Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Summer Post-Mortem 2016

Good grief, what a summer. A lot of us had been predicting a serious slump at the box office this season after the record breaking 2015 numbers, but the flops and disappointments have just kept coming, one after another. The box office has been fairly healthy, all things considered, but there has been a lot of grumbling from the studios and the theater owners.

Nearly every sequel underperformed, including "Independence Day: Resurgence," "Alice Through the Looking Glass," and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows." The latest installments of once dependable series like "Ice Age," "X-men," "Jason Bourne," and "Star Trek" will be profitable, but feel like they're on their last legs. The reviews have ranged from middling to awful, with a few exceptions noted below. All the non-sequel films I'd been rooting for like "The BFG," "The Nice Guys," "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," and "Pete's Dragon" bombed, though they were better received critically. Riskier big films like the "Ghostbusters" reboot and "Warcraft" weren't outright failures, but they're likely to ultimately lose money and won't be the franchise starters that their studios had hoped for.

The hugely hyped titles ended up on the top of the pile, as expected. Disney's "Finding Dory" and "Captain America: Civil War" finished at numbers one and two respectively, both comfortably over $400 million in domestic gross alone, and very well reveiwed. "The Secret Life of Pets" is hanging out in third, cementing Illumination Studios' reputation as a major contender, Minions or no Minions. Then there's "Suicide Squad," which gave the struggling DC universe a much needed win, though not as much as of a win as they would have liked. With a few exceptions, most of the hits didn't really feel like hits considering the amount of money spent, and the predictions that analysts were making based on much more profitable previous performers. "Angry Birds," for instance, was supposed to be the next "LEGO Movie," but it made only a modest $107 million domestic, and talk of a sequel has been fairly muted.

There were a few bright spots among the smaller titles: romantic drama "Me Before You," ensemble comedy "Bad Moms," and raunchy adult cartoon "Sausage Party" bucked the trends. Horror movies were very successful, including "The Shallows," "Lights Out," "The Conjuring 2," and "Purge: Election Year" - and all but the last got pretty good reviews too. "Swiss Army Man," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," "The Lobster," and "Love and Friendship" made waves at the arthouses. "Central Intelligence" didn't make quite as much as previous Kevin Hart movie "Ride Along," but in a summer like this, $125 million was good enough to crack the top ten. Heck, the similarly performing "The Legend of Tarzan" feels like a win for not bombing nearly as badly as people had been predicting.

There's been plenty of speculation about what has caused the downturn, and the general consensus is that there was simply little interest in most of the movies that came out. It's not just the sequels and remakes, but original films too, no matter how good they are. "Sequels nobody asked for" point to a fundamental disconnect between the studios and the audience on just about every level, and traditional marketing tactics aren't as effective as they once were. There was more competition from other films, summer television, the Olympics, and Pokémon Go. The few big films like "Finding Dory" and "Suicide Squad" that have actually managed to achieve the status of being cultural events continue to break records. Everything else has only gotten an indifferent reception. There's a growing sense of what the studios are afraid of most - boredom.

A major story this year continues to be the growing power of China. They're the reason that "Warcraft" and "Now You See Me 2" weren't the disasters that they could have been, and probably played a significant part in sinking "Ghostbusters" by denying it an official release. However, it's also become clear that China alone can't make or break a franchise. "Now You See Me" will be getting another sequel based on the strength of the performance of the sequel in China, but a Chinese language one without most of the American cast. If "Warcraft" gets a sequel, it may not get a US release either.

Finally, please find below the results of my Summer Movie Wager predictions. I did almost exactly the same as last year.

Actual Domestic Box-Office Rankings:

1. "Finding Dory"
2. "Captain America: Civil War"
3. "The Secret Life of Pets"
4. "Suicide Squad"
5. "Jason Bourne"
6. "X-Men: Apocalypse"
7. "Star Trek Beyond"
8. "Central Intelligence"
9. "Ghostbusters"
10. "The Legend of Tarzan"
My Predictions

1. "Captain America: Civil War" - 7 points
2. "Finding Dory" - 7 points
3. "Independence Day: Resurgence"
4. "Ghostbusters" - 3 points
5. "The Angry Birds Movie"
6. "X-men: Apocalypse" - 10 points
7. "The BFG"
8. "Jason Bourne" - 3 points
9. "Alice Through the Looking Glass"
10. "Suicide Squad" - 3 points

Wild Cards

Central Intelligence - 1 point
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Final score: 34 points out of a possible 100

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