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A lot went through my mind last year when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was counting down to its December release date. As much as the trailers and early previews intrigued me, I knew that the pre-release hype alone would result in shattering all-time box office records. But the other question I asked myself was how would subsequent Hollywood blockbusters follow a worldwide phenomenon?
With the summer season for films drawing to a close, I can’t help but to think of how lackluster it has been. Throughout the winter and spring, we were treated with event films that delivered on point (Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War) and one particular film that polarized the audiences (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). Then we were promised Apocalypse on the big screen, Bebop and Rocksteady’s long overdue live action debut, the aliens who destroyed the White House in 1996 coming back stronger than ever, a return to form for the world of Star Trek, the return of Jason Bourne, and countless other events in cinema to get us excited. Yet, none of it delivered with anything truly memorable.
I have read a number of articles in the last few weeks about this disturbing trend. The very kind Steven Spielberg warned the industry about. The common diagnosis seems to point in many glaring areas:
Release dates announced with no scripts completed.
This was especially the case for X-Men: Apocalypse and Star Trek Beyond. Their predecessors had done extremely well and their respective studios greenlit the follow-ups almost immediately. Development time, however, was very limited. So you end up with an X-Men film that tried to shoehorn as many popular characters as it could since it was the final entry of the First Class trilogy while Star Trek changed up its behind the scenes team which resulted in having a weak villain and a potentially compelling premise that was not fully fleshed out.
Oversized budgets set up to result in massive overseas profits.
Everyone on the internet complains about the countless number of remakes and reboots being put out every year. What they don’t understand is that these films are being made not only for the current generation that didn’t grow up with their original entries but they are also being targeted to foreign marketplaces like China that are not accustomed to iconic franchises like Ghostbusters or Star Trek. The studios, however, overestimate their tentpole properties’ appeal and have these big budgets to create visual spectacles with minimal dialogue. They didn’t take into account some factors that would affect release strategies such as the no-ghost ban which prevented the releases of Ghostbusters and Suicide Squad in China.
Movies we never asked for.
A sequel to Independence Day would have been welcomed with open arms between 1997 and 2001. Twenty years after it took the world by storm was no bueno. The absence of Will Smith was just one issue to the problem. Fox had marketed Independence Day: Resurgence based on nostalgia in the same way Universal had done so successfully with Jurassic World; however, this sequel lacked a fresh concept (Aliens return bigger and badder, insert new alien species to help the human race) and zero charismatic leads (Sorry Liam Hemsworth and Jesse Usher). The same was true for sequels like Neighbors 2, TMNT: Out of the Shadows and Alice Through the Looking Glass. The first entries to those films did great numbers, but their audience quickly got around their short-comings on subsequent viewings on cable. This isn’t just limited to sequels. The adaptation of the RPG game Warcraft proved it was not mainstream enough for audiences in spite of big overseas business.
I found this to be the case with X-Men: Apocalypse out of every movie this summer. In spite of some hangups over the years, the direction of the series has been pretty much consistent since it started in 2000. I was hyped when director Bryan Singer came back to the series with Days of Future Past to steer the ship right. Unfortunately, Apocalypse never added anything fresh. It was full of stars fulfilling their contracts and rehashing special effects that looked cool a few years ago. Even the way Deadpool poked at the flaws in the X-Men franchise changed my perspective on the current direction which now screaming for a MCU reboot. Meanwhile, Jason Borune had nothing new to say even though it was Matt Damon’s big return. What should have been a true event picture turned out to be more of the same chaotic confusion we got from the last four movies.
I will admit as of this date that I still have not seen Ghostbusters 2016 and refuse to do so. Whether people like the movie or not, there’s no question that Sony’s marketing strategy was pathetic. In addition to the terrible trailers and ridiculous number of TV spots, the studio’s biggest weapon to draw support was to counter every disgruntled fan of the original 1984 film as sexist. Yet, the problem had less to do with the female cast. Its identity was overshadowed by the need to be nostalgic while trying to be a page one reboot. It became less of an entertaining movie and more of a pro-feminist piece where men are depicted as scumbags and haters. Those ladies deserved much better material to work with than that.
With Suicide Squad, Warner Bros scrambled to turn it into a fun Guardians of the Galaxy-style romp after the complaints of the mean spirited Batman v Superman were made public. WB has too much money invested in the DC Comics brand to have its own cinematic universe plans get derailed. So they threw more money in to add more humorous scenes and hired a trailer house to edit the film. What we got was a movie that couldn’t decide on its tone, tons of plot holes, and way too much pop music. Even Jared Leto voiced disappointment over the lack of his screen time as the Joker despite a huge presence in most of the film’s marketing. Audiences still support it anyway since there’s not much to compete with at the box office. But the long term plans for DC are still very rocky.
Even with all this points made, there’s still this erratic behavior in the audiences. There’s the need for original movies, but they won’t come out to support critical hits like The Lobster, The Nice Guys, Hell or High Water, or The Infiltrator. Not even a brand name like Spielberg can guarantee kids to run out to see The BFG. Yet, they still showed love for just about anything animated (Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets) or featuring The Rock (Central Intelligence).
Is Hollywood learning anything from this terrible year? The tough negotiations on Mission: Impossible 6 seem to show how Paramount does not want to risk another popular franchise from becoming bloated and fatigued. Sony has canceled their Ghostbusters cinematic universe plans in order to do a budget friendly animated film. The all female reboot of Ocean’s 11 is now going to be in the same universe as the Steven Soderbergh film from 2001. Joe Carnahan expressed delight in taking his time on writing the Bad Boys for Life script to the point where Sony changed its release date to guarantee a quality sequel. These are just some examples of the lessons learned from this lackluster summer; however, the implosion that Spielberg predicted could still happen at any time. The more studios expect $1 billion grosses worldwide for underdeveloped blockbusters, the higher risk of even greater disappointment. The kind of disappointment that breaks a studio almost completely.