Magazine article Variety

Summer Box Office Fading at Midpoint

Magazine article Variety

Summer Box Office Fading at Midpoint

Article excerpt

The summer box office is sending out an SOS.

Once formidable franchises such as "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Transformers" keep hitting icebergs like poor reviews and tepid word of mouth. As these costly tentpoles take on water, the summer's domestic ticket sales have so far sunk 9% from last year, leaving studio executives and industry insiders queasy.

"It's been a dud by any definition," said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. "There are a lot of tired, creaky franchises out there. In the past, studios looked at sequels as safety nets meant to catch a lot of money, but they're not catching as much as they used to."

One shipwreck after another has extinguished prior hopes of a record summer. As high as expectations are for several July releases including "Spider-Man: Homecoming," which had a successful debut this past weekend, and the July 14 release of "War for the Planet of the Apes," a lackluster August without a "Suicide Squad" in sight will bring the business crashing back to Earth.

Part of the blame lands on studios' engagement in release-date brinkmanship, a dangerous game that's led executives to carve out the choicest opening weekends years in advance. Planting a flag that far ahead usually requires leveraging a wellknown franchise or cinematic universe, -> ?- which often means deciding when several sequels and spinoffs will debut before a script is even in place. This summer, fatigue appears to have set in, with many once popular film series failing to justify their continued existence. There's no discernible reason for Johnny Depp to unfurl the Black Pearl's skull-and-crossbows banner for yet another voyage or for Optimus Prime to save humanity from extinction for the fifth time in a decade. Perhaps the studios should have waited for filmmakers to be more inspired before giving their movies the greenlight.

"Your landscape is littered with sequels and fourth and fifth versions of movies," said Chris Aronson, Fox's distribution chief. "Not exactly a landscape that is littered with originality."

When Hollywood has tried to create new hits, the results have been sobering. Warner Bros. once hoped that "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," a hyperkinetic Guy Ritchie-directed epic, would launch a new action series, but the film was greeted with withering reviews and paltry ticket sales. Likewise, "The Mummy," once intended to kick off Universal's Dark Universe of monsters and fantastical creatures, floundered, grossing a moribund $76.5 million stateside through July 6. It's possible that some of these movies were out of step with the times, offering grit and darkness at a time when audiences are desperate for a reprieve from depressing headlines about global terrorism and healthcare cuts.

"The mood in the world is one of caution, and when you can go to a movie theater for a couple of hours and lose it all in the screen, that's been the hallmark of the movie business for many, many years," said Greg Foster, CEO of Imax Entertainment. "And I have felt in the last two or three months it's never been more important."

Even as the business's fortunes fade (box office revenue to date stands at $2.29 billion, compared with last year's $2.49 billion), there's some help on the way. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" successfully rebooted the web-spinner franchise by replacing Andrew Garfield with a more youthful Tom Holland and sending the character back to high school. …

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