since 1983, which is as far back as boxofficemojo.com compares the seasonal totals.

There are many factors at play:

Audiences are clearly over studios extending brands (Transformers, Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alien).

Not everything in popular culture deserves to be adapted to the big screen (Baywatch, The Emoji Movie).

The first rule of comedies is not to cast big names, but to be funny (Snatched, The House).

Movies with big budgets are increasingly bigger risks (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword).

Tom Cruise is no longer a top-tier star (The Mummy).

Higher tickets prices, along with higher-quality TV offerings and streaming services are causing consumers to stay home for their entertainment.

Oscar bait is not a guaranteed success, particularly if it involves serious issues the country is struggling with (in this case, the flashpoint of race relations 40 years ago as chronicled in Detroit).

But the summer also presented several high points.

As the top-grossing film in North America this summer, Wonder Woman more than exceeded expectations with its nearly $410 million haul. And as the first female-led superhero film in this era of comic-book movies, Wonder Woman's success answered any and all questions about her crossover appeal among gender, age, and even fanboys and fangirls.

As the success of Edgar Wright's terrific heist caper Baby Driver and the true romantic-comedy The Big Sick starring Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) showed, smaller releases can compete against and even out-perform studio franchises.

Counter-programming can also work, as proven by the well-received R-rated comedy Girls Trip, starring Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish, which made more than $110 million with a production budget estimated at $30 million.

Spider-Man still has legs. Spider-Man: Homecoming, the third film incarnation of the Web Crawler, and the first to be guided by Marvel Studios, reinvented high schooler Peter Parker as younger (at least believably), funnier, and more eager to be a superhero.

The massive success of Christoper Nolan's brilliant and somber World War II film, Dunkirk, places the filmmaker in same breath of the likes of Steven Spielberg, with their innate ability to create blockbusters that appeal to heart, mind, and soul of movie-goers.

War for the Planet of the Apes is perhaps the only third film in a trilogy that surpassed its predecessors.

It's a rare occurrence, and much like the summer's total eclipse over parts of the United States, it's not something we'll see for quite a while.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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