‘I’ On Culture
Why has this summer’s box office been the worst in years? There have been some good movies, actually some really good movies, but box office receipts are down by 15 percent. And as those of us who go to the theaters regularly know, prices have gone up. Add those together, and maybe attendance might be a bit more than three quarters of what is has been in the past.
2017 was supposed to have a great summer. There were a whole lot of big budget summer movies, generally based on established franchises. There were performers who had brought in huge amounts of money in previous films. In many cases, those movies went nowhere.
The one criticism that I wind up harping on constantly is poor writing. A bad script can ruin any film. Batman vs. Superman was an example of that. The two heroes generally acted like spoiled kids. Batman went after Superman because theoretically the Man of Steel might cause a lot of damage. This is not what fans want to see. We all know that what really makes these films work is great villains. Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger were the walkaway stars of their Batman films. They provide the fun and the danger. Superman just doesn’t quite work as the bad guy.
The studios did not learn their lesson. We had a few real disasters. Pirates of the Caribbean was deadly. It seemed like a retrospective on the fun parts of the previous four movies with the fun left out. Johnny Depp was still there, but no one noticed that he has not had a real box office winner in years. And Tom Cruise was added to a boring version of The Mummy. It looked like the producers decided to add “sure fire box office” Tom to cover a script that was remarkably similar to the earlier films in the series and was a real dud. Transformers 5 showed its age and nothing much happened. Valerian was a new franchise that boasted that its actors were bad because they were supposed to be. Even Dwayne Johnson could not save Baywatch. On TV, it featured pretty women in bathing suits. This movie focused on Johnson and Zac Efron’s buff bodies. The fanboys stayed away.
There were some really good movies. Guardians of the Galaxy 2, while not as strong as the first film, had some great moments. Wonder Woman finally showed how a female superhero could conquer the box office if the film was really well-made. And it was. And Spider-Man revived the franchise by switching things and going smaller. Most sequels go really big. Here, Spidey went back to his roots and a basic unknown, Tom Holland, got bigger box office than Depp or Cruise. Why? Hey, people go to movies that are good!
Then we hit August and it looked like the studios just gave up. A very weak Hitman’s Bodyguard was the big film for weeks because there was so little.
Part of the problem is that the big producers seem not to know what the audience will like. There are no more movie stars. The one actor who always seemed to bring in audiences was Dwayne Johnson. But it is now clear his success has been based on his picking films audiences favor. Dozens of stars have made films in the past year that have flopped. Some of them seem desperate for hits having not had any in years.
But we need creativity. Yes, a lot of big-budget superhero films died at the box office, but there were some huge hits. Yes, we tend to like special effects but, by themselves, movies can get very boring. What makes them interesting is how they work into great stories, and we need the stories. Baby Driver, my favorite small film from the summer, had some great driving special effects. But it was the strong script and great acting that kept me involved.
There will be more big budget films before the end of the year, and I hope they really are good. But perhaps the big shots who make films should spend more time focusing on improving the scripts than on creating the same old special effects. Hiring actors who have in the past had hits is a waste of time.
Let us go on from here. I will be around to let you know what is actually enjoyable. And you can join me in hoping the big shots learn their lesson.