Halloween is a month and a half away, and it seems we are in the midst of a horror movie craze. Movies like It and Anabelle: Creation are not only receiving mass critical acclaim, but also topping charts at the box office. The start of fall is looking promising and eventful, thanks to the impulsive decision making of parents during the holiday season. That being said, the cold hard sales figures are more reflective of the past than the future. Summer just ended, and the numbers are in.
Summer is traditionally the best time slot for movie lovers, as publishers tend to dump out their best and biggest action flicks. Filled with explosions and CGI, heartfelt moments and attempts at comedy, these films have since coined the term “Summer Blockbuster,” holding a special place in the heart of American Pop culture.
Culture is cool and all, but in the narrow structure of modern day capitalism it is virtually unsustainable without money. So with all cards on the table, it is time to evaluate the cumulative monetary success of Summer 2017’s box office.
Unfortunately, it’s been a complete disaster for Hollywood on multiple levels.
From big-budget flops to under performing sequels, production companies can’t seem to get a break. In total, the summer season saw a $3.8 billion gross in domestic ticket sales, down 14.6 percent from last year. This may not sound cataclysmic on paper, but the last time a box office gross was this low was in 2006 — a year notorious for flops of epic proportion.
Fortunately, the rest of the year’s earnings make up for the disastrous summer. For example, new intellectual property (IP)Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele and produced by Universal Studios, grossed an impressive $175 million to date. Such a high number for a new property is a testament to the careful skill and effort put into the film’s marketing. All in all, 2017 is tailing 2016 by a meager 6.5 percent margin. While not in line with the consistent growth of the past decade, economists aren’t yet calling movie-armageddon.
Still, it’s important to evaluate the root cause of this summer’s shortcomings. The easiest explanation would be that movies were simply worse, and people were less inclined to see them. Yet, this narrative is false. Of the top ten grossing summer movies of 2017, five of them had an IMDB score over 7.5. In contrast, 2016 only saw one movie of similar standing. This means that films have been getting better (If you don’t include the flop that was the emoji movie, which received a depressing score of zero on Rotten Tomatoes before release, surprising no one), but fewer people are actually going out of their way to watch these highly praised movies in theatres.
Another educated guess would be that 2017 had fewer existing IPs, so a lack of ethos hurt sales. However, this again would be proven wrong, as the top ten summer hits of 2017 and 2016 both had eight movies with existing IPs. In fact, the breakout success of Get Out at the beginning of the year seems to indicate an unseen trend in the movie industry: an appreciation for new ideas. While these unoriginal ideas dominated the lack-luster summer box office, a slew of original films released to high praise. Both Baby Driver and Atomic Blonde received attention from critics and casual moviegoers alike. The films were lauded with praise for their originality.
Traditionally, sequels don’t surpass the quality of the original, but instead make up for the lost quality in sales. In its lifetime, the original Shrek by DreamWorks Studios grossed $484.4 million. However, Shrek 2 amassed nearly double that, with approximately $919.8 million in sales. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how franchises are born.
If anything, the faltering box office numbers suggests that people grow tired of the same formula of companies pumping out franchise after franchise in an almost never ending series of installments. Perhaps one can stand three or four Shrek movies, but not five brainless Transformer movies, or seven Star Wars movies or even five sexy Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Things grow old, and people grow tired of the repetitive nonsense.
Movie franchises like Harry Potter succeed because they build off of deep lore that fans can become invested in and finish it with a climatic ending.
Last I checked, Transformers was more Seinfeld than Game of Thrones: there’s a climax at the end of each installment, and by round five, the audience has lost all too many brain cells to care. Above all, people want more authentic pictures. Since supply follows demand, production companies will slowly but surely heed to the desires of the people (the alternative is bankruptcy).
Ultimately, we will either be seeing original movies that breathe new life into a dying industry, or no movies at all if Hollywood fails to realize to their upcoming implosion. That, my friends, is a blessing.