Summer Movie Scorecard: The Best of 2011 So Far

  • Publish Date: September 7, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 7 user comments

Summer by the numbers

Breakdown of 2011 Summer Releases (Min. 7 Reviews)
Good (Metascore ≥ 61) 84 films
Mixed (40-60) 67 films
Bad (≤ 40) 30 films

Labor Day brings the official end to Hollywood's summer movie season. Before we get too caught up in fall movies, let's take a moment to look back at the just-concluded summer season. As is usually the case, there is both good news and bad news to report.

The good news is that major films—the so-called "wide releases" that play on at least 600 screens—were generally better in the summer than they were earlier in the year. There were 14 well-reviewed wide releases (with Metascores at 61 or higher) this summer, and the average score for all major films was two points higher than it was in the spring, and over eight points higher than films released in the winter season.

However, the average Metascore for all 2011 movies actually edged downward in the summer, thanks to an unlikely culprit: limited release films. These indie, foreign, and art-house movies averaged just under 59. That mark was lower than the Metascore averages for limited release films in the spring and winter seasons, and it was the first time in five years that summer limited releases failed to average at least 61.

Here is a closer look at the Metascore averages by season for 2011 so far:

2011 Movie Metascore Averages by Season
Type   Summer   Spring   Winter   Year to Date
Avg. #Good Avg. #Good Avg. #Good Avg. #Good
All Films 57.0 84 58.3 48 55.5 29 57.2 161
Wide Releases 51.8 14 49.7 7 43.2 1 49.4 22
Limited Releases 58.8 70 61.7 41 60.8 28 60.0 139

In this and all other charts on the page, re-releases and movies with fewer than seven reviews are excluded. The winter season ended March 3, the spring season ended May 5, and the summer season ended on Labor Day (September 5). A wide release film is one that screens at more than 600 theaters. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). A "good" film is one with a Metascore of 61 or above.

How does this year compare to past years? The average Metascore for summer wide releases actually hit a five-year high in 2011, and the average Metascore for the top grossing films of the season was at its highest point since 2008. However, thanks to all those lackluster limited releases, the average for all summer films this year was lower than it was in each of the previous four years.

Average Metascores by Year for Summer Movies, 2007-2011

It seems like every major summer movie these days is either an action film, a sequel, or both. As it turns out, that may not be such a bad thing; this summer, action-oriented movies received higher Metascores, on average, than any other genre, and sequels (including remakes and prequels) fared better than movies based on original concepts. Here are the averages for each type of film released during the just-concluded summer season (wide release films only):

2011 Summer Wide Releases - Metascore Averages by Movie Genre and Type
Genre * Avg. % Good   Type Avg. % Good
Action 56 42% Sequels, Prequels, Remakes 56 43%
Comedy 55 29% Original Stories 51 29%
Drama 51 50% Other Adaptations (from book, etc.) 49 23%
Kids 48 25%        
Horror 43 17%        

* Each film was placed into the one genre that best fit the film. Action includes sci-fi, action-adventure, and fantasy.
% Good
indicates the % of each type receiving mostly positive reviews from critics (i.e., scoring 61 or above).

Best and worst films of 2011 so far

While summer certainly brings films with mass appeal, that doesn't have to translate to poor quality; all but two of 2011's best-reviewed wide release films were released during the summer months:

New = summer release Best Wide Releases of 2011 So Far
  Title Genre(s) Metascore Users
1 New Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 Fantasy 87 7.8
2 New Midnight in Paris Comedy 81 7.9
3 Rango Family/Animation 75 7.3
4 New Bridesmaids Comedy 75 7.5
5 New Winnie the Pooh Family/Animation 74 7.3
6 Source Code Sci-Fi/Thriller 74 7.5
7 New Super 8 Sci-Fi/Thriller 72 7.4
8 New Crazy, Stupid, Love. Comedy 68 7.5
9 New Rise of the Planet of the Apes Sci-Fi/Action 68 7.8
10 New Kung Fu Panda 2 Family/Animation 67 7.8

Although scores have been rounded to the nearest whole number, movies are ranked prior to rounding. User scores represent an average of scores assigned by site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good). All scores on this page are from September 5, 2011.

