Box Office: Hollywood Is In Trouble Because We’re Seeing The Wrong Movies.
Domestic box office has amassed $5.702 billion this year thus far, which is down 9% from last year’s $6.287 billion end-of-June cume. A $585 million deficit isn’t the end of the world. Heck, 49% of that ($287 million) is just the difference between Black Panther ($700 million), Avengers: Infinity War ($673 million at this point in its run) and Incredibles 2 ($440 million by July 1) versus Captain Marvel ($426 million), Avengers: Endgame ($844 million) and Toy Story 4 ($256 million). Moreover, sometimes it can be a matter of a few biggies getting delayed. Fifty Shades of Grey, The Good Dinosaur and Furious 7 being delayed from summer 2014 to 2015 created a vacuum for essentially the entire year.
But this year, unlike 2014’s “slump,” it’s not a vacuum created by high profile delays or a smaller overall cume. It’s the individual “big” films (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) which are struggling (Dark Phoenix) on a movie (Secret Life of Pets 2) by movie (Men In Black: International) basis. More importantly, it’s a matter of audiences completely ignoring the kind of old-school, adult-skewing “movie-movies” they claim to crave in favor of those underwhelming sequels and reboots. In terms of dollar-to-dollar comparisons, audiences are vastly more likely to see the very films that are being blamed for the box office blues, which means, relatively speaking, they are both influencing the kind of movies Hollywood prioritizes and having a bad time at the movies.
Allow me to make a recommendation of a recent theatrical release: It stars Emma Thompson as a prickly big boss who reluctantly agrees to hire a young woman of color named Molly who gained access through trickery and deceit. Even though Molly has no relevant experience, she believes herself uncommonly qualified, both because of her layperson study of the craft in question and her complete lack of attachments to the outside world. The two of them bond over the challenges of being women in a male-dominated field, and Molly eventually proves her worth to both the boss and to the organization in question. Pop quiz: Am I talking about Mindy Kaling’s Late Night or Tessa Thompson’s Men in Black International?
One of these films isn’t very good, as it prioritizes arbitrary plot over character, refuses to be about anything and feels hashed out in the editing room. The other is a well-made and thoughtful character comedy that has a lot on its mind and gives its characters plenty of room to talk about their feelings and their beliefs. Men in Black International will be lucky to earn back 2.5x its $110 million, while Late Night is a disaster (thanks to a $30 million-plus marketing spend) at $15 million worldwide. Nonetheless, 7.337 million domestic moviegoers bought tickets to the “bad” movie while just 1.466 million people bought tickets to the “good” movie.
There are plenty of good and/or interesting movies released week in and week out in both wide release and limited release. But if audiences make the choice to see only the designated event movie/franchise flicks which turn out to not be very good, then theatrical movie going will be seen as a lesser form of filmed entertainment. If the majority of theatrical moviegoers only go to the movies for “big” movies that turn out to be lousy, then that’s how Hollywood will be defined as Netflix and Hulu will be the place for high-quality, character-driven, diverse, star-driven adult entertainment. To be fair, Hollywood mostly has itself to blame.