You have to take with a big grain of salt any kind of analysis that uses a one-off as evidence that our diverse, fickle, impossible-to-nail-down culture has crossed some kind of Rubicon. The Daily Beast looks at Summer 2014’s terrible box office receipts and wonders aloud if the “Summer Box Office Is Dead?”
The answer of course is, no.
While Summer 2014 is down overall by about 20% over last year, it’s important to keep in mind that last year was a record year. Furthermore, in many ways, Hollywood is probably happier with this year over last for two reasons: 1. Overseas grosses are still huge. 2. There have been no massive, costly, earth-shattering bombs this summer.
Summer 2013 was a nauseating roller coaster ride for studios. While “Iron Man 3” and a handful of others over-performed, “The Lone Ranger,” “After Earth” and “White House Down” were all costly, embarrassing, bank-busting flops.
Summer 2014 might not have an “Iron Man 3” but all the big-budget entries have done fine here and splendidly overseas. The flops have all been low to moderate budget titles like “Blended” and “Deliver Us from Evil.”
Regardless, one summer does not a Rubicon make.
The column finally comes to the conclusion that the big shift in our culture might not be the end of the summer blockbuster but that audiences have become more tasteful and discerning. But again the evidence is weak.
Maybe it’s not entirely accurate, then, to eulogize the summer blockbuster and go on about how the poor box office this summer hints at its death. Instead, let’s make this a birth announcement and welcome, finally, to the world the discerning audience. It’s an audience that loves blockbusters as much as it loves delicately made indies. It just has one demand: that they be well-made.
The writer argues that this summer’s under-performing blockbusters “received mild-to-bad reviews to match their mild box-office performances” and cites as examples Transformers: Age of Extinction, Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Godzilla.
The truth, though, is that “Godzilla” scored a pretty solid 74% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. On the other hand, Tom Cruise’s “Edge of Tomorrow” earned an incredible 90% fresh and flamed out with a domestic take of less than $95 million.
The writer also uses the stellar reviews of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” as evidence of a more discerning movie-going public but does so without telling readers that “Apes” $73 million opening was way below that of “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” and “Godzilla.”
The summer blockbuster is not dead.
And while I reject the premise that audience tastes coming more in line with critics means that the hoi polloi are becoming “more discerning,” that’s beside the point — it’s not happening.
There is no question, though, that something has happened to the box office this summer.
Is it a fluke based on nice weather and the World Cup?
Is it that enthusiasm is waning (though not crashing) for CGI’d sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, and franchises?
Is it that technology now offers the young people who turn blockbusters into blockbusters so many other options?
Is it that the “been there, done that” feel of these tentpoles has lessened the incentive to see the same movie again and again? Repeat viewings are vital to a film over-performing.
Is it that seeing the movie in a theatre feels less urgent when you have retail outlets like Walmart advertising the DVD while the film is still in theatres?
Is it that the quality of television and the binge-viewing that comes with it is finally taking a noticeable toll?
Or is it that the market and the customers who control it are just fickle and impossible to nail down?
There’s also no question that ticket sales have been flat for more than a decade. While 2013 was a record revenue year, more actual admissions were sold during every year between 1997 and 2009.
The film business is treading water just to hold on to what they have. If you look at population growth, this is a huge failure. The growth is overseas, not here in North America.
Right now, the blockbuster is all Hollywood has. If that dies, they die.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC