True or False: The Stories of the Summer

Is This The End Of Hollywood?
NOPE!

As July winds down and August draws near the people who write and talk about movies start to formulate the stories that defined our summer movie season. It happens every year, and like the summer movie season itself, the process seems to start earlier and earlier each year (pretty soon “summer” will start on Easter and we will begin wrapping it up on Memorial Day). The other truth about these wrap up stories, they are almost always negative. We go into every summer talking about how amazing it will be and we leave each summer lamenting the sorry state of Hollywood and the mindless, big
budget, action movies it produces. And just as the pre-summer stories can be exaggerated hype the summer drawing to a close stories can be piling on for the sake of piling on. So, as stories begin to trickle out about specific movies and the summer as a whole I always like to look at the story lines to see which ones are honest and which ones are based more on the inertia of narrative than on reality (a mildly fancy way of saying which ones are true and which ones are full of #$!*).

“Summer of Doom”
Xan Brooks – The Guardian

Let’s tackle the big narrative right upfront, was this summer the Armageddon that Spielberg and Lucas predicted was coming last spring? This seems to be the story of July as Pacific Rim, The Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D., Wolverine, RED 2 and Turbo have all been deemed under performers at best and in the case of R.I.P.D. and The Lone Ranger unabashed disasters. The story goes that the failures of July are proof positive that something needs to change…only I doubt the hollywood bookkeepers see it that way. Box office for July is actually up nearly 5% over last year and this July will be the second biggest box office month in history (July looks like it will finish with around $1.35 billion at the domestic box office). Are The Lone Ranger and R.I.P.D. bombs of epic proportions? You bet (neck and neck race at this point to see which one wins the unofficial ‘Bomb of the Summer’ crown). But look at the two studios that produced the films and how there summers have been:

Disney

  • Iron Man 3 – $407 million ($1.2 billion worldwide)
  • Monsters University – $255 million ($576 million worldwide)
  • The Lone Ranger – $85 million ($163 million worldwide)
Total = $747 million ($1.9 billion worldwide)
Average = $249 million ($650 million worldwide)
Universal
  • Despicable Me 2 – $306 million ($660 million worldwide)
  • Fast & Furious 6 – $237 million ($741 million worldwide)
  • R.I.P.D. – $18 million ($24 million worldwide)
Total = $561 million ($1.4 billion worldwide)
Average = $187 million ($475 million worldwide)
I’d say each of those studios is looking at this summer as successful, really successful (particularly given that F&F 6 and Despicable Me 2 are both still going strong worldwide). Would each prefer if they didn’t have to write off their respective bombs (looking closer at the numbers R.I.P.D. looks like it might have the ‘Bomb of the Summer’ award wrapped up). The truth is, what each of those studios is likely to think is “stop making original movies and keep making sequels”.
In the end, Spielberg and Lucas started this narrative, that hollywood was on the precipice of collapse because they are putting all of their eggs into their mega blockbuster pictures, but really it is a false narrative in every way. One, hollywood produces plenty of smaller movies, they just don’t release most of them between May and August when they would be destined to get overrun by bigger, louder movies. Second, particularly when you factor in the massive impact of the international box office (more on that later), the tent pole system is working for them. Sure, smart people in hollywood will stop giving out $200 + million budgets for westerns or movies starring Ryan Reynolds, but given that the summer that has become the poster child for over-reliance on tent pole movies produced the biggest May ever at the box office, the biggest June ever, the second biggest July ever (July 2011 will retain it’s title as not only the biggest July but the biggest month of all time when the last Harry Potter movie and the latest Transformers dominated) and is running almost 12% ahead of last summers box office pace which means it will shatter the summer box office record, I am pretty sure there isn’t much “course correction” the studios are going to feel like they need to do. If you don’t believe me look at some of the movies that have been slated for summer 2015 (including Avengers 2, Superman vs. Batman and Star Wars VII).
“Is Summer Box Office Fatigue Setting In?”
Dorothy Promerantz – Forbes
About a month ago I wrote about the impressive record it looked like the summer of 2013 was likely to shatter, the number of movies over $100 million for the summer. 20 movies was the number I thought they may get to (and they still may*) but there is no question the pace has slowed down dramatically. The Wolverine, a well reviewed, well promoted edition to a very successful franchise, opened at $55 million, the 9th biggest opening of the summer. A little surprising. There are plenty of factors that may have contributed to it opening smaller than expected (it’s predecessor isn’t good, the film looked darker and less family friendly than other X-Men movies, the cineplexes are overstuffed with movies by this point in the summer, etc.) but it seems like a safe bet that fatigue has played a factor. The next couple of weekends will be telling. Smurfs 2 and 2 Guns open this weekend and after that we have Elysium, the latest Percy Jackson, Planes and We’re The Millers (a movie Warner Brothers and New Line have really gotten behind over the last few weeks). Any and all of those movies could be hits or the could be duds and “movie fatigue” would swing them all to the dud category.
*Here is an update for the one or two other people that care if the record is broken. As of today, July 29th, 13 movies have gone over the century mark for the summer (Grown Ups 2 was the latest to cross the line). Two others seem like sure things (The Wolverine will get there as will The Conjuring). Here is where it gets tricky. While August looks pretty well stacked, a lot of Augusts look like they are full of potential movies and few get there (2009 was the last August to produce more than two $100+ million movies) so realistically to get to 20 we need two out of The Lone Ranger (at $85 million it has a chance, but not a great one), Pacifc Rim (also right at $85 million, but it has more momentum that The Lone Ranger),  and Turbo (a long ways away, but kids movies play forever so we can’t count it out) to make it and we need $1 theater sales to push this is the end the $4.5 million it needs to get there. In other words, just as I guessed a month ago, it looks like it will all come down to This Is The End.
“I Couldn’t Find The Headline I Was Looking For But I’m Sick Of People Re-Writing History”
R.M. Edwards aka The Fat Film Guy

