July 4th marks the midway point, more or less, for the summer movie season and the year. That makes today as good a time as any to look back and ask what have we learned, or what should we have learned, so far:
Good Matters, Good Is Making A Comeback
This hasn’t always been the case. It has seemed like the only thing that really mattered for the financial prospects of a film was marketing and the name, and those are still pretty impactful, but we are starting to see those factors mean a little bit less and things like the Rotten Tomato score mean a little bit more. Get Out, a horror movie written and directed by a comedian that focuses on racial issues, should have had no real shot for huge box office success, until it had a 100% of Rotten Tomatoes (it has since dropped to a 99%), then it became the surprise hit of the fall. Baby Driver (96% on Rotten Tomatoes) and The Big Sick (98%) each look poised to far outperform any reasonable expectations for wholly original films with no proven box office stars. Wonder Woman was tracking as a middling superhero flick until the positive reviews started taking over, now Wonder Woman is the biggest female directed movie ever and has a chance to surpass Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man as the highest grossing superhero origin movie ever. Logan, Kong: Skull Island, John Wick Chapter 2, Split, they all saw their box office results grow on the strength of their quality. In fact, of the top 10 box office performers this year only two have received the dreaded rotten tomato (below 60% on RottenTomatoes.com), The Boss Baby and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (more on this movie later), two others received a tomato but weren’t certified fresh (between 60% and 75%) Fate of the Furious and Beauty and the Beast, and the other 6 movies in the top ten are all certified fresh, with 4 of those movies scoring in the 90’s on Rotten Tomatoes.
False Narratives Run Amuck
The narrative of 2017 is sequel fatigue. “Sequel Fatigue” has set in. Pirates, Transformers, Fast and Furious, they all dipped from their predecessors proving the movie going public is getting sick of the same movies from the same franchises year after year. Right? That is the story. Only, here’s the thing, all three of those movies are massive hits outside the United States. F8te of the Furious has grossed over $1 billion outside the domestic market. Pirates is coming up on $550 million outside the US and Transformers, after only two weeks is already closing in on $400 million. For these franchises the US market simply isn’t as important. Even Marvel movies rely more on domestic box office, achieving something close to a 60/40 split from their total box office from international markets and the US, for F8te of the Furious that split is 82/18 and Pirates and Transformers are already at 77/23 splits, with foreign markets still opening. And these movies aren’t alone. The Mummy seemed DOA and a non-starter for a hoped for monster franchise, except it is closing in on $300 million from markets outside the US. XXX: The Return of Xander Cage proved Vin Diesel can’t carry a movie that doesn’t have fast or furious in the title, only it grossed over $300 million internationally. The last Resident Evil barely made a blip on the US box office charts, bringing in a poultry $26 million back in January, and it has a higher world-wide box office take than The Lego Batman Movie on the strength of Resident Evil’s $285 million from international markets. Maybe US audiences are getting a little bored by the constant wave of sequels, but sequel fatigue doesn’t mean anything when places like China are loving our big budget sequels, and from the looks of it they aren’t even close to there yet.
A Mis-Cast Star Is No Longer A Star
This is a bit of a spoiler, so if you haven’t seen The Mummy and you really want to see it “fresh” feel free to skip forward. The Mummy, from a plot point of view, hinges on a question, will the amoral Nick Morton be the good guy, save the girl and defeat the Mummy or will he give into temptation and take the spoils he is being offered to join The Mummy and rule the world. For that choice to mean anything we have to believe that Nick isn’t a hero, we have to think of him as a bad guy so when he becomes a good guy it is a twist. But Nick is played by Tom Cruise, and even if it wasn’t just Tom Cruise playing the part, Tom Cruise was in full Tom Cruise blockbuster mode which means he never, not once, not even for a second felt like a bad guy, a reluctant hero maybe, but never a bad guy. The point is, Tom Cruise was just not the right actor to play the part. I think Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is great and very funny, but is he the right guy to carry a raunchy comedy about lifeguards? Is it really hard to see a backlash coming when you take an iconic piece of Japanese pop culture and make Scarlett Johansen the star? And, do we really think Scarlett Johansen, who I also like quite a bit, is the right person to carry the female version of The Hangover? This is a lesson we keep getting taught, but it still never quite sinks in, movie stars are movie stars when they are in the movies that let them be the movie stars they have become, but when you take them away from the right kind of “star vehicle” they just become famous actors, or worse. It doesn’t matter if it is Jim Carrey in a drama or Will Smith playing a stern father in space, I’m not saying they can’t do it, I’m just saying you aren’t casting the movie star anymore.
Maybe No Raunchy Comedies Are Going To Hit This Summer
Here is how Summer works: First weekend in May you drop a surefire comic book movie hit. That hit carries you through until Memorial Day where you generally see maybe two hits dropped that weekend, one action movie one animated movie. Then, the second to last weekend of June is a Pixar flick. July 4th usually brings another family flick and another big action-movie release. There will be two more weekends in July with big releases (at least one more comic book movie and then something a little more high-brow that still has blockbuster potential) and finally one would-be hit on the second weekend of August that is the last hurrah of the season. In between those points hollywood throws darts expecting to find four things; the R-rated action movie that becomes a surprise hit, the sci-fi movie that becomes a surprise hit, the counter-programming drama that becomes a surprise hit and the raunchy comedy that becomes a surprise hit. Look at the movies released each weekend and you will see a litany of films vying for one of those surprise hit spots nearly every weekend. In many ways the most coveted of those spots is the raunchy comedy, often because there can be more than one. Snatched went for the title, The Rough Night was going for it, The House went for it and Baywatch went for it, none of them got it. All we have left is Girls Trip and Ingrid Goes West, neither of which look like they have a particularly strong shot, and maybe The Hitman’s Bodyguard, which should really fill the R-rated action movie role. This summer may not have it’s The Hangover or Bridesmaids or Trainwreck or The 40 Year Old Virgin or Wedding Crashers or We’re The Millers.