Why Hollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer the money-spinners they once were

Matthew Bell asks if Walt Disney's 'Guardians of the Galaxy' can save the day

Never mind strawberries and Pimm's. The real sign that summer is here is at the cinema. Long school holidays lose their appeal by day four, when parents start looking for ways to get children out of the house. And Hollywood has always been happy to oblige. Action thrillers and romcoms? You got 'em!

But, somewhere along the way, the old formula has fallen apart. Box-office sales for this summer are down for the eighth year running, and are on course to finish up to 20 per cent down on last year. This would be the biggest year-on-year fall in nearly 30 years. While the figures are for the North American market, they are almost always closely mirrored in Britain. US revenues are not expected to break the $4bn (£2.4bn) mark, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which is a considerable drop on last year's $4.75bn. No film is expected to make more than $300m, for the first time since 2001.

A quiet panic is beginning to set in. Everyone is asking: whatever happened to the great summer blockbuster? Big-budget cash cows are known as "tentpoles" in the industry – the movies that keep it all propped up. Without them, the riskier projects and art-house films could never be made.

Some experts say that the figures are part of an overall decline in cinema-going, with Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video keeping audiences at home. Others blame the film houses for churning out pups. "People still want to go to the movies," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst for film data experts Rentrak. "They just want to go to really good movies." Others say this is a blip, not a sign of a downwards trend.

So what's on the menu this summer? Dwayne Johnson plays the title role in Hercules, a retelling of the Thracian wars, and there's yet another addition to the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes franchise. But the most eagerly awaited tentpole is Guardians of the Galaxy, a 3D CGI Walt Disney bonanza, in which a bunch of misfit heroes save the universe. Chris Pratt plays a for hire, who befriends an assassin (Zoe Saldana) and what appears to be a talking shrub, in an exciting new departure for Vin Diesel. Early reviews suggest it is not nearly as bad as it sounds.

Still, it's a long way from the heady heights of 1989, when Batman was launched. Film historians say that was the start of the tentpole trend. But when you consider what else came out in 1989, it's easier to see why sales are down: there was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and that fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally. This year we get Vin Diesel playing a shrub. Is it any wonder we'd rather stay at home?

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits