As the temperatures sizzled, which movies were swimming in dough, and which just fizzled?

By EW Staff
Updated August 31, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Another summer come and gone, and what have we learned? The superhero genre is flying, Adam Sandler‘s cinematic slump continues, male strippers can rake in a whole lot of dollar bills, and board games should probably stay in the closet. A look at the season’s biggest earners — and biggest disappointments.

To say that Marvel’s multi-year rollout plan for The Avengers has worked would be an understatement. (It’s like saying the Hulk might have some anger issues.) With a staggering $1.49 billion in worldwide revenue ($617.8 million of which came from the U.S.), Joss Whedon‘s all-star superhero behemoth proved that sometimes more is more, becoming the third-highest-grossing movie of all time. ”It exceeded our wildest hopes,” says Disney’s exec VP of distribution, Dave Hollis. Even Tony Stark wouldn’t sniff at that success.

Christopher Nolan‘s Batman finale was thought to be the only film that might catch The Avengers‘ remarkable total, but its box office prospects were thrown into question after the tragic shootings at a midnight screening of the film in Aurora, Colo. In light of the devastating real-life events, it’s only reasonable to assume that some moviegoers might have decided to take a pass on Nolan’s hyperviolent dystopian vision of modern life. Considering the circumstances, TDKR‘s $422.3 million running total is massive, though it has no chance of matching The Dark Knight‘s $533.3 million mark. ”Whether or not we left some money on the table is hard to determine,” says Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution. (The film will easily pass $1 billion worldwide.)

Sony successfully rebooted the webslinging franchise just five years after the conclusion of Sam Raimi‘s trilogy. The Marc Webb-directed adventure, which stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, banked $258.4 million in the U.S., and it’s headed to over $700 million worldwide.

Those who figured Seth MacFarlane‘s target audience would be too young to see an R-rated movie were proved wrong when his raunchy Universal comedy, Ted, about a bawdy stuffed bear and his Boston baked bud, turned out to be a surprising date-movie draw with a wicked pissah box office gross of $214.8 million.

In terms of sheer return on investment, no summer movie fared better than Channing Tatum‘s stripper tale, Magic Mike. Made for under $7 million, Warner Bros.’ escapist male oglefest lured women to the theater in droves. After a $39.1 million debut, Mike stripped moviegoers of $113.1 million in total. ”Economically, you don’t get a better return than that,” says Fellman. (Worth noting: Mike was Tatum’s third $100 million earner this year, following The Vow and 21 Jump Street.)

Wes Anderson has been making his brand of lovingly crafted curios since 1996’s Bottle Rocket, and his latest took off like one. Focus Features’ Moonrise Kingdom (with a reported budget of $16 million) took in an impressive $43.7 million, twice the amount of Anderson’s previous feature, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.

In a summer stuffed with bloated budgets and CGI concoctions, Universal’s $209 million adaptation of the popular naval-warfare game felt the most shamelessly Hollywood-ized. Giant explosions! Transformers-style aliens! Rihanna! Surely all those factors would draw crowds to the theater, right? Wrong. Battleship sank domestically with a disastrous $65.2 million.

Fox may have hoped its melding of presidential biopic and vampirism would end up in the ”so bad it’s good” category, but its box office was actually so bad it’s worse. With a budget of $69 million, the film recouped a little more than half that at $37.4 million. Bad news for bloodsuckers: It’s pretty anemic.

Adam Sandler’s naughty father-son tale (costarring SNL alum Andy Samberg) disappointed with $36.9 million, even less than his last misfire, Jack and Jill. Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution at Sony, isn’t worried about Sandler’s box office vitality, though. ”The Adam Sandler business is a good business to be in,” he says, expressing high hopes for 2013’s Grown Ups 2.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp will apparently make anything together — even an adaptation of a 1960s soap opera about vampires. Warner Bros. shelled out $150 million on the offbeat dramedy, but it sank its fangs into only $79.7 million in the U.S. Ouch.

Despite the name, it seemed as if audiences simply forgot about the Colin Farrell-starring remake, and Sony’s action/sci-fi tentpole (with a budget around $125 million) managed just $55.2 million.

It’s a Toss-Up
The Oliver Stone film from Universal made slightly more than its $45 million budget. But after John Carter and Battleship, it’s the only Taylor Kitsch movie this year that didn’t lose hundreds of millions of dollars. Silver linings, people, silver linings.

Magic Mike

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  • 112 minutes
  • Steven Soderbergh