Friday, July 11, 2014

Ranting On...the Summer Box Office

Tammy-hit or a miss?

As the years go on, it gets harder and harder to distinguish a “hit” from a “flop” at the Box Office.  Take, for example, last weekend’s Tammy.  The film earned basically its entire estimated budget ($20 million) and grossed around $33 million.  By all accounts, most people would consider that a hit and this is hardly going to be a huge disappointment for Warner Bros.  Of course, it is down considerably based on some of Melissa McCarthy’s huge recent hits (and considering its poor buzz, probably won’t cross the $100 million mark, a major marker for a movie), but it’s not really the downfall that one would expect considering headlines.

That being said, though, there’s definitely a malaise going on with the box office across the country this summer.  For the first time in thirteen years, no summer film is likely to cross $300 million domestically (considering that Transformers was the best shot and that is falling too fast domestically to hit that height).  There are still a number of films that could surprise this summer (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy stick out), and some films have been surprise hits like The Fault in Our Stars, but by-and-large this has been a really lackluster year at the cinema.

The question is why, and the answers are not particularly easy.  Most people will rush to say that this is the summer of the sequel, of the remake, and of the reboot and people are sick of it, but every summer lately has become that.  With Hollywood starved for creative outlets and unwilling to take a lot of risks (think about it this way-Star Wars would never be made today because it would be way too financially risky to invest such a huge sum of money in such a small film and a director with ), it makes sense that people would eventually tire of comic book films, animated sequels, and remakes of classic movies.  Yet this wasn’t the case last year, when films like Iron Man 3, Monsters University, and Despicable Me 2 dominated all summer with major box office mojo.  And it likely won’t be the case in the next couple of years, as Star Wars, Finding Nemo, and The Avengers all seem as close to box office insurance as you can get.

But there is a larger degree of issue here, and I do wonder if we may have finally hit the tipping point when it comes to sequels/reboots/remakes and an audience’s attitude toward them.  The reality is that Hollywood keeps trying to turn the movies into television (look at how The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Lord of the Rings have become similar to HBO-style “let’s check in every year” sort of situations), but people don’t want television when it comes to the movies.  Ask your average person on the street and they will say that they think television has gotten better in the past ten years but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who says the same thing about the cinema.

There’s an easy way to solve that, but it involves taking risks, and that’s something a studio increasingly is unwilling to do.  Look at recent major blockbusters that people genuinely loved and became an instant part of the zeitgeist: Avatar, Gravity, and Inception were all MASSIVE $200+ million hits, but they were also taking us to places that we didn’t expect in a movie theater.  They all had the visual effects that Hollywood loves to spoon-feed, but they were well-planned, interesting movies.  They were also all wholly original and this is a lesson rarely seems to recognize.  It’s time to start making original movies again.  If you look at 2014, the top ten highest-ranking movies feature reboots, franchises, sequels, and product-placement tie-ins with the sole exception of Neighbors (which is about to be replaced by the disappointing but still higher-grossing How to Train Your Dragon 2).  Compare that with 1998, for example (a year that saw the biggest bounce over the previous year in the past twenty years), and you have a stark contrast.  In addition to 1997’s Titanic (which made the bulk of its cash in 1998), you have no sequels and only one remake in the entire Top 10 of that year.  It’s also the last time that the top-grossing film of the year didn’t have a fantasy element.

Perhaps it’s time to consider that again?  There are a whole slew of new and old movie stars currently out there ready and willing to carry dramas and comedies and original sci-fi, and quality fare for adults has seen a huge uptick in popularity.  Lincoln, Bridesmaids, The Help, The Heat, and American Hustle have all achieved blockbuster-level grosses, but are films that people not only see, but genuinely like and recommend to their friends.  You cannot keep counting on “well, I’ll see it even if I didn’t like the first one” but as we’ve seen with Spider-Man, that’s just not going to fly forever.  And you really don’t want to get to the point where people hate all of the franchises out there, because you don’t want to go cold turkey here.

That’s my solution, and one I’m guessing is popular, but what are your thoughts?  What do you think is causing this summer’s box office slump?  How can Hollywood get its energy going again?  Share in the comments!

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