Box office observers probably thought things couldn’t get worse than the recently wrapped summer movie season.
They were wrong.
The weekend’s box office results are in, and the numbers were bad even by the most modest of expectations. The weekend in question is a particularly flat frame, and no major release hit theaters over the past three days–unless you count the 20-year-old Forrest Gump. Movie ticket sales slumped to the lowest level since 2001, according to Bloomberg.com. Guardians of the Galaxy remained at the top spot, a sign that the summer’s biggest film still has some life left in it. Otherwise, the news was all bad. The coming weekend’s film slate offers no obvious winner (No Good Deed, Dolphin Tale 2, The Drop).
The weekend’s lack of bankable new releases played a major role, but it’s still a sign the summer’s lousy box office performance (down 14.6 percent from last year) is having a hangover effect.
Box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian says the weak sales figures are common this time of year, particularly after a rough summer.
The sky is not falling,” Dergarabedian said. “Summer was down almost 15 percent, so it’s not so surprising that the transition to fall is a little slow.
The fall does offer a slate of films that could unite audiences and film critics. Consider Fury, the new World War II actioner starring Brad Pitt as a man battling Nazis in the war’s final moments. Gone Girl packs similar potential, with Ben Affleck teaming with The Social Network director David Fincher on a murder mystery.
Yet it’s hard not to look at the Summer 2014 figures and wonder if other factors are in play. Television continues to crank out superior content, viewable on a number of handy devices at a time of our choosing. The film industry’s reliance on “tentpole” product is alienating older audiences. Actors routinely alienate ticket buyers with their strident political views and boorish behavior on Twitter and other social media outlets.
And the Summer 2014 lineup doesn’t offer a guarantee of greater ticket sales. Yes, Avengers: Age of Ultron should print money, as might Fast & Furious 7 if franchise fatigue doesn’t set in. Jurassic World reboots a series sans beloved characters or its star director, Steven Spielberg. And superhero entries Fantastic Four and Ant-Man offer more question marks than certainty.
Hollywood can mop its brow and hope for a hearty Oscar season. The industry’s troubles may not be in the rear view mirror.