Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Previewing Summer 2014: After a summer of big-budget successes and failures, will it be a return to normalcy in 2014?

This article was written in response to The Hollywood Reporter's July 17 article: "Too Many Tentpoles: Hollywood's Homegrown Summer Movie Crisis"

The summer is usually the season for executives to be happy. They put out a ton of big-budget tentpoles, typically three or four per studio, and they all make hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. Summer 2013 has been no different. Disney's Iron Man 3 ($1.2 billion) and Monsters University ($475 million), Universal's Fast and Furious 6 ($704 million) and Despicable Me 2 ($477 million and counting), Warner Bros.' Man of Steel ($619 million), The Hangover Part III ($347 million) and The Great Gatsby ($326 million), and Paramount's Star Trek Into Darkness ($447 million) and World War Z ($424 million) have all been huge successes for their respective studios. Would you be surprised if I told you that those films made up less than half of the nationally released summer films so far? Because it's the truth.

The market has really been thriving this summer season. Along with those big-budget tentpoles that I just listed, there have been a ton of smaller hits like Summit's Now You See Me ($186 million), Universal's The Purge ($76 million), Sony's This is The End ($97 million), and Fox's The Heat ($130 million). So with all of those smaller films raking in cash, and the tentpoles destroying the box office worldwide, what could possibly be going wrong in a summer like this? Well, there are just too many tentpoles.

The Hollywood Reporter just did something like this earlier today, so this is sort of my response to that. Here's the link to that article. There are too many films in the marketplace, and too many of them are expensive. The tentpoles I listed in the paragraph above were mostly guaranteed hits and two of them that were not will certainly become franchises (WWZ and Man of Steel). However, with all that franchise power, and some smaller films that work effectively as counterprogramming, where is the room for original films at the multiplex? There isn't. After Earth was the first major bomb of the summer with only $214 million worldwide and a big budget, but even that wasn't the worst. White House Down effectively became the second bomb for Sony (After Earth's studio) and has only made a paltry $83.4 million worldwide. Would you be shocked if I told you that $83.4 million on a $150 million budget wasn't the worst to come? Yeah, you probably would, but it happened with Disney's The Lone Ranger which has made $120 million on a $250 million budget. Now, Pacific Rim is struggling and R.I.P.D. and Turbo are looking to be in trouble, and insiders are wondering: with all the success and failure of this summer, where are we going next?

Well, before I delve into next summer's slate, I'll put some predictions out there for what lessons the studios will have learned after this massive summer

- One tentpole a week

As Warner Bros. learned with The Hangover Part III and Disney learned with The Lone Ranger, when you are going up against an established franchise film that is aiming at the same demographic, move your sorry butt to another weekend when you can make more money. I'm telling you people, this three-tentpole a week system is never going to work again. One a week, please. On a side note, this week sees four major releases.

-Original films get a maximum budget of $125 million, unless you're a superhero reboot

Look, White House Down would still be a flop if Columbia had dropped the budget and The Lone Ranger would still lose money. But Pacific Rim? If they could make that for $125 million instead of $200 million, who knows, maybe there's a Pacific Rim 2? But seriously Hollywood, leave the $250 million budgets to Nolan, Harry Potter and The Avengers.

- Spread out your tentpoles over different months and seasons

Look, if The Hunger Games proved one thing, it's that you can still have a massive franchise released in a season other than the summer and winter. Hollywood needs to take that and embrace that. If The Lone Ranger comes out in August, maybe it does better. Look, we need to stop looking at August as the dumping ground for crappy films and start looking at it as a place where legitimate summer tentpoles can be released. If Bourne and Rise of the Planet of the Apes can do it, why can't an original property thrive.

-Counter-programming is the key to success

Look, Hollywood needs to start appealing to people other than males in the summer. Everyone has said it. Women and thinking adults want to go to movies in the summer as well. There's nothing wrong with a good summer blockbuster. I'm not saying that (I love Fast and Furious 6, World War Z, Iron Man 3, and liked Star Trek Into Darkness), but eventually it becomes time for something else. Something a bit more substantial. That's why I'm excited to see The Way, Way Back. That's why I can't wait for Fruitvale Station. And the same thing can be said for the fall months, just the other way around. Why do all the movies have to be Oscar contenders?

