The summer blockbuster movie season. When I was a child of the '90s it was an unrivaled time in which Hollywood ruled the hot months of summer, luring me and my friends to dark, air-conditioned theaters to watch (and more importantly, re-watch) the biggest and most awe-inspiring flicks we were likely to see each year.
Well, the times they have a changed, and the utopian landscape of the summer movie season has been transformed into a battleground where movies with whale-sized budgets duke it out with each other and the many other competing forms of media that are now readily available to the public, in the hopes of snatching up as much cash as can see them safely out of the red and into the black. Nevertheless, despite a harder fighter for ludicrous amounts of money, it seems that Hollywood (on the whole) is going to emerge on top, once again.
According to Variety, summer 2013 is being deemed the "best ever at the domestic box office," despite many underperforming films - a subject we discussed earlier this year in our post, "5 Reasons Summer Blockbusters are Failing." With several big releases yet to go before the end of summer - including Kick-Ass 2 and The Mortal Instruments - the domestic box office tally already sits at $4.15 billion; $4.4. billion was the record-setting number tallied at the end of the entire 2011 summer movie season, and 2013 is clearly poised to surpass that figure.
So, while films like Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D., Pacific Rim and After Earth were all duds at the domestic box office (to name but a few), it seems that films like Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Fast & Furious 6, Despicable Me 2, This Is the End and World War Z (this year's summer sleeper hit) were there to provide a nice upswell, while tentpole uncertainties like Man of Steel and The Wolverine falling somewhere in a middling "respectable but not spectacular" range.
The reasons Variety cites for the titles that underperformed pretty much sit in line with our own analysis - namely the overabundance of films at theater every weekend (see: July 19th weekend), the abundance of CGI and 3D gimmickry - and of course, films like Lone Ranger that are simply not in line with the tastes of the larger moviegoing public. So what does the ultimate success of the summer 2013 box office indicate? Unfortunately, it's easy to assess that sequels to popular franchise - like Iron Man 3, like Fast 6, like Despicable Me 2 - are the "safe" and "successful" way for Hollywood to go.
Oh, you say you'd rather see more Pacific Rims than G.I. Joe: Retaliations? Well, sorry: the former only made $97million (domestic) on a $200 million budget, while the latter made $122 million (domestic) on a $150 million budget. So if I'm a gambling man (which I'm absolutely not) my money is literally going to be put on the cash cow that I know produces good milk. At the moment, originality looks to be overrated and underfunded (from the viewpoint of Hollywood execs, that is). The exceptions seem to be comedy and horror, with This Is the End and The Conjuring scoring major domestic profits ($96 million and $121 million, respectively) on budgets that hover in the $20 - 30 million range.
Back and forth about the state of Hollywood - with record-breaking summers set against ominous warnings about the industry's imminent collapse - is likely to continue into the next year. This question of box office earnings doesn't even broach the subject of domestic earnings verses foreign earnings, and the merits of Hollywood's recent "foreign markets first" initiative. That's a whole other can of worms to get into.
After spending so many years working in movie journalism, and reading so many thousands of comments of people complaining about Hollywood's 'lack of originality,' I have only this to say: the industry flows in the direction of the money; so if you want more original films, then you need to $upport original films when they come along - be they big imaginative blockbusters or the plethora of indie films that go largely ignored every year.
Right now, however, the old and the familiar is also the most popular and profitable. And with the big films of summer 2014 already including Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Fast & Furious 7 - and a WHOLE lot of skepticism and uncertainty surrounding more "original" projects like Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy... It doesn't look like we're in for a major paradigm shift anytime soon.