Hollywood suffered its worst summer for years at the box office, as filmgoers apparently grew tired of blockbuster sequels and epic computer-generated fight scenes, reveal experts.
Between the first weekend of May and the last of August -- Labor Day weekend, which traditionally marks the end of the summer filmgoing season -- US films made some $4.05 billion, about 15 percent down on last year's box office.
That is the smallest box office total since 2006 when films made just $3.75 billion in North America, said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst at movie and TV data provider Rentrak.
Corrected for inflation, it is the worst summer box office showing since 1997, according to Rentrak.
But it could have been worse -- had the rogue superheroes not saved the day.
Offbeat sci-fi flick "Guardians of the Galaxy" topped the box office on its fifth week in theaters, and became the biggest grossing film of the year.
Family favorite "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" also performed well.
"'Guardians' and 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' thankfully came at the perfect time, and enabled Hollywood to knock the summer deficit down to just under 15 percent, from 20 percent just a month ago," Dergarabedian said.
Professor Tom Nunan of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Film School added: "It's obvious that there is an appetite for the movies, even the bad ones because (they have) decent opening nights."
"But then they fall off drastically because word of mouth conveys they are lousy," he told AFP.
Granted, this summer's box office suffered in comparison with last year's, boosted by blockbusters including "Iron Man 3" ($409 million in the US, $1.2 billion globally) and "Despicable Me 2" ($368 million, and $970 worldwide).
- Rare successes -
It wasn't all bad news: "Guardians of the Galaxy" became the highest-grossing film of the year, beating "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" which made $280 million.
Over the Labor Day holiday weekend, the tale of ragtag heroes in space added $22.9 million to its five-week haul, taking its earnings to $281.2 million since its release, box office tracker Exhibitor Relations said.
Although it proved a hit, "Guardians" nevertheless failed to break the $300 million barrier -- the first time a summer film has failed to reach that mark since 2001.
Another summer success was "Transformers: Age of Extinction," with $244 million in the US and over $1 billion internationally.
But others disappointed, like "Hercules," "Edge of Tomorrow" and "The Expendables 3," which made only $34 million despite an all-star cast including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford.
The latter "is almost the definition of formulaic," said Nunan.
"That was kind of fun" because of the novelty of seeing wrinkly former stars, he explained. But "now it's another exhausted franchise."
"We all understand it's a business and that sequels are more of a predictable commodity that an original film. But can't we try a little harder?" he said.
In second place over the four-day Labor Day weekend was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which added another $15.6 million to its take for a total of $166.3 million.
Third place was occupied by the teen melodrama "If I Stay," which earned $11.8 million, followed by "As Above/So Below," a thriller set in the catacombs beneath Paris, which took in $10.3 million.
Raunchy comedy "Let's Be Cops" came fifth with $10.4 million.
It was a disappointing return to the box office for former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan, whose "The November Man" was sixth with $10.1 million.
"When the Game Stands Tall," based on the true story of a US high school coach who leads his team on a 151-game winning streak, fell to seventh place with $8.2 million.
In eighth spot was dystopian drama "The Giver," which earned a whisker under $7 million, followed by romantic comedy "The Hundred Foot Journey," with $6.5 million.
Rounding out the top 10 was "The Expendables 3," which took $4.5 million in its third week in theaters.