Saturday, August 16, 2014

Summer Movie Season: Winners and Losers

Since school is beginning for many people next week, it is time to take an assessment of how this past Summer Movie Season shaped up and shook out.

WINNING MOVIE:  Guardians of the Galaxy

I was prepared to call this one a bomb before I saw it.  It had all the earmarks of a bomb, which would have been Marvel's first after establishing their cinematic universe.  But not only is it a great movie, it is a gigantic hit.  As of this writing, Transformers: Age of Extinction is currently the highest grossing domestic movie this Summer (May through August), but I think that Guardians of the Galaxy just might outpace it.

WINNERS:  Franchises.

As of right now, only one of the top 10 grossing Summer films is not associated with a movie or book franchise (Neighbors).  And that's only if you don't count April's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  But with the rise of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for two weeks in a row, that will probably change.  I think that if Guardians was a stand-alone movie, not associated with Marvel, it would not nearly have gotten the haul that it did.

I think there are two reasons why this is:

1.  Built in audiences.  If the previous book or movies in the series have a fan base, you can hope that you don't need to convince them that the story is good.

2.  Consistency.  The only reason I saw Guardians was because all of the other Marvel movies have been good (here I'm talking about movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so this doesn't count movies like The Amazing Spider-Man 2).  On that alone, I risked my money.  But even more so, I went to see it because I was afraid I would not be up to speed for the next Marvel Movie.  For film/comic book geeks like me, that is a powerful draw.

LOSERS:  Movie Stars

I wish I could claim credit for this analysis, but I read somewhere online that the Movie Star is dead and the Franchise is what matters.

The biggest example is Edge of Tomorrow vs. The Fault in Our Stars.  Tom Cruise is still a huge name and Edge was actually a fantastic movie.  Fault's Shailene Woodly has a bit of a following, but it was the popularity of the book that really brought in the audiences.

I also think that Edge was hurt by Cruise's last foray into sci-fi: Oblivion.  That movie did moderately well, but people found it a bit bland.  I think that feeling carried over towards Edge, which is a superior movie.  But this goes to the point: Edge of Tomorrow was billed as a "Tom Cruise Movie" and was still not able to draw the appropriate audience in the States.

LOSERS:  Original Raunchy Comedies

To be fair, Neighbors did gross $150 million.  22 Jump Street also did well, but they were part of a franchise.

But all the other R-Rated comedies this summer (Tammy, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Sex Tape) all bombed.

I don't think this is a statement about Americans turning away from raunch.  I think it is a statement that people want some actual wit and humor underneath the shock factor.  I look at last year's Ted, which was horribly vulgar but the writing was actually well structured and witty.  If a comedy makes you truly and deeply laugh, you will more likely get others to see it so that they can laugh with you.

WINNER: Foreign Markets

Transformers: Age of Extinction has grossed over $1 billion this summer.  About $800 million of that is from non-American audiences.  It is no accident that the final act of the movie takes place in Bejing.  I think there is going to be even more of an effort to market films across the world rather than just the US.

LOSER: The Amazing Spider-Man Series.

I loved The Amazing Spider-Man.  And I loved lots of parts of The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  This movie was poised to be the big hit of the summer and was given a wide berth.  But it failed to live up to expectations (I am convinced because of the stupidity of the Electro storyline).  Sony was prepping 4 more movies in this franchise, but all of that halted and has now been recalibrated, bringing the entire series into doubt.

WINNER: X-Men Series

Last year's X-Men movie was the lowest grossing domestic box office of the series.  But now Days of Future Past has breathed new life into the X-Men universe both creatively and financially.  Not only are they working on X-Men: Apocalypse, but there is serious talk of doing a Mystique spin-off once The Hunger Games wraps up.

LOSER: Summer Movies.

The box office has been down a lot this year.  While many blame the quality of the films, I don't think that is the problem.  The main reason is this:  it is too crowded.

While Days of Future Past is essentially tied for highest grossing X-Men film, it is actually in the middle of the pack adjusted for inflation.  There was no breathing room.  The same thing happened to The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian in 2008 as it was sandwiched between breakout hit Iron Man and the long awaited Indiana Jones sequel.

This year Godzilla hit big, but the next week X-Men: Days of Future Past stepped up.  The following week it was Maleficent and A Million Ways to Die in the West.  The next week it was The Fault in Our Stars and Edge of Tomorrow.  Next week was How To Train Your Dragon 2 and 22 Jump Street. The next week was Transformers.  Two weeks later was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Etc, etc.

We may be seeing the end of Summer as the king of the blockbusters.

Last year's largest grosser came out in November (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire).  This year's came out in April (Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  Batman v. Superman is staking its claim in March.

Studios might eschew tradition and look more towards elbow room.

For me this is a mixed bag.  I love looking forward to Summer especially for the movies.  But I like the idea of having event movies to look forward to spread across the year.


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