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Before the beginning of summer, this year's domestic box office was 9% ahead of last year's, buoyed by the strengths of springtime hits The LEGO Movie and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Somehow, in some way, that lead was squandered. Now new reports say that 2014 is off 3.8% from 2013's pace. How did this happen? What's going on at the movies?

Variety reports that this summer is down nearly 20% from last summer, following a Fourth Of July that saw middling results for holdovers like Transformers: Age Of Extinction and newcomers like Tammy and Earth To Echo . From the first weekend of May until this point last year, the domestic box office had totaled $2.8 billion. This year? The same number is down to $2.3 billion. Last year's Independence Day period was boosted by the massive $83 million opening for Despicable Me 2, though 2014 had no corollary. 2013 also had holdover hits like The Heat, Monsters University and World War Z. Also, hard to believe as it is, people were seeing The Lone Ranger.

Disney's original intention was to open Maleficent on this date, having originally earmarked May 30th for Pixar's The Good Dinosaur. But the Pixar toon was pushed back, leaving a primo spot at the end of May, so Maleficent vacated. It's sort of a fluke that this year's selections for moviegoers involved low-profile stuff like Deliver Us From Evil. The time would have ideal to release another big blockbuster, particularly considering Age Of Extinction lost a hearty 63% of its audience in its second weekend.

The industry is quietly hoping the rest of the summer picks up, though the season is, as is normal, rather frontloaded this year. There are high hopes for this week's Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, as well as the coming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Guardians Of The Galaxy. But Hollywood might have to resign itself to a summer where few if any big films cross $250 million domestically with the exception of an underperforming Transformers sequel (which, like the summer's other blockbusters, is bound to made a cartoonishly huge chunk of change overseas).

Of course, all is not gloom and doom. With the exception of The Heat, last year's summer blockbusters were fairly costly ventures. $200 million for films like World War Z and The Lone Ranger were hurting the industry, and the $150 spent on White House Down was fairly unwise. Yes, the grosses of summer, 2013 were massive. But were the profits?

Compare that to this past weekend. Tammy will likely collect $50-$60 million domestically when its run is finished, but with a budget of $20 million, that's not a terrible gamble. Earth To Echo reportedly only cost $13 million and will be pretty big on DVD, as will Deliver Us From Evil. And the weekend's third biggest film, runaway hit 22 Jump Street, has racked up $230 million worldwide after only a month on a respectable $50 million budget. A lot of the summer movies aren't domestic home runs, particularly the expensive May trio of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla and X-Men: Days Of Future Past. But maybe Hollywood can find new ways of doing business, ways that don't provide gaudy opening weekend highlights as much as they provide honest-to-god profits.

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