With the summer film season pretty much over there has been a lot of talk about the low numbers at the box office. We’ve heard the trouble that AMC Theaters is facing with a huge dip in their profits and Wanda Group buying up a large chunk of their stock. So in an age when we’re seeing more films break the billion dollar mark how is there such a huge slump? What’s sailing and what’s crashing? Is there any reason besides the quality of a film that is to blame for this? Today I will start sifting through the rubble and give my personal opinions on the matter.
-3D is on the Decline-
Hard to believe that it’s been eight years since Avatar came out with studios taking away the wrong lesson from the film. Since then we’ve seen multiple films that have used this tool as a way to tack a few extra bucks to ticket prices as a means to inflate box office numbers. Over the past eight years I’ve noticed the number of 3D showtimes slowly start to taper off. Most filmgoers (myself included) have been turned off by the over saturation. 3D is no longer something used to enhance a story and people are sick of shelling out for it. While studios don’t care theater chains have taken note and book more 2D showtimes than 3D. I know that personally that it has been over three years since I saw a 3D film (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and I have no intention of changing that anytime soon.
-Franchises/Cinematic Universes Are Not a Sure Bet-
Every year I have to talk about the sequels, reboots, or other franchise non-starters that failed. Why did (insert brand name and number here) not make money? How did Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean go from a billion dollar fourth films to a fifth one that will not crack $800 million? Let’s just state right now that neither of those films were bombs, but they definitely underwhelmed. People are not getting tired of sequels (we’ll come back to that), but they’re tired of mediocre films. Both On Stranger Tides and Age of Extinction coasted off the success of their previous films so who would want to see a fifth film if it’s predecessor didn’t measure up?
Now we come to what has become the biggest detriment to modern blockbusters. The obligatory cinematic universe where movies don’t need to be sequels, but can leech off of each others success to sell tickets. People have seen how Marvel changed the game and now want to copy and paste that style. The biggest faceplant right out the gate was Universal’s Dark Universe with this summer’s The Mummy. Previously Universal has tried to make this idea work with Dracula Untold which didn’t make the money they’d hoped. But if at first you don’t succeed, ignore the previous film and try again. The Mummy tried to right the ship and get this universe on track. Unfortunately instead of telling an entertaining self contained story it put the cart five miles before the horse planting the seeds for films that are still in pre-production. Nobody wants to see a film who’s main goal is to sell us on another story.
-Comic Movies Are Still Successful-
Every year people continue to predict that the superhero bubble is going to burst. While there have been some clunkers in the past few years the majority are making bank. Marvel continues their winning streak with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 pulling in over $800 million. Spider-Man: Homecoming sits at a healthy $700 million with a few major territories rolling the film out in the coming months. The DCEU upped their game with Wonder Woman raking in nearly $800 million. The best part: all three of these film received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Are we going to see superhero films crash and burn? More than likely, trends in films are cyclical as we’ve seen with the western genre. But for now it’s safe to say this genre is bankable.
-New Apparently Isn’t the Answer-
It’s funny how people have spent what feels like decades decrying Hollywood for having no original ideas. In a time when brand recognition is the biggest asset Hollywood can achieve the number of non-franchise films are diminishing. This year we had a handful of original films that had mixed results at the box office. Both Baby Driver and Dunkirk pulled in a decent return on their investment, but let’s focus on Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. An ambitious space opera based off a French manga directed by Luc Beeson. It may be based off a pre-existing property, but pull fifty people in a crowd and ask them if they’ve heard of this manga. The trailers were flashy and they had two young people in the lead. And yet, a so so story really hampered this film. So while it was original it wasn’t fantastic. We need quality to go with originality.
-The Diminishing Importance of Summer-
Once Jaws came out in 1975 and made bank it changed how studios released their yearly slate of films. Since then there has been a very specific pattern in how films are released. January: The dumping ground for films studios have no faith in. February/March: Genre films that have no other place in the year. April: Key up for the summer. May/June/July/August: The moneymaker months! September/October: Comedy and Horror films predominantly. November/December: Films vying for Oscars and a handful of blockbusters released over holiday weekends. In the late 2000’s that thought process changed. 300 was a moderately budgeted film that opened on March 9th, 2007 and made over $450 million. After this studios decided to look at weekends throughout year where there was zero competition from others and popped in films hoping to dominate the box office. Spreading out high budget films has now become a major way to hedge their bets. This year alone Beauty and the Beast, The Fate of the Furious, and Logan all opened before the summer started and pulled in a large amount of money. Had they opened in the May-August timeline odds are their numbers wouldn’t have been nearly as strong.
So while studios try to distill all these problems into one easy answer they miss the point. You can not think one solution will fix a summer slump. And let’s be honest it’s a slump, nothing more.
These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? Did you enjoy the summer films? Did you decide to stay home and binge watch Netflix and Hulu? What was your favorite/worst films of the summer. Let me know. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sdfilmthoughts. As always, thanks for reading.
PS: I’m working on something special for an upcoming article. If I can crack it be prepared something a little different from my usual style.