It doesn’t matter if you are talking box office, quality or impact on the zeitgeist (whatever the hell that means), May has been a huge dissappontment. There are a lot of reasons why, beyond, you know, the obvious quality thing, and the real question for hollywood is can the “why’s” be corrected and does a crappy May a sign of another crappy summer.
How Bad Are We Really Talking?
Since it is the most easily measurable, let’s talk box office right from the start. Through May 29th BoxOfficeMojo.com reports domestic box office at $638 million for the month. That is 21% off of last year’s pace, and last year was a really bad May too. The box office is likely to finish below $800 million for the month. The last time May didn’t crack $800 million was 2000. 17 YEARS AGO! In movie years that is simply unprecedented. In 2000 the average ticket price was $5.38, over $3.50 cheaper than it is today. If you’d like to look at that math a different way ticket prices have increased by over 60% in the last 17 years ago, which means while something around 145 million tickets were sold in May of 2000 fewer than 90 million will be sold this year. The point is, this is bigger than a blip on the proverbial radar, this is a precipitous tumble. And the worst part is, 2000 wasn’t a great May either. In 2003, 14 years ago, May’s domestic box office topped $1.4 billion.
How Did This Happen?
There are certainly a number of factors and trends (like I said, last May wasn’t great either) that are real culprits, but let’s talk quality for just a moment. There were seven wide releases (over 3,000 theaters opening weekend) over the last month, these are their critics consensus scores from RottenTomatoes.com; 81%, 37%, 28%, 71%, 19%, 31%, 18%. 40%, that’s the average, 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. Boss Baby got a 52%, Boss Baby would raise the average! May 2016 had 7 wide releases too, here are those scores; 90%, 48%, 43%, 30%, 62%, 57%, 92% for an average of just over 60%. 20 points higher, and last May sucked.
You Said Something About Trends
Sure, things like the end of April getting bigger which seems to kind of act as a premature release of moviegoer excitement, the overall trend of shrinking theater attendance that hollywood hides by raising ticket prices at a faster rate than the attendance shrinks so the numbers keep climbing, the narrative that all hollywood makes is superhero movies keeping the “smart” moviegoers home watching “smart” movies at home (that last one is pretty much total B.S., but it is a narrative and sometimes the narratives, even when they are total B.S., can have a real impact), may be real, but they also aren’t new and for the most part are consistent month to month (except for the April thing, obviously). The trend that really seems to have bitten hollywood on the ass this month (and last May too) is the idea of concession. For years hollywood would concede weekends to big movies; Star Wars comes out on December 15 so no other movies come out that day. Now the studios seem to be conceding multiple weekends in a row, particularly in May. We call May a summer movie month, but it isn’t, not really. Kids are still in school, weekday matinees and late night shows don’t work. So in June hollywood will put out Wonder Woman one week and The Mummy the next and they will put out Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3 a week or two apart without concern, the idea being there is enough movie oxygen to go around as people look for things to do on hot summer days and nights. In May, on the other hand, the studios concede multiple weeks to big releases, only trying to dip their toes in with “counter-programming” and they don’t really swing for the fences again until the end of the month. This is what I like to call (“like” meaning I just thought of this expression) the Avengers effect. In 2012 Marvel’s first movie mash-up came out and simply laid waste to the box office for the entire month of May. Dark Shadows, The Dictator, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Battleship, none of them stood a chance, the was only room for the Avengers. Rather than looking at The Avengers as an anomalous event (or recognizing that the other wide-releases in 2012 just weren’t very good) hollywood has moved more and more toward believing that every Marvel/ComicBook movie will have a similar effect in May. All you can hope is to counter program some raunchy comedies and hope Snatched equals Trainwreck and Baywatch equals 21 Jump Street and Diary of a Wimpy Kid (whichever one this is) will be the surprise $100 million kids movie that pulls in families looking for something to do. Then bank on a hug new release on Memorial Day weekend and flip, flap, floom there’s your killer May box office. Problem is, what is the Marvel/Comic Book movie is good (really good, in my opinion) and performs well, but doesn’t absolutely obliterate box office records? What if the smart science fiction flick gets okay reviews and mildly disappoints at the box office? And, what if the raunchy comedies and obligatory kids movie all stink and nobody wants to go see them? Then all your chips are in the Johnny Depp/Captain Jack basket, a great basket a few years ago, but not so much anymore (BTW, I didn’t think the Pirates movie was bad, it is exactly what you expect, but I’m not sure who expected it to be a world-beating hit).
Got It, May Sucked, Does That Really Matter?
Last summer May stunk and even through June it looked like 2016 was going to be the worst summer movie season of all time. Then a few movies had longer legs than anyone expected, and, as much as everyone wants to talk about how bad it was, Suicide Squad still became one of the biggest late summer hits in history and when it was all said and done Summer 2016 finished only 2% off the pace of 2015 and ended up being, from a box office perspective, the third best summer ever. This June seems absolutely stacked with big hits (Wonder Woman, The Mummy, Cars 3, Transformers: The Last Knight, Despicable Me 3) on top of each week and a number of could-be comedy sleeper hits sitting in the second tier (Rough Night, The Big Sick, The House) and a third tier full of the kind of movies that always do surprisingly well every summer, a shark movie (47 Meters Down) a horror flick (It Comes At Night, Amityville: The Awakening) and a couple of “hot directors” releasing cool or personal flicks (Baby Driver and The Book of Henry). The biggest June ever was 2015 and it was only carried by 3 hits (Jurassic World, Inside Out and Spy), I don’t see another Jurassic World here, but could Despicable Me 3 match Inside Out (yes)? Could Wonder Woman or The Mummy or Transformers or Cars 3 or all four of those movies out perform Spy (yes)? Would a massive June put 2017 right back on track? Obviously. And July still brings us Spider-Man (do not sleep on Spider-Man movies, even the ones you think weren’t good made a gerundial at the box office), Christopher Nolan’s war movie, Dunkirk, and a number of other would-be hits to keep the summer box office chugging along.
So, maybe May wont matter, but man, it does not look good.