Because film is an inherently subjective medium (as all art is) it seems like occasionally we like to re-write history. Take the rumblings about Man of Steel. People are saying it was a disappointment at the Box Office (what?!?), that most people didn’t like it (A- CinemaScore rating would strongly suggest otherwise) and that it all just goes to show that DC and Warner Brothers can’t do anything right while Marvel keeps knockin’ it out of the park. Are any of those things true? Nope**, but it is what we do. People who write and comment about movies do this kind of thing all the time (I am sure I have been guilty of it often), we put our own impressions of the movie and imply that they are the norm. Some critics really didn’t like Man of Steel***, so they assume most people didn’t like it. Some Marvel fans (and I am sure plenty of DC fans on the other side of this) seem to think that “DC sucks and Warner Brothers are idiots while we are geniuses” has to hold true, as if the success of a DC movie would somehow diminish what Marvel has and will continue to do. And some of the people who didn’t like the movie want to pretend they have facts to back them up so they say it has been a disappointment because it didn’t do Iron Man 3 business****. None of it true, much of it, though, seems to be sticking.

It feels like once a summer we do this, decide to change what happened in our minds and pretend like something else took place. We decide a movie that did well, didn’t. Last summer it was The Amazing Spider-Man ($261 million domestic, $750 million worldwide 73% rotten tomatoes score). In 2011 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (over $1 billion worldwide). In 2010 we did it to Robin Hood ($350 million worldwide). Every summer we take a movie that did well, that people obviously enjoyed, and we seem to do our level best to make everyone remember it as a bomb. This summer would seem to be Man of Steel‘s turn.

My knee jerk reaction to all of this is ‘who cares?’ So what if other people didn’t like it, I loved it and that is all that matters. And while that is true it also belies the fact that sometimes these stories take root and impact what comes next. Look up the actual rankings on X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It basically gets average scores from viewers and even most reviewers. I’m not arguing that it was a great or even good movie, but to the narrative became that it was HORRIBLE. So what happens four years later? A really good Wolverine movie doesn’t do quite so well. Will that be the fate of the next Spider-Man movie? Will Superman vs. Batman suffer? Who knows. What I do know is that they shouldn’t.

**I loved MOS and I find it fascinating how much of this stuff is sticking to it. $650 million worldwide and people are trying to act like it should have done more. Crazy.

***My favorite odd critique that I keep coming back to it that people didn’t like the amount of destruction to Metropolis that Zod and Superman inflicted. Have you seen The Avengers? There is an alien invasion on a unsuspecting Manhattan. I’m sure somebody has done it already, but if you estimated the number of people who were likely killed or injured during Loki’s invasion I am betting it is at least as many if not more than Zod’s terraforming efforts. I’m just saying.

