''Inception'' and ''Toy Story 3'' led the way at the box office, while sequels like ''Sex and the City 2'' trailed far behind


If summer 2010 proved anything, it’s that the rules of Hollywood don’t mean squat. All sequels to smashes are surefire hits? Well, yeah, if you mean Toy Story 3 or Iron Man 2; not so if you’re talking about the reviled Sex and the City 2. Family-friendly films dominate when kids are out of school? Surprise hits The Karate Kid and Despicable Me support that point, but what happened to the underperforming Sorcerer’s Apprentice? You need a hot young star to thrive? Tween sensation Eclipse bears that out, but how to explain the popular fogies of The Expendables? The past four months did provide lots of fodder for analysis, including the top-grossing animated film of all time (Toy Story 3) and some of the most spectacular flops in recent memory (MacGruber, anyone?). Now that all of the summer’s wide releases have reached theaters, we examine the winners and losers, and offer the new rules governing the box office…at least for now.

Originality counts. Sure, five of the top 10 summer grossers were sequels or remakes. But that means five were not. Leading the way was the mind-bending Inception, which has already topped $650 million worldwide and has Oscar watchers talking about a Best Picture nod (finally!) for a Christopher Nolan film. ”Internationally, Inception is outgrossing The Dark Knight,” marvels Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. ”I would not have guessed that.”

Start early. Paramount bested its rival studios in overall box office by front-loading the summer with May releases Iron Man 2 and Shrek Forever After, which grossed a combined $550 million domestically. ”You’re not competing with anything but yourself in the first week of May,” says Don Harris, exec VP of distribution at Paramount, which didn’t release a single film after July 30. ”There’s a fatigue factor that works itself in when you get into August. If people have it in mind to see three or four movies over the summer, they’ve already seen ’em.”

Gen-Y is feeling nostalgic. For an age group that considers ’80s pop hits ”oldies,” two summer entries — The Karate Kid and Toy Story 3 — allowed twentysomethings to pine for their lost youth. Says Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich: ”It wasn’t until we were well into making the movie and I joined Twitter that I started to hear the voice of the generation that had grown up with Toy Story and were now in high school or in college or starting families. They felt like we were making this movie for them.” Meanwhile, powered by Jaden Smith’s breakout performance, Karate grossed $175.9 million and chopped its way to No. 7 for the summer, topping releases from Adam Sandler, M. Night Shyamalan, and Angelina Jolie. ”I distributed the first Karate Kid, so even I had reservations going into it, quite frankly,” says Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution at Sony. ”But it was done in such a fresh and compelling way.”

Watch your rating. The most eye-opening statistic of the season: Just a year after the tremendous success of the ultra-raunchy comedy The Hangover, not one of the top 12 summer grossers was rated R. Instead, one was rated G, four were PG, and seven were PG-13. ”The Hangover was unusual,” says Fellman, whose disappointing desert romp Sex and the City 2 was actually the highest-grossing R-rated entry with $95.3 million. ”You’re looking for the broadest possible audience in the summer, and there’s no reason to restrict it.” So would SATC2 have done better had it been trimmed for a PG-13? ”No, I don’t think that was the question,” Fellman says. ”I just think the movie was the problem.”

Summer 2010 top box office

1. Toy Story 3
$405.9 million*

2. Iron Man 2
$312.1 million

3. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
$298.1 million

$271.6 million

5. Shrek Forever After
$238.1 million

6. Despicable Me
$236.9 million

7. The Karate Kid
$175.9 million

8. Grown Ups
$159.4 million

9. The Last Airbender
$130.7 million

10. Salt
$113.7 million

*Source: Rentrak Corporation; May 1-Aug. 31


  • Movie
  • 148 minutes
  • Christopher Nolan