“Independence Day: Resurgence” didn’t surge. Few seemed willing to call the “Ghostbusters.” And audiences were sort of bored with “Bourne.”
The summer of 2016 may turn out be a memorable one, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.
“Ben-Hur” performed so badly, it could count as one of the biblical plagues, earning just $43 million globally against a reported $100 million budget.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass,” a sequel to 2010’s improbably popular “Alice in Wonderland” that nobody asked for, barely made a dent in the domestic box office with just $77 million.
Even the great Steven Spielberg was not immune. His part-animated “The BFG” underperformed to the tune of $54 million at the domestic box office on a reported budget of $140 million.
Pretty grim, but was this summer the worst?
“It was bad,” says Doug Creutz, a Hollywood analyst and managing director at Cowen and Company. “It was maybe not as bad as two years ago, but still bad in the context of the last 15 years or so.”
“The BFG” took in a bit more than it cost, but the studio has to share revenue with theaters. A disappointing return for a Spielberg film. Judging by dollars collected, the North American box office should rake in some $4.5 billion this summer, up 1 percent over last summer, according to audience measurement company comScore. But attendance is actually down, falling 3 percent compared to 2015.
Compounding the pain, this was the summer we watched Hollywood’s tried-and-true game plan fall apart in front of our eyes. For so long, the industry has dished out presold properties — sequels and reboots with seemingly built-in audiences. And we ate them up.
But this summer, not so much. Another Tarzan movie? Pass. The “Ice Age” is still going? Er, catch it on cable. “There’s no such thing anymore as a sure thing or even a safe bet,” says Neil Landau, a screenwriter and producer.
“The movie industry is in real trouble,” Creutz says.
So how to fix it? It’s too late to change next summer’s slate, when we’ll get “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Wonder Woman” and — no matter how much you beg — yet another “Transformers” flick. But beyond that?
Theaters are getting clogged with too much product from too many producers, and the studios have basically adopted the same strategy of relying on giant, tent-pole films. But when everything is a tent pole, nothing is. “You need to shut down a couple studios,” Creutz says. “There’s no way you can justify the value of the studios based on profits.”
Studios have gone out of business in the past. Today it’s less likely, because they’re now owned by giant media conglomerates that keep them afloat based on prestige. “This summer’s crop of blockbusters lacked originality and inventiveness,” says Jeff Most, a Hollywood producer. “There was an overwhelming sense of ‘been there, done that.’”
After seven previous X-Men movies, for example, seeing “Apocalypse” may seem less vital.
“The movie business is struggling to find new franchises to reel in audiences, but audiences have become jaded and fickle,” Landau says.