Let's be honest-- predicting and understanding box office involves a whole lot of guesswork and 20/20 hindsight. If anyone could accurately know what audiences will go for, Disney never would have poured a bunch of cash into The Lone Ranger, and Warner Bros. would have filmed all three Hangover movies back-to-back before the actors started asking for more money. There are safe bets-- sequels, major stars, animated films-- and there are gambles-- everything else-- but nobody, truly, knows how it will shake out until the audiences actually start buying tickets.

That said, the summer of 2013 has been incredibly unpredictable no matter who you are and how much you know. Aside from the sure-thing hits that really did turn out to be hits-- Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Monsters University-- and the smelled-'em-from-100-yards stinkers that tanked-- Lone Ranger, After Earth, R.I.P.D.-- the surprises have been all over the place. Movies like Despicable Me 2 and Fast & Furious 6, which were expected to be big, turned out to be gigantic-- Despicable Me 2 is currently the year's second-biggest movie, just behind Iron Man 3. Movies that nobody expected much from at all, like The Great Gatsby and Now You See Me and The Conjuring, turned into surprise smashes. And movies that seemed to have every possible element for success, like White House Down and The Smurfs 2, fell flat on their faces-- and the people behind them still can't figure out why.

Both White House Down and The Smurfs 2 were released by Sony, and this weekend that studio notched another disappointment with Elysium. As The Los Angeles Times points out the film opened the exact same weekend as Neill Blomkamp's surprise 2009 hit District 9, and featured many of the same intelligent sci-fi elements with the added bonus on Matt Damon. But Elysium made just $30.5 million-- enough to win the weekend, but a fair bit behind District 9's $37.5 million debut. Elysium didn't have nearly the strong reviews that District 9 did-- a 66% Rotten Tomatoes score compared to 90%-- and didn't have the element of surprise that gave District 9 such strong word of mouth. But surely that shouldn't have been enough to keep people away from a sci-fi summer movie starring Matt Damon… right?

Normally this is where I would come up with answers, but I'm as baffled as anyone, and at least comforted by the fact that the LA Times people seem baffled as well. But you, dear reader-- you're the people causing all this confusion. How have you chosen what to see this summer? Have you noticed it being unpredictable? And, if you didn't catch Elysium, what kept you away? These are all mostly questions without easy answers, but we don't get anywhere if we don't ask them. Sound off in the comments and let us know what gives.

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