We need more things like This is the End, The Purge, The Great Gatsby, The Heat, etc. That's why The Conjuring is going to succeed and R.I.P.D. is going to flop. It's simple people. You can't eat junk food all day without wanting something that tastes a little fresher.

- Star power is gone

Look, there's no denying that Brad Pitt helped get World War Z to the top of the box office. But was he the only reason that the movie was big? No, people like zombies. However, Johnny Depp certainly didn't help The Lone Ranger all that much. Stars just don't drive people anymore.

Now, people have been saying those things that I just listed forever. And Hollywood doesn't seem to listen. Summer 2013 has been the most crowded summer in history, and even I've missed some of the films that have been released. Now, the full schedule isn't set yet, but I want to look at summer 2014 to see if Hollywood is going to learn by next summer. Look, there were a lot of experiments this summer. Some of them worked, some of them didn't. It's that simple. It's still been a successful summer. Hollywood just needs to tweak a lot.

Looking at 2014:

It's obvious that Hollywood is finally embracing the fact that they can release big movies in seasons other than the summer. Divergent is being released in March, and so is Paramount's Noah, Warner Bros.' 300: Rise of An Empire, Disney's Muppets Most Wanted, and Dreamworks' Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Obviously, Hollywood is catching on to the fact that you can release big budget movies during March and it has slowly become the essential start of the blockbuster season.

Even more surprising however, is Hollywood's realization that April can bring successful movies as well. Disney's Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released on April 4, 2014. That really is a big step forward for Hollywood because if they realize that they can have a superhero movie open outside of summer or fall, the floodgates have been opened. And in a good way. In addition, there's Wally Pfister's directorial debut Transcendence and Fox's Rio 2. The month of April is going to become a hot spot for if those two action films can be hits. I already know that Rio 2 will do well.

May 2013 was rather balanced but I think that it even got a little crowded towards the end. May 2014 is smooth. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starts the summer off and then the next week is a Tyler Perry movie and a Jon Favreau indie. That's a great way to counter-program the big blockbuster. Then on May 16, there's Godzilla, which is a toss-up. It's got name-brand recognition and a great cast behind it, and I personally think that it will be great, but it could be a disaster if not marketed well. The next week is X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is going to probably be one of the biggest films of the summer. The final weekend in May sees the release of The Good Dinosaur, a new Pixar movie, and Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West. Boom. That's genius right there. There is absolutely no crossing over between the two films, and they both have a built in fanbase, and built in demand. May 2014 is going to be a really good month, even if it doesn't match up to 2013.

June 2013 was a smash. The most successful ever. June 2014 has the potential to match that month's total. It's like the studios never released that June could have successful movies until this year. June 2014 has Ninja Turtles, which I think will flop and Edge of Tomorrow, a Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle, both in the first weekend of the month. If Hollywood doesn't move one, they haven't learned anything. They cross right over each other and will likely cancel each other out. The next weekend has 22 Jump Street, which fits perfectly into the summer schedule. The following weekend of June 20-22 has How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Think Like A Man Too, which both fit perfectly on one weekend. And the last weekend of June has Transformers 4. Look, if Hollywood keeps the schedule that way, they finally understand how counter-programming works.

July 2014 has a lot of tentpoles. Maleficent, Fast and Furious 7, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Hercules: The Thracian Wars, and Jupiter Ascending. That's a lot of films. But all have their own weekend. All can make money on their own. They have room to breathe. Same with the schedule in August 2014.

The problem is, despite the more balanced scheduling of Summer 2014, it still won't gross as high as Summer 2013. There could be better films and there could be better scheduling, but Hollywood is going to need to find some other way, a balance between making a ton of money off big tentpoles and scheduling them so that they don't consume each other. It's going to be a tight-wire act, but I believe that the answer lies in Summer 2015. But that's for another day.

Sources: Box Office Mojo, Box Office, Hollywood Reporter

Note: I used italics for the first time in this post. I forgot that you were supposed to do that in the first place, so with box office posts, I'm starting to do it.

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