US box office revenue this summer is badly trailing last year by 11% and none of the major releases still coming are expected to change that trajectory. In fact, things are likely to get worse for US studios before the autumn.
Without a film debuting widely over the Labour Day weekend, BoxOffice Media predicts the film industry will end the summer of 2017 with sales down by up to 15%.
That’s a horror-film scenario that translates into roughly one in six American moviegoers choosing to stay home and stream Game of Thrones.
“It’s a dead zone,” said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “In the next three weeks, there’s going to be a lot of doom and gloom.”
It’s not as if there wasn’t anything decent to watch. In looking at critical reviews of the top 10-grossing summer films, this season’s slate was one of the most lauded of the decade. Topped by Wonder Woman and filled out by media darlings like Dunkirk and Baby Driver, the most watched films of the season had an average score of 72 on Rottentomatoes.com, an aggregator of reviews.
Only two other summers since 2007 had such high marks. The problem for major studios is that some of those films should never have been at the top of the list, moneywise. Many of the CGI spectacles and raunchy comedies that usually win the sweltering day in US cinemas flopped spectacularly.
“We had one of the best summer’s ever in terms of the content,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst for ComScore. “Smaller movies became very profitable, and the films that took risks were rewarded.”
Translation: Formulaic, noisy, exploding blockbusters broke. Consider the Transformers franchise, which historically is impervious to critical volleys.
Over the past decade, four of these films buzzed and whirred through terrible ratings, stomped into US cinemas and left with huge bags of cash. The second film of the franchise — slapped with a 19% approval score —was second only to Avatar in the 2009 revenue ranking.
Not so this year. Saddled with its typical terrible press, Transformers: The Last Night, sputtered out of the gate and managed to garner barely half as much US revenue as the previous film in the series.
It was bested by Dunkirk, a Warner Bros military drama with a time-bending twist by director Christopher Nolan — it cost less than half as much to make.
A similar storyline panned out for the unsurprisingly bad Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Mummy and a string of R-rated romps led by Baywatch. “Sequels are generally the industry’s safety net, and that safety net isn’t holding anymore,” Mr Bock said.
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