Skip to Content

As Hollywood stares into another cruel summer, it’s probably too soon to panic (yet)

Analysis by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — “The Fall Guy” landed below expectations. “IF” didn’t have enough friends buy tickets, imaginary or otherwise. “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “The Garfield Movie,” a.k.a. “Garfiosa,” won’t make anyone forget “Barbenheimer.”

As the summer movie-going season lurches beyond Memorial Day, Hollywood’s dreams of continuing to recover from box-office losses associated with Covid and the advent of streaming haven’t materialized, with results lagging far behind May 2023, when “Guardians of the Galaxy” patrolled theaters.

While the industry needs to seriously adjust expectations, and perhaps begin to accept what was once considered box-office mediocrity as the new normal, it’s probably too soon to panic (yet).

Thus far, the numbers look pretty grim. Surveying the four weekends in May, box-office totals plummeted roughly 35% versus last year, according to the site Box Office Mojo, with the average for the No. 1 new movie down almost 50%. For Memorial Day weekend the top two titles, “Furiosa” and “Garfield,” combined for only a little more than half of what Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid” swam off with in 2023, marking the weakest official kickoff to summer in more than 30 years.

Despite the dismal start, there is promise of bright spots ahead, with “Deadpool & Wolverine” clawing out record advance ticket sales, and the animated “Inside Out 2” likely to be a major draw for families.

Still, as the Hollywood Reporter noted, $100 million opening weekends, which once occurred with some regularity, increasingly feel like an artifact of the pre-Covid, less-streaming past.

For those who follow movie grosses – a pastime as popular in certain circles as baseball stats – a few key factors should be considered, in roughly descending order of importance:

Habits have changed, perhaps for good. It takes more to get people to go to the theater, and consumers who aren’t dying to see something know thanks to shrinking theatrical windows that the film will be more conveniently available at home soon enough. They still want to watch movies, but on their terms, not Hollywood’s.

The strikes made things even worse. Studios have sought to spread out releases to ensure a steady flow of new product, but the six-month work stoppage slowed the pipeline, resulting in delayed premieres that have given people less reason to venture out.

So far, there’s no substitute for Marvel. Disney’s superhero cash cow had a terrible 2023 by its standards, and the studio has vowed to be more selective in the future. But the company’s enviable run of hits from “Iron Man” in 2008 through “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019 filled theaters, and its sagging returns – whether that’s due to “superhero fatigue” or a more complicated list of factors – can’t easily be replicated.

Unproven ideas are hard. People like to grouse about Hollywood’s reliance on sequels, but selling audiences on something new – even if that’s a remake of an ‘80s TV show (“Fall Guy”), or a prequel featuring a secondary character (“Furiosa”) – feels particularly challenging in light of overall box-office struggles.

It’s not all bad news. But there’s a “but.” “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” brightened summer 2023, and “Deadpool” and other highlights looming on the horizon this year, like “Wicked,” could fill that role again. Still, true “events,” the kind that fill theaters, are rare and getting rarer. As for identifying what will break through, screenwriter William Goldman’s famous observation “Nobody knows anything” has never sounded more accurate.

The stars don’t shine like they used to. Ryan Gosling flexed his muscles in “Barbie” and owned the Oscars by singing “I’m Just Ken.” But even his star wattage didn’t bring people to “The Fall Guy” in vast numbers, any more than Ryan Reynolds or Anya Taylor-Joy/Chris Hemsworth could lift “IF” and “Furiosa,” respectively.

Making less is going to mean spending less. Blockbuster movies take a long time to produce, requiring decisions years before they hit screens, so the boat can’t be quickly turned to avoid icebergs ahead. Although the notion “You have to spend money to make money” applies, if movies keep earning less there’s going to be a need to make them more inexpensively.

The tradeoff, of course, is audiences have come to expect a certain level of opulence from their summer action. No one said these choices are easy, but studios can’t blip back, “Endgame” style, to 2019. About all we know is that consumers will have the final say on just how cruel this summer will be, and where the movie business goes from there.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: cnn-opinion

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content