Monday, August 10, 2015

The Summer of 2015, An Early Assessment

The entertainment press has been bullish regarding Hollywood as of late, understandably enough in light of the fact that three of the highest-grossing films of all time came out in a two-and-a-half month period between the start of April and the middle of June--Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Furious 7 collectively taking in an astounding $4.5 billion worldwide.

Of course, this is partly a reflection of the expanding international box office, and their performance at the North American box office has not been as dramatic. Still, it has been impressive enough. Excluding the April release Furious, four movies broke the $300 million barrier this summer. (Two such hits have been more typical in recent years.) Two of those blew past the $400 million mark (not reached by any movie last summer, or even last year), with Jurassic World going on to take in over $600 million to date--making for a domestic success as spectacular as its international success. In all, the five highest-grossing films (Jurassic, Avengers, Inside Out, Minions, Pitch Perfect 2) have collected a stellar $1.9 billion between them--better than the average for May-August releases (which have generally been in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion since 2007), and so a respectable enough figure even if one takes inflation into account.

Still, while the top movies have done rather well, successes of a more modest kind have been elusive. In the relatively weak summer of 2014, we had seven movies pass the $200 million mark, eleven the $150 million mark, fourteen the $100 million. 2013 was similar, with six $200 million hits, eight $150 million hits, seventeen $100 million hits. And so on and so forth.

By contrast, this summer only four movies have made $200 million (the ones that shot past it to $300 million and beyond), six $150 million, and just ten have passed the $100 million mark. San Andreas was a solid earner (though not quite so solid as Godzilla was last year). Mad Max, too, especially in light of its being an R-rated installment in a franchise that has not produced a new movie in thirty years (even if those who put up the $150 million budget might feel differently when they do the math). And even Ant-Man did not do all that badly (while still falling far short of the mark that had people griping about last year's Spiderman and X-Men). However, there have also been the undeniable disappointments of, among others, Tomorrowland, Terminator 5 and Pixels, and the outright flop that the new Fantastic Four has proved to be (opening weekend: $26 million). Of course, the summer is not quite over yet, but the list of hits does not seem likely to get much longer. Mission: Impossible 5 is still making money (enough to have a shot at making a fifth movie to attain the $200 million mark), and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. might be another moneymaker, but that'll be about it, and will not change the overall picture.

Some of this may seem natural enough. Summers in which there are really giant hits tend to see a more skewed pattern of earnings, the top movies grabbing a larger share of the overall ticket sales. For example, 2012, which had The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, did not look quite so different from this year. (Just six films reached $200 million, nine $150 million, twelve $100 million.) And of course, the earlier part of the year was packed with very large hits, most notably the aforementioned Furious 7, so audiences may have already had their appetite for big new movies partly sated before May 1.

However, one might also wonder if the "blockbuster strategy" is not leading to a situation where this kind of spread is the norm--a handful of mega-hits, while more films fail to justify the requisite colossal budgets. One might wonder, too, if the performance of Ant-Man, and still more, Fantastic Four, on top of that of Spiderman and X-Men last year (and perhaps even the less enthusiastic reception Avengers 2 got than its predecessor) are not hinting at a weariness with superhero movies--and especially the endless rebooting of the same franchises while the prior films are still fairly fresh in the memory.

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