****The whole Marvel/DC rivalry thing is bizarre isn’t it. Why do DC movies have to suck in order for Marvel movies to be good? What’s worse is that it isn’t even true. I wrote about this here when MOS first came out. The two studios are actually much closer to neck and neck than you would believe. MOS is bigger and more successful than any Marvel Studios movie NOT starring Robert Downey Jr., and it’s not close. The other part of it I don’t get is why people complain that the DC movies aren’t more like the Marvel movies. Why would we want that? Marvel has a formula and they have pretty much perfected it, I don’t want to see DC’s imitation of what Marvel does, I want to have a little bit of variety. Call me crazy.

“I’m Getting Lazy and I Don’t Want To Keep Looking For Direct Quotes, But Let’s Talk About International Box Office.”
R.M. Edwards aka The Fat & Lazy Film Guy

This really goes back to the original question, the over arching question of the summer and of hollywood right now. The reason the studios are making the big budget action movies is because of the international box office. Not just the box office, but also financing, where more and more of the big hollywood movies are getting some of their money from China (Iron Man 3) or Japan (The Wolverine). To understand the impact of the international box office all you have to do is look at two movies released this fall, Identity Thief and A Good Day To Die Hard.

Identity Thief was the hit of the winter/spring this last year. It proved Melissa McCarthy is indeed a movie star and that people love Jason Bateman doing that Jason Bateman thing. In the end Identity Thief pulled in an impressive $134 million at the box office, by far the biggest total of films released this winter (OK, hollywood only considers January and February to be Winter, but still). Meanwhile A Good Day To Die Hard was a flop, right? Everyone hated it. People were talking about being embarrassed for Bruce Willis and shook their heads at the studio. At the end of its run A Good Day To Die Hard only made $67 million at the domestic box office. Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough and Cobie Smulder’s ghost beat John McLean this last year.

OK, you know you are waiting for. Just try to guess how big this other foot dropping is going to be.

$250 million!!!

That’s how much A Good Day To Die Hard pulled in outside the U.S.. Identity Thief did $34 million away from home. When you add in the international numbers A Good Day To Die Hard made about $130 million more than Identity Thief (and roughly $225 million more than Safe Haven). So what if the Die Hard movie cost $60 million more to make? It’s still up $70 million over the comedy. You know why After Earth isn’t even in the discussion for ‘Bomb of the Summer’? Because it has already brought in $175 million outside the U.S., meaning the studio is going to make some money out of the Smith family this summer. You know what wont pull in a lot of money in foreign markets, a movie called White House Down (only $35 million away from home so far). Because here is the truth, comedies don’t play around the world (except for The Hangover movies which almost inexplicably play better outside the U.S.), just look at The Heat, big hit here only $25 million abroad. Dramas don’t export well either, even big award winners like Lincoln, Argo and Silver Lining Playbook only had about 30% of their worldwide box office haul come from international markets. Meanwhile, did you catch the international number for F&F 6? Over $700 million!! They didn’t need to make a single dime stateside for that movie to be a HUGE moneymaker for Universal. And that’s the point.

Conclusion

The summer of 2013 still has its final chapter to right. Some people will look back on it as a disaster artistically (of course, not people who saw Mud or Francis Ha or Before Midnight or Fruitville Station or The Way Way Back or Blue Jasmine or any of a number of really good documentaries or, well, you get the picture). Some will look at it as the affirmation that the geek universe and their movies are here to stay, while others will point to Pacific Rim as evidence that the comic-con crowd does not rule the world. And a lot of people are going to claim that hollywood needs to change its ways or face its doom, and those people are wrong, at least for this year.

But hey, what do I know? I’m fat.

P.S. A quick thought on Lucas and Spielberg. Part of the reason that hollywood has to make tent pole films is because theaters are demanding them. Theaters are demanding them because the new theaters cost so much money to build that they need to have crowds to increase their concession money (the only place they can really make up money). And do you know why theaters cost so much more to build? Because of George Lucas. When he put the prequels out he wouldn’t put them in any theater that didn’t have top of the line sound systems and screens. Now Multiplexes that aren’t state of the art turn into $1 theaters and eventually die and the old theaters that only had one screen and were owned by people instead of corporations are either long gone or have turned into art house theaters. And it all started with George Lucas.

P.P.S. I don’t disagree with the sentiment that hollywood isn’t producing the number of quality films that it once did. The problem is when people are trying to pretend it isn’t working, because it is working. If it weren’t they wouldn’t be doing it.