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Johnny Depp’s name wasn’t enough to make “The Lone Ranger” a blockbuster this summer.

Summer box office delivers lessons

“Monsters University” was one of the few successful films.

The summer of 2013 might be remembered best as the Season of the Collapsing Tentpoles. As mega-budget spectacles such as “White House Down,” “The Lone Ranger” and “After Earth” fell apart at the box office, little engines that could – one with a name that was literally “Mud” – proved they could not only survive the competition, but thrive.

As we learned last summer, which featured such debacles as “John Carter” and “Battleship,” quality still counts. Studios, which generally avoid movies that are novel or risky or not based on a comic book because they’re “execution dependent,” may slowly be realizing that everything’s execution dependent, no matter the star, source material or special-effects budget.

That goes for enduringly reliable family films as well – in the pile-up of animated kids’ movies this summer, the triumphs happened also to be the best: “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University.” Those victories, plus a few out-of-left-field hits and misses, made the past few months particularly instructive for anyone willing to pay attention. Before we all go back to school, here are a few lessons learned that Hollywood may want to study up on when it plans our next summer vacation.

Stars burn out

Two of the biggest stars on the planet – Will Smith and Johnny Depp – got rude awakenings this summer, when their movies flopped. “The Lone Ranger” proved that a dusty period Western based on a 1930s radio serial – surprise! – won’t connect with young audiences or international viewers, regardless of explosions, spectacular stunts and the magical Mr. Depp. “After Earth” has done better overseas, but probably not well enough to turn a genuine profit.

Not about U.S.

Even if non-U.S. box-office receipts can’t save a debacle like “After Earth,” they have tipped the scales in favor of “Pacific Rim,” especially in China: Guillermo del Toro’s science fiction fantasy underperformed when it opened domestically but has more than made up for that in other markets.

Women not enemy

One of the biggest surprise hits of the summer was “The Heat,” the only big-popcorn movie to feature a female lead (two in fact: Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy). And another dark horse can attribute its success to women: Brad Pitt’s zombie chase-movie “World War Z” went from disasterpiece to Brad’s highest-grossing film, thanks to the women who made up a whopping 50 percent of its audience.

Ditch the cape

“You don’t need superheroes to succeed,”’s Phil Contrino says. “If you look at the one studio that had one of the best summers it would be Universal – minus ‘R.I.P.D’ – and they had ‘Fast and Furious 6’ and ‘Despicable Me 2,’ (neither) a superhero franchise. This idea that you have to take a superhero and make eight movies out of that character is not the only way to go.”

That goes for franchises in general: While series installments like “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” and “The Smurfs 2” arrived in theaters already gasping for air, original horror films like “The Conjuring” and “The Purge” – as well as the literary adaptations “The Great Gatsby” and “World War Z” – defied Hollywood’s tired reboot-sequel-franchise paradigm.

Don’t overcrowd

The summer movie season broke box-office records this summer, earning north of $4 billion. But John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Association of Theatre Owners, suggests that studios left money on the table by crowding their movies into an already busy three-month period.

“There are 12 months on the calendar. We continually urge distributors to spread their movies out,” he says.

Black films perform

With successes like “Fruitvale Station” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” this was a great summer for African-American stories on screen. And they became hits, not just because they were good, but because they were made for modest budgets and marketed with savvy and sensitivity.

Dramas save the day

One of the most profitable movies of the summer was “Mud,” an atmospheric bayou thriller starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role; after opening in theaters in April, it played all summer long, still attracting audiences even when it was available on DVD.

Similar successes include “The Place Beyond the Pines,” the mid-life romance “Before Midnight,” Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” the coming-of-age comedy “The Way, Way Back” and the emotionally gripping urban drama “Fruitvale Station.”

3-D hot overseas

After a mad rush to convert movies and theaters to 3-D in the wake of blockbusters like “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland,” the 3-D market has matured in the United States. Less than a third of box-office revenues for two of the summer’s biggest hits – “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University” – came from 3-D premiums.

Says NATO’s Fithian, the success of 3-D “breaks down geographically as well as (by) genre. 3-D did pretty well internationally this summer, but not so hot domestically.”