While the score for the final Harry Potter film was impressive, it is actually the lowest top score for a summer wide release in the last five years. It was also the first time in that span that the top spot hasn't been claimed by a Pixar movie. Interestingly, Pixar did have a summer release this year, but Cars 2 57 proved to be the worst-reviewed film in the studio's history. (In fact, it is the only one of Pixar's 12 films not to receive a Metascore in the green range indicating generally positive reviews from critics.)

Best Summer Wide Releases by Year
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
87 92 88 94 96
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 Toy Story 3 Up WALL-E Ratatouille

While summer brought 14 wide releases that finished with green Metascores of 61 or higher, a total of 70 limited releases reached that mark during the season, which is the highest total in the past five years. However, only one of those summer films received a score high enough to qualify for our list of 2011's best limited releases (below). In other words, though there were a lot of good summer films this year, there were few great ones.

New = summer release Best Limited Releases of 2011 So Far
  Title Genre(s) Metascore Users
1 My Perestroika Documentary 92 8.0
2 Poetry Foreign, Drama 90 7.9
3 The Arbor Biography, Documentary 88 6.8
4 I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You Foreign, Drama 87 n/a
5 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives Foreign, Fantasy, Comedy 87 6.6
6 13 Assassins Foreign, Action 87 7.4
7 New The Interrupters Documentary 86 n/a
8 Cave of Forgotten Dreams Documentary 86 7.0
9 Of Gods and Men Foreign, Drama, History 86 6.7
10 Nostalgia for the Light Documentary 85 n/a

The summer season also introduced several new titles into our list of the year's most terrible films, including the Dermot Mulroney-directed rom-com Love, Wedding, Marriage (starring Mandy Moore as a marriage counselor with a PhD in psychology), which is the lowest-scoring summer release since 2007's Daddy Day Camp.

New = summer release The Worst Films of 2011 So Far
  Title Genre(s) Metascore Users
1 New Love, Wedding, Marriage Comedy 13 n/a
2 Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil Family/Animation 20 3.7
3 New Apollo 18 Sci-Fi/Thriller 21 5.4
4 New A Love Affair of Sorts Drama 22 n/a
5 New Passion Play Thriller 22 n/a
6 Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son Comedy 22 4.2
7 The Roommate Thriller 23 3.1
8 New An Invisible Sign Drama 23 n/a
9 New Shark Night 3D Horror 24 5.1
10 New The Family Tree Drama/Comedy 24 n/a

Money matters: Summer's biggest successes and flops

At this point last year, eight movies had exceeded the $200 million mark (led by Toy Story 3's $400 million); this year, just five films have done so. Does that mean this summer has been bereft of hits? Far from it. Nine of the year's highest grossing films to date were released during the summer season, including big budget sequels in the Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Transformers franchises, comedies such as The Hangover Part II and Bridesmaids (the latter also doubling as summer's biggest box office surprise), and family films like Cars 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2.

Three of the top four films (all but the Hangover sequel) were massive foreign hits as well, each grossing more than $1 billion worldwide. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was also notable for becoming the highest-grossing Harry Potter film in the series, and scoring the biggest opening weekend in movie history.

However, not all was well at the box office, even with some of the higher grossing films. On Stranger Tides is the worst performing entry in the Pirates franchise (ditto the underperforming X-Men First Class in the X-Men series, though that did just well enough to merit another sequel), while Cars 2 was not only a critical disappointment, but will also likely finish as the lowest grossing Pixar film in the studio's history (adjusted for inflation).

And then there were the outright flops. Remember Tom Hanks doing double duty as director and star of Larry Crowne? You probably don't; it grossed just under $36 million, placing an uninspiring 58th among 2011 releases so far. Are you among the Gleeks who checked out Glee The 3D Concert Movie? Probably not; that film suffered through the worst opening weekend of any major release this summer, and has grossed just $11.8 million to date. But the summer's biggest money-losing failures were comic book movies Green Lantern (grossing just $116 million domestically against a $200 million budget) and Cowboys & Aliens ($97 million against a $163 million budget), while both the Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night remakes also look unlikely to be profitable (though both had lower budgets).

