How to describe the 2014 summer movie season’s performance?

“It was the box-office equivalent of a roller-coaster ride,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst for the global media measurement company Rentrak. “It was in the tough position of following the biggest summer of all time, which was 2013’s.”

This year’s summer frame, which is measured from the first weekend of May through Labor Day, just didn’t match up. When final figures from U.S. and Canada theaters are tallied Tuesday, Rentrak expects they’ll show around $4.05 billion in total gross ticket sales. That’s 14.8 percent below 2013’s $4.75 billion for the equivalent period, Another market watcher, studiosystem.com, predicts slightly better final figures for this year. Others are saying it’s 15 percent down. (Dergarabedian added that year-to-date figures are down 5.2 percent).

 

Even more dire is that both Studio System and Rentrak expect summer 2014’s gross to be the lowest for the season in at least five years; the worst since 2006, the last time seasonal box office registered below $4 billion, according to Rentrak. While no one going in ever expected this summer’s take to beat 2013’s record, falling behind half a decade or more was not in anybody’s crystal ball.

Some very particular factors, however, contributed to the summer’s slump. One was a movie that looked, felt and played like a summer blockbuster — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — being released in early April. It has topped the yearly release chart through most of the warm weather months — in fact, it was just displaced from the number one slot by August release “Guardians of the Galaxy” this holiday weekend. More than $225 million of the nearly $260 million “Cap” gross was made before the summer tallies began.

 

Additionally, a “Fast & Furious 7” planned for release this summer was tragically delayed due to the death of star Paul Walker. That would’ve been good for at least $200 million, as “F&F 6” contributed $239 million to 2013’s summer haul.

“Those factors are huge,” Dergarabedian confirmed. “One or two movies can make all the difference.”

That is further evident when you compare the top grossers of summer ’13 (“Iron Man 3” at $409 million; “Despicable Me 2,” $368 million; “Man of Steel,” $291 million; “Monsters University,” $268 million; and “F&F 6”) to 2014’s rollouts (estimated to be, through Aug. 31, “Guardians” at $275 million; “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” $244 million; “Maleficent,” $238 million; “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” $233 million; “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” $205 million).

 

“Last year you had two films at above $350 million,” observed Studio System box office analyst Jody O’Riordan.

Obviously, nothing came close to $300 million this summer, and even the still-playing “Guardians” may not get there before the end of its run.

Another thing working against summer 2014 was the fact that the July Fourth holiday fell on a Friday, traditionally the busiest moviegoing day of the week. With everybody expected to be at Independence Day barbecues and fireworks displays, no major features were released for that potentially lucrative weekend. And for the first time in recorded history, right at the height of the summer moviegoing season, America was actually paying attention to World Cup soccer.

 

O’Riordan also saw some weaknesses in the slate of movies released this summer.

“It suffered a little bit from sequelitis,” she said. “There were a lot of comic-booky things going on. There was a lot of fanboy stuff, and that cut out a wide swath of the market. I don’t think there was actually anything really aimed for younger kids. I have two young daughters, and I know a lot of people that weren’t going to let their kids under 10 see ‘Maleficent.’ ”

There was no Pixar animated release this summer, and we’ll have to wait almost a year to see the third entry in the popular “Despicable Me” franchise, “Minions.” DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2” was this summer’s only major animated franchise entry, and it didn’t do as well domestically as its predecessor.

 

Degarabedian pointed out, however, that while “HTTYD” made $277 million overseas, the sequel fired up $413 million offshore this summer. Indeed, most of summer’s tentpole films were monsters outside North America, and while studios don’t get as big a percentage back from huge markets like China as they do from here and Canada, that kicked most of these big-budget investments well into profitability.

There were no major flops this summer, which was a nice change from the losses incurred by “The Lone Ranger,” “After Earth” and others in 2013’s record-breaking frame.

 

“If you ask executives if they’d rather have a more profitable summer or a summer that was perceived as being a monumental revenue generator, I think studio execs would go for the profitability,” Dergarabedian said. “Of course, that really doesn’t help the theater owners.”

An uptick in August, driven almost entirely by “Guardians” and the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot, cut the comparative bloodletting by about five points from the 20 percent level it was at in July. Long considered a box-office dead zone, August this year may turn out to be the highest-ranking eighth month ever, running almost 10 percent ahead of August 2013 as of last Friday.

 

So, while the summer of 2014 started at a disadvantage from which it never recovered — the May 2-4 opening weekend of “Amazing Spider-Man 2” clocked $91.6 million, while 12 months earlier, the kickoff of “Iron Man 3” brought in $174 million — there’s always next year. Summer ’15’s entries will include “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Jurassic World,” “Ted 2” and the aforementioned “Minions,” not to mention “Fantastic Four,” “Mad Max” and “Terminator” reboots.

“Knowing that there’s major help on the way prevents people from making pronouncements about the movie theater experience being a thing of the past,” said Dergarabedian, who views the whole business as cyclical and product driven. “It’s definitely going to come back.”

 

“It was a fine season,” O’Riordan said, assessing the past four months as a whole. “There wasn’t a lot of risk-taking, it wasn’t a super-exciting summer — I think what happened was kind of a convergence of things. I don’t think it was any one, systemic issue.”