New = summer releaseHighest Grossing Films of 2011 (Through September 5)
  Title Release Metascore Users Domestic Gross
1 New Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 Jul. 15 87 7.8 $375,552,093
2 New Transformers: Dark of the Moon Jun. 29 42 5.9 $350,500,012
3 New The Hangover Part II May 26 44 5.7 $254,416,436
4 New Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides May 20 45 6.5 $240,794,584
5 Fast Five Apr. 29 67 7.4 $209,837,675
6 New Cars 2 Jun. 24 57 5.9 $189,256,895
7 New Thor May 6 57 7.1 $181,030,624
8 New Captain America: The First Avenger Jul. 22 66 7.2 $172,272,760
9 New Bridesmaids May 13 75 7.5 $168,517,430
10 New Kung Fu Panda 2 May 26 67 7.8 $164,827,049

The above table includes movies released in 2011 only. Note that many of the above films are still in theaters. Source of box office grosses: Box Office Mojo.

Below, you can compare the total grosses for all summer releases and the year to date through Labor Day with the same figures for the previous four years. And there is some good news. While 2011 trails behind the previous two years for full year grosses earned through September 5, total revenue collected during the summer months (including for films originally released in the spring) is estimated at just under $4.4 billion, which is an all-time record high for the season.

That record does hide an uncomfortable fact for the movie industry, however: the number of tickets sold this summer was either declined slightly or increased by just 1% compared to 2010 (depending on whose estimates you trust). While summer ticket sales routinely topped 600 million between 1999 and 2007, only 543-550 million tickets were sold in the just-concluded summer season. These relatively flat attendance figures reveal the real reason revenues were so high this summer: rising ticket prices.

Still, the summer figures brought continued good news to exhibitors and studios who were hurting after a disastrous start to the year. Full year-to-date domestic receipts now trail the 2010 figures by about 4%, a marked recovery from early March, when 2011 trailed the previous year's grosses by over 19%.

Total U.S. Box Office Grosses (in Millions)
Year Summer Grosses Full Calendar Year Grosses to Date *
2011 $4,397.4 $7,366.0
2010 $4,215.3 $7,678.7
2009 $4,326.0 $7,389.8
2008 $4,131.3 $6,895.6
2007 $4,167.5 $6,971.8

* Year to date totals are through September 5 of each year, and include all domestic grosses earned during the calendar year (including receipts for movies first released during the previous calendar year that carry over into the following year).
Source: Box Office Mojo.

What are your favorites?

Have you seen any good movies yet this year -- or any terrible ones? Let us know in the comments section below.

Comments (7)

  • MarcDoyle  

    My favorite limited release film of the summer is 13 Assassins (brilliant revenge flick), and my wide release choice is Fast 5. The Ocean's 11-style change of direction was perfect for the Fast and The Furious franchise. Most every other major release just felt stilted, boring, or unoriginal. There were some decent films, but for the most part, we've had a rough summer. (At least the film industry took some shots. How many major game releases did we see this summer? Hmmm. Oh yeah, that's right, they wanted to wait until this week - back-to-school week - to release 5 majors in the same 3-day period: Dead Island, Driver: San Francisco, Resistance 3, StarFox 64 3D, Warhammer Space Marine. Somebody much smarter than me must have crunched the numbers and figured out that it makes sense.) Actually, let me amend my limited release pick and say it's a tie - between 13 Assassins and Bellflower. Not many people saw this latter gem, but definitely catch it on DVD. Great flick.

  • max1million  

    Why is "The Tree of Life" missing? It was the second best wide release with an 85 ahha

  • JasonDietz  

    @max1million: The Tree of Life was actually not a wide release; at its peak, it screened in only 237 theaters. (600 screens is the minimum needed to be considered a wide release.)

  • fearless11  

    I really liked Source Code, though it's just a good movie, nothing special. The Tree of Life was amazing, an experience from a different world.

  • fearless11  

    You missed The Tree of Life in the lists! If not in the wide releases, in the limited releases. What happened?

  • JasonDietz  

    @fearless11: The Tree of Life is not included because it is not in the top 10 highest scoring limited releases of the year (it just missed out, at #11). Note that as indicated above, movies are ranked by their exact scores prior to rounding.

  • cub317  

    I'll admit I am ashamed by Cars 2. I really hoped it would do better. I'm just glad Harry Potter did